Those familiar with the classical guitar’s robust sound will know the variety of timbral effects that are possible using percussive techniques.
Here, Badi Assad walks us through these various percussive techniques accessible on the classical guitar.
Tambora involves hitting the strings with the right hand to sound the notes. In her full tonebase course on guitar percussion, Badi Assad demonstrates this with a simple but very resonant F chord with open upper strings. Keep the arm loose with this technique and aim to make contact with the side of the thumb.
This can be practiced away from the guitar by hitting the palm of your left hand with the thumb of your right hand. Aim for a fast attack and a percussive slap off the other hand.
Transferring this to the instrument will give the chord a bold sound, and including open strings adds resonance.
Your right hand still has a lot of control over volume, and tambora can take advantage of the full range of dynamics. Try a fast repeated tambora, starting gently and building with a crescendo to a fortissimo.
Varying dynamics can also create a rhythmic motif by maintaining the repeated chords at a piano level and adding strong accents on particular beats. Assad shows some simple and more complex rhythms while changing between the F and G chords (first and third positions in the left hand).
Exploring the back of the guitar
Lay the instrument down, and let’s explore tapping on the back of the guitar.
The lower middle section will sound more bassy, and the other side (closer to the neck) will give a high-pitch tap.
Using just the fingertips or the palm of the hands brings in further possibilities still. From this position, the side of the guitar is also within easy reach, which can bring out a different higher tone. For the adventurous, body percussion might also be incorporated.
Exploring the front of the guitar
On the front of the instrument, the bass sound is usually around the bridge position, getting slightly higher in pitch moving towards the fretboard.
Keeping the strings loose creates a lot of resonance, whereas muting with the left hand gives a more pure percussive sound.
We can also tap over the strings or fretboard. Once again, different sounds can be brought out with other parts of the hand: either the thumb, four fingers, just the ring finger, or the knuckle.
Every guitar will be unique, so take some time to get to know all the different areas of your instrument. The left hand can also tap on the fretboard while using finger 1 to dampen the strings.
In many accompaniment patterns, including bossa nova, percussive effects are often integrated into the harmony.
Try to keep the arm and wrist quite loose as the hand hits the strings. We can achieve different timbres by hitting gently with the fingers, the side of the thumb, or with a more closed-fist position.
We could combine this with some flamenco rasgueado strumming. Another technique is only slightly depressing the left-hand fingers to create a muffled sound, and doing so in rhythm. Experiment with combining all of these techniques to create a wide and exciting variety of sounds.
Conventional methods of sounding harmonics involve plucking the string while also lightly touching at the node.
Another technique is to strike the string at the node, combining a percussive effect with a sounding pitch.
The right hand can accurately find these nodes, while the left hand might explore tapping elsewhere on the body.
Using a combination of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and glissandi, the left hand can play melodies entirely by itself.
This adds a unique rhythmic effect to the notes, which we can build upon. Everybody’s hands and fingers have different strengths, so the precise fingering Assad demonstrates here may not be the best option for everyone.
Improvising and experimenting
Start with a percussive effect that simply maintains the beat and try different effects in various areas of the guitar.
Add complexity as you get more comfortable with basic rhythms. Try to think like a percussionist to escape the mindset of a classical guitarist.
From the melodic potentials of left hand tapping to the enhancing color of guitar harmonics, the classical guitar offers a wide range of coloristic effects that can really enhance the musical storytelling of the instrument.
If you’d like to learn more about the techniques mentioned above, head on over to tonebase Guitar to watch the lesson this post is based on.
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