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Cheat Sheet

Classical Guitar For Dummies

From Classical Guitar For Dummies by Jon Chappell, Mark Phillips

Playing classical guitar starts with figuring out the notes, noting major and minor keys on the circle of 5ths, and knowing what situations in classical guitar call for playing the free stroke or the rest stroke.

Classical Guitar Notes

This diagram illustrates the guitar’s entire range of notes, including sharps and flats, on the treble clef, using ledger lines below and above the staff. Each of the six string’s 12 frets is shown allowing you to see some pitches that are played on multiple strings in classical guitar.

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The Circle of 5ths in Classical Guitar

The circle of 5ths (an interval encompassing five notes) is a helpful tool in classical guitar for viewing the 12 major and minor keys by the order of sharps and flats in their key signatures. The key of C (no sharps or flats) is at the top, or 12 o’clock position. Moving clockwise from C you progress, by ascending 5ths, through all 12 keys beginning with sharps.

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Playing Classical Guitar in Free Stroke versus Rest Stroke

How do you know when to use the free stroke or the rest stroke when playing classical guitar? This table notes when you should choose to use the free stroke and when your better option is the rest stroke for your guitar playing.

Use the Free Stroke When You Play Use the Rest Stroke When You Play
Arpeggios Slower, more expressive melodies
Chords Scales, scale sequences, and single-note passages
Light-sounding melodies, or filler notes between melody and bass parts Loud notes, or notes requiring maximum volume or feeling of intensity
Melodies or passages where the rest stroke can’t be applied because of tempo considerations, string conflicts, or awkwardness and impracticalities in the right-hand fingering Passages that must be drawn out from their surroundings (either other notes from the guitar or in an ensemble setting), assuming no conflict with other strings
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