Most classical guitar pieces are played in either an arpeggio style or a contrapuntal style. When you play contrapuntal classical guitar music, you are playing two or more melodies (usually with different or contrasting rhythms) simultaneously — sort of like what you get if two people with opposing ideas talk at the same time.

Contrapuntal music usually has two parts — a bass part that you play with the thumb, and a treble part (the melody) that you play (usually using free strokes) with alternating fingers. In music, however, the separate lines support rather than negate each other. Imagine if political debates had that effect.

Try playing the following exercise in contrapuntal style. This exercise is an excerpt from a composition by an unknown composer of the Baroque era — an era during which contrapuntal music was very popular. Use the thumb to play the downstem notes (in the standard notation) and alternating fingers (free strokes) to play the melody.


Click here to download and print this guitar tab.

This piece doesn’t indicate any particular right-hand fingering. As long as you apply the concept of alternating fingers (even loosely) to attain speed and accuracy, you can use whatever fingering feels most comfortable to you. No single way is really right or wrong.

Notice that the left-hand fingering is specified, however, because this particular fingering is the only one that’s feasible for this piece. The slanted line in front of the 2 on the second beat of measure 3 and the third beat of measure 5 indicates that you’re using the same finger you used to play the previous note.

To get the hang of this exercise, practice by playing only the top part with (alternating) fingers a few times. Then play the bass line alone with the thumb a few times. Then play both parts simultaneously.