One of the more frequent requests I get in emails and comments here at RF goes something like this: "Hey, could you write out the exact rasgueado fingering you use here?"—"here" being a particular line in a particular arrangement. I’m generally happy to answer these requests, but I’m pretty sure that you readers, as a whole, find it a bit obnoxious that I don’t regularly tab out rasgueado fingerings.
As you might imagine, there’s a reason for this—two reasons, actually. The first is that there are many ways to play a particular rhythmic line—several of which are easily "correct" for a given situation. Depending on how I’m feeling at a particular point in a piece, I may play a rasgueado one way or another. The rhythm will be the same, but the way I produce it is up for grabs: it all depends on the kind of inflection I want at the moment.
The second reason I don’t generally list out rasgueados is that the right hand techniques I use are ones that work for me, but are no means the best for everyone. My triplet rasgueado, for example, works for the shape of my thumb and thumbnail. Players with different hands may well prefer a different style.
That said, I do have a set of "core" rasgueados that I use frequently (and that you will see a lot in my videos and tabs) and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s downright churlish of me to force folks to squint and my videos to figure out what I’m doing. Hence this article. Here you’ll find:
- a flyover of the basic rasgueados I use most frequently,
- some variations on those rasgueados that come up in the tabs here at Ravenna Flamenco,
- some general tips on practicing rasgueado that I’ve found useful, and
- a downloadable four page rasgueado exercise tab.
Four Basic Patterns
Most of the rasgueado I use is a variation or combination of four basic patterns, listed below. These examples are taken from the rasgueado exercise tab mentioned above. The down symbol stands for a downstroke (from bass to treble); the up symbol stands for an upstroke (from trebel to bass). As for fingerings: p=thumb, i=index, m=middle, a=ring, and ch=pinky.
Four Stroke Rasgueado
This rasgueado is perhaps one of the most common in modern flamenco. It is made by playing ami down and then coming back up with i:
Five Stroke Rasgueado
This pattern adds the pinky (ch) in for an extra stroke. Though it comes up in modern playing in compound (i.e. long rolls) or syncopated (i.e. not straight 16th note) forms, in older styles of playing the five stroke rasgueado is more of a staple than its four stroke cousin:
This rasgueado is also very common. In contrast to the four- and five stroke rasgueados above, the motion of the triplet rasgueado originates in the rotation of the wrist. The way I play it, it starts with an upstroke of the thumb and is then followed by downstrokes of a and i:
Double Triplet Rasgueado
This is perhaps the smoothest and subtlest of these rasgueados. It also easily has the most peculiar name. The "double" here is not in reference to paired triplets (in which case it would better apply to the rasgueado above), but rather to the fact that I find it easiest to think about this rasgueado as a triplet within a triplet. Each beat gets nine strokes; if you count each triplet as part of a larger triplet, it’s easier to keep track of the counts while you’re learning to coordinate your fingers. It is played only with i and a and, once learned, can create a smooth and fluid "rolling" effect:
Exercises like these are a good start for developing the basic technique of rasgueado. In order to make that technique musical, however, we definitely need to add some variation to these root forms. In the next section I’ll discuss exactly that—with more tabbed examples, a video demonstration, and rasgueado practice tips.
Which rasgueado variations you use will depend on, among other things, the palo you’re playing and your personal style. Some easy ways to vary the exercises on the previous page are to vary the accents of the rasgueado in order to strengthen individual fingers or to start the rasgueado on different fingers (for example, instead of starting the four stroke rasgueado on a try starting it on i and then follow with the other fingers in sequence).
In actual flamenco pieces, I still don’t often play rasgueado exactly the way it’s written in these exercises. Rather, I use these basic forms as building blocks to create the rhythmic pattern I need. Here are some examples culled from videos (and tabs) here on the site:
Example #1 is a slight variation of the four stroke rasgueado in a Tomatito falseta. The main melody uses the same right hand fingering as the example on the previous page, but I close the phrase with some minor syncopation and an accent on the last note (played with the m and a fingers together):
Example #2 demonstrates the five stroke rasgueado played across even 16th notes (i.e. 16ths grouped in "fours"). The first 16th note grouping is straightforward: ch a m i. The second grouping, however, starts on the upstroke of i and then continues with ch a and m. The benefit of using a five stroke rasgueado here is 1) that the 16th notes are easier to play smooth and uniformly accented (i.e. not accented in groups of four) and 2) that you begin the following beat (the first note of the bottom staff) with a strong index down stroke that allows you to bring out the heavey accent. Although I’m not doing it in the video (why not I don’t know), this pattern also allows you to play a golpe on that first accented beat of the following phrase:
Example #3 shows a use of the triplet rasgueado in mid-phrase. These rasgueados are common at the end of a section or at the end of an entire song as the final wind-up. As seen here, however, they can also turn up lots of other places:
Example #4 ends with a double triplet rasgueado. This particular example is not the most common use of this rasgueado; you’re much more likely to encounter it in soleá and other slower palos. You can see here, however, the "rolling" quality of the double triplet rasgueado. Notice how this rasgueado "fades in"— the goal here is more to create a "texture" of sound than to play every note. You’ll also notice there’s an extra i down stroke after the two 9-beat groupings: this is so that the phrase can end on an i up stroke (which just happened to be my preference at the time):
Of course, these variations are only a few of the countless possibilites with rasgueado you’ll encounter in flamenco. Techniques range widely from player to player. It’s well worth investigating other styles to find what’s right for the kind of sound you want to produce. The four basic techniques I’ve given on the previous page are by no means the only rasgueado techniques you’ll run into, but, as I hope I have shown, by being creative with how you accent and syncopate your playing, even with these few techniques you can generate a lot of versatility.
As I mention above, this article is meant as an explanation of the rasgueados I use here at Ravenna Flamenco, not as a lesson. I view my own rasgueado technique as still a work in progress and hesitate to strike an "expert" pose in making suggestions to other learners. That caveat made, there are some pointers I have found that improve my own playing and I don’t mind sharing those:
Think About Velocity
Crisp, clean rasgueado is less about playing fast than it is about playing distinctly. "Velocity" refers to the quickness of your individual fingers when you play, not to the speed or tempo of the music. Even when you play slow rasgueado, your fingers should strike the strings with the same quickness as when you play faster. When you do play faster, if you strike each note with sufficient velocity, you will have fully sounded all the strings with the first finger of your rasgueado sequence before your second finger begins to strike. This makes for a clean, crisp sound. As you might guess, practicing high velocity rasgueado strokes at slower tempos makes the transition to clean rasgueado at faster tempos easier.
Slow practice of rasgueado may feel counterintuitive at first. It is, however, a good way to build an awareness of individual finger velocity. And it is also a way to focus on building strength in each finger: if you practice your rasgueados slowly, you can make sure that each finger strikes with equal volume. This pays off in dividends in terms of evenness and clarity when you play at speed.
Some degree of force is necessary for strong rasgueado, but it’s important to apply it in the right place: i.e. to the motion of the finger striking the strings. Tension on your hand (from trying to muscle through a rasgueado) applies force every which way, which can actually slow you down as a result of the muscles in your hand working against each other. In the triplet rasgueado, for example, your wrist should be very loose—the force in the rasgueado comes from the smaller movements of your fingers and thumb. If you tense your wrist up, you’ll lose the velocity it provides.
As with the rasgueado patterns themselves, these are only a few of the myriad practice suggestions out there. These techniques and tips have helped me in my pursuit of better rasgueado—I hope some of them make a useful addition to the way you learn and practice as well.
I also hope this discussion clarifies some of what I’m doing in the videos here at Ravenna Flamenco and that it provides some insight into how the basic patterns of flamenco rasgueado can be varied to produce a wide variety of rhythms and inflections. Like much of the technique in flamenco playing, rasgueado is the kind of thing that takes time to get comfortable with and settle into. With a bit of persistence and focused practice, though, anyone can do it.