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I'm trying to learn the rasgueado strumming technique, but I just can't get my fingers to "snap" out with enough power to get an effective sound; is this just something that comes with practice or are there strength exercises I can do away from the guitar that will help?

Background: I'm not a flamenco player; mainly folk / blues. I just want to bring in some different sounds for my own enjoyment.

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    You can practice on sugar packets and hot-chocolate mix. – luser droog Apr 22 '15 at 15:44
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    It may be the fact that my toddler treats sleep as an optional extra, but I haven't the faintest idea what to do with sugar packets and hot chocolate mix to improve my technique unless it involves mixing them both up with hot water and drinking them for a delicious energy boost. – Whelkaholism Apr 22 '15 at 15:51
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    When you shake down the contents to get a clean tear (so it doesn't spill all over the counter), do this: pinch a corner with the left hand and do a rasgueado on the sugar packet with the right hand. One good one and the packet is ready to tear. ... Differently-sized packets of stuff will have different recoil allowing you to practice different tempos. ... I work at Starbucks and easily get bored. :) – luser droog Apr 22 '15 at 15:58
  • @luserdroog, if there is a better practice technique for this than the one you describe, I don't know what it is...! (Now, where did I put those sugar packets...) – Bob Broadley Apr 22 '15 at 22:42
  • @luserdroog - you should add that as an answer, as I did ask for exercises I could do without a guitar. Tim's advice is more suitable for me at this stage but I'll get some sugar packets when I have the finger movements down :) – Whelkaholism Apr 23 '15 at 9:07
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Use a very tight fist, and flick each finger out, most seem to start with pinky. Do it slowly and controlled at first, making sure to hit all the strings with equal force. Do not move your arm/wrist/hand until all four fingernails have 'rasgued'.

  • +1 for "don't move arm/wrist/hand". As a classical guitarist I just use three R.H. fingers, and not the pinky (which I don't have a long nail on) - I know that flamenco players will usually use all four, but I think most players would find using just three works pretty well. – Bob Broadley Apr 22 '15 at 13:42
  • I'm pretty sure I'm moving my hand wildly, so this is great advice I will try out later. Should the movement be all in the finger muscles, or does the fingertip start tucked into the palm to give more of a "flick"? – Whelkaholism Apr 22 '15 at 13:55
  • Until you get the hang of it, flick.The main finger muscle used is the one closest to the palm, as in the fingers will straighten as soon as possible . – Tim Apr 22 '15 at 15:55
  • I'm going to leave this question open a bit in case anyone else wants to chip in, but I will mark this as the answer - I had a quick go last night and the twin advice to keep a tight fist and keep my hand still is a revelation. I've already got a hugely better sound on single "flicks", and has made me much happier that I'll be able to get it if I persevere. – Whelkaholism Apr 23 '15 at 9:03
  • Marked as the answer as I'm really actually enjoying the practice now with this tip. I found this YouTube video really useful too; simple, no frills example of the target sound: youtube.com/watch?v=Sk2FXKmdoz8 – Whelkaholism Apr 24 '15 at 9:04
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Tim's answer is great, so I simply wanted to add a few things. These aren't specifically related to building strength and speed away from the guitar, but should give you some more options and help your R.H. to become more agile.

By keeping your hand still as you execute a rasgueado, you are able to easily play different rhythmic variations of the basic strum. Before outlining these, I should point out that I am a classical guitarist and not a flamenco player, so I only have a few rasgueado techniques in my armoury. A flamenco player would doubtless use many more variations.

Firstly, keeping the R.H. still allows one to alternate down-strums (with either the index finger alone or with three or four fingers) with up-strums with the thumb. The primary benefit from doing this, is that the nail of the thumb is used for the up-strums, rather than using the fleshy side of the index finger, and gives a brighter, more attacking sound. (The "p" in the example below is for pulgar, spanish for thumb. Also, note the downwards arrows are the up-strums, as they move from highest string to lowest - bit confusing!)

enter image description here

If using three or four fingers for the rasgueado, rather than just the index finger, these can follow each in quick succession, as Tim points out in his answer, giving a dramatic, explosive sound. Instead, though, with practice these downward strums can be slightly separated, to give the impression of quick rhythmic repetition of chords. One of my teachers used to play the opening of Rodrigo's Aranjuez Concerto using this technique, instead of simply strumming up and down with the index finger. This gives a lighter, more subtle rhythmic effect:

enter image description here

And these separated a m i strums can then be followed by a down strum with the thumb to create a characteristic triplet rhythm (found in Bolero rhythms, for instance):

enter image description here

Finally, I use a kind of "tremolo-rasgueado", where I continuously strum up and down with all three R.H. fingers alternately (kind of like the way one would "drum" the fingers on a table). I've no idea if this is a legitimate technique, but it works well for me!

Like I said before, I'm no expert on flamenco technique, but find these few additions to the basic "down-flicking" strum work well for me. It would be great if some flamenco players added some information with other answers...

  • Bit advanced for me at the moment :) but some great things to try for later, thank you. – Whelkaholism Apr 23 '15 at 9:03
  • Good extra info ! Do you tend to rasgue (no, I made it up) with little finger first? – Tim Apr 23 '15 at 9:15
  • Hey @Tim, I just use three fingers and miss out the pinky, as I have a short nail on it and long nails on p i m a – Bob Broadley Apr 23 '15 at 12:21
  • So is it ima or ami? – Tim Apr 23 '15 at 12:26
  • Definitely a m i! – Bob Broadley Apr 23 '15 at 12:55
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After practising at the weekend I'm going to add another answer myself that I found useful :o)

Practice on the guitar, but with muted strings rather than playing a chord; it helped me focus on one thing - the speed, power and consistency of the right hand - without the distraction of worrying about whether the notes sounded right.

It also made it much clearer when I was doing it fast enough - getting a quick, clean "CHUNK" sound with each finger rather a slower "washboard" effect that ran into each other (which I'm sure would be a lovely alternative sound, but is not what I'm after right now).

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In flamenco guitar, a technique often used to get a rasgueado to "snap" is to place the upper side of the nails of the fingers used in the rasgueado (mi-ami-xami, etc.) right beneath the middle joint of the thumb. It is similar to the "closed fist" technique described above, except you do not close the fist, rather you form a circle. If you do this even without the guitar, you will notice that you can build up the energy by pressing your fingers on the thumb, and then simply release. Rest your thumb on the sixth string of the guitar and use this technique.

However, this only works if it is a single rasgueado and not a loop of consecutive rasgueados (say, just ami instead of amiami ad infinitum). Of course, rasgueado loops aren't used as accentuations and as such don't require to have a "snappy" sound. The single rasgueados are used for accentuations and require the "snappy" sound much more. For rasgueado loops, the main focus shouldn't be power as much as consistency and making sure that each finger plays all the string separately (i.e., in the case of a ami rasgueado, you play all of the strings with a before the m kicks in(because of the sympathetic muscles, this is hard to do) and the finger movement is quick (no "sliding" across, it should sound like a chord)).

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