The Art of Rasgueado

(c) Paul Magnussen, 1995
All rights reserved

Rasgueado means "strummed" in Spanish, but in English the word is usually
used only to denote the rhythmically complex kind of strumming that is
characteristic of flamenco guitar.

There are two completely distinct kinds of rasgueado, each with its own
subtle variations: one produced by the fingers alone, and one produced by
a motion of the wrist. Classical guitarists are typically taught (and are
sometimes aware of, even) only the first.

The profound influence of Flamenco on the classical guitar repertory, both
directly and indirectly (through transcriptions of pieces by Albeniz,
etc.), means that a knowledge of these techniques is of great benefit
(indeed, is indispensable) to the guitarist who wishes to have a complete

The following is the result of observation of, and interviews with, most
of the leading flamenco guitarists, with the notable exceptions of Ramon
Montoya, Nino Ricardo and Paco de Lucia. In particular, I had long
discussions at various times with my teachers, Paco Pena and Mario
Escudero. Nevertheless, the responsibility for any errors remains my own.

One thing that emerges very clearly is that each major flamenco guitarist
has his own preferred way of doing rasgueado, so that there is no single
"right" way" (although there may be "wrong" in the sense of untraditional,
or dysfunctional, ways).

1. The Basic Rasgueado

1.1 Mechanics

The simplest rasgueado is performed from the basic (normal) hand position.

1) The fingers are curled (but NOT held tightly) into the palm of the

2) The little (x, sometimes written e) finger is allowed to fall downwards
across the string, followed in turn by the a, m and i fingers, thus
producing in principle four strummed chords, thus:

x   a   m   i
|   |   |   |
A   A   A   A
|   |   |   |

(The "A" is meant to denote an upward-pointing arrow (bass to treble), and
a "V" will be used for treble to bass.)

Note the following points, which are often the subject of misconceptions:

- It is NOT necessary for one finger to finish its travel before the next

- The fingers are NOT held tightly in the palm and "fired" across the

It is indeed possible, and legitimate, to play a rasgueado in this way;
but this it is not the basic rasgueado, it is used when a particular
percussive effect is desired.

1.2 Timing

There are two distinct ways to use the basic rasgueado, and these are
often confused:

1) The chords may be played evenly, with each taking up (in principle),
time of a semiquaver (16th note), as shown above. All rasgueados
in BASIC flamenco forms may be represented this way, e.g. Bulerias:

                        i   i  i   i    x   a   m   i   i       i
                         ---    ---      -----------    |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |-----------|   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   V   |   |   V   A   V  A   V    A   A   A   A   V   |   V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |   |   |   |   |   |   |
x   x   |   x   x   |   x   |  x   |    |   |   |   |   |   x   |

1   2   3   4   5   6   7      8        9               10  11  12

Here the x's are taps (golpes) on the body of the guitar. This shows the
modern way of playing bulerias. e.g. that of Paco Pena. Note that beat 10
is an upstroke of the index finger (following a rasgueado); we shall come
back to this in a minute.

2) However, the rasgueado may also be used as an ORNAMENT. In this case,
first three strokes will precede the beat slightly, and the final
will be ON the beat and take the emphasis: the first three strokes
occupying, (again in principle), theoretically no time, as in an

(It defeats my ingenuity to notate this in ASCII. However, an example
the classical repertory would be the 7th-fret barre B7 chord in

Now let us return to the first case. We said that the rasgueado occupied
beat 9, with an upstroke of the index for beat 10.

In older times -- up to and including that of Sabicas -- the upstroke was
generally not played. The timing of the rasgueado was extended, so that
the final downstroke (with the index) fell on beat 10. We might then
represent the first part of the rasgueado as a triplet, thus:


                        i   i  i   i    x   a   m   i       i
                         ---    ---      -------    |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |-------|   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   V   |   |   V   A   V  A   V    A   A   A   A   |   V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |  |   |    |   |   |   |   |   |
x   x   |   x   x   |   x   |  x   |    |   |   |   |   x   |

1   2   3   4   5   6   7      8        9          10  11  12

Here, though, the link between notation and reality is starting to blur.
the important thing is that beat 10 should arrive on time; one could delay
the rasgueado by as much or little as one liked; could in fact, play it as
an ornament to beat 10, as described in 2) above.

Here, I think, is the source of the confusion between the two forms of
rasgueado. Nevertheless -- even though in this particular case one could
use either -- they are distinct.

1.3 Variations

When a very fast rasgueado is wanted, the stroke of the little finger can
be omitted. One hears this not infrequently (for example) in the playing
of Paco de Lucia.

Conversely, the rasgueado may be expanded by following it with a downward
stroke of the thumb. Or, the thumb may be allowed to travel downwards
with the final (index) finger, but not touching the strings, and then
brought UP across the strings (treble to bass) to complete the rasgueado.

2. Continuous rasgueado

Things really start to get complex when a continuous rasgueado is desired.

The first thing that occurs to one's thought is naturally to repeat a
single rasgueado multiple times. Here, though, we begin to hit a problem:
at the end of a single rasgueado the fingers are spread out, and it's
necessary to curl them into the palm again. However, the delay in doing
this nullifies the whole effect.

The solution is:

1) not to straighten the fingers entirely, but only as much as is
necessary to
complete a downward strum.

2) To bring the little finger back into the palm AS THE FIRST FINGER IS
MOVING FORWARD, and vice versa. This is not easy, and takes
practice. When mastered, however, it produces a beautiful drumroll
rasgueado of amazing evenness. This is the method preferred (for
by Juanito Serrano, who was one if the "fenomenos" of the 50's and
(Juan is currently professor of guitar at UC Fresno.)

Another solution is to follow the final downstroke with an upstroke of the
index finger, which also brings the other fingers with it, preparing for
the next repetition. This makes five strokes per rasgueado, and a single
beat is thus a quintuplet. This is the method favoured by Paco Pena. e.g
in soleares -- here are the first three beats:

        5                   5
x   a   m   i   i   x   a   m   i   i   i   i
 ---------------     ---------------     ---
|---------------|   |---------------|   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
A   A   A   A   V   A   A   A   A   V   A   V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   x   |

1                   2                   3

More complex variations are also possible (Nino Ricardo apparently used to
START his rasgueado with an upstroke), but that would take me beyond the
scope of this basic explanation.

3. Triplets

There is another completely distinct form of rasgueado which is produced
by the wrist. It is extremely fast and powerful, and consists of one
upward motion and two downward motions. However, there is possibly even
more variation in execution between guitarists than with finger rasgueado.
In all cases, the hand departs from it basic position. I'll start with
what seems to me to be the simplest method, and then describe some

1) Curl your fingers loosely, and rest the ball of your thumb on the
index, as
if you were holding a plectrum (flatpick).

2) Make an upstroke with your thumb BACKWARDS (from treble to bass) across
strings of the guitar.

3) Now open your hand, strumming down with ALL the fingers at once across
strings, but leave your thumb where it is.

4) Now bring your thumb down across the strings to join the fingers. This
completes one iteration.

The up and down motions of the thumb should be made with a relaxed
rotation of the wrist, the opening of the hand being the third stroke.
Now you can try playing three of these triplets in a row, followed by a
final upstroke of the thumb, thus:

p   h   p   p   h   p   p   h   p    p
 --- ---     --- ---     --- --- 
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |
V   A   A   V   A   A   V   A   A    V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |

This is a very common sequence (for example in bulerias, being substituted
for beats 7-8-9-10 show above.

A more subtle variation, capable of more light and shade, is used by Paco

1) Up with the thumb
2) Down with the little (x) finger
3) Down with the first finger

p   x   i   p   x   i   p   x   i    p
 --- ---     --- ---     --- --- 
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |
V   A   A   V   A   A   V   A   A    V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |

Paco also sometimes does a further permutation, substituting an upstroke
of the index for the first beat -- so that thumb is not used at all.

I seem to remember that Serranito uses thumb, index, middle:

p   m   i   p   m   i   p   m   i    p
 --- ---     --- ---     --- --- 
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |
V   A   A   V   A   A   V   A   A    V
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   |   |    |


Of course, much more could be said. And I am not especially an authority.

What all this goes to say is that you should experiment with all of these
methods; not just for a day or two, but until you can produce them ALL
fairly comfortably. Then pick the way that suits YOU best.

For printed music with rasguedos well notated, try:

Joseph Trotter's transcription of Sabicas and Escudero.
The Gendai Guitar (Japanese) series of Flamenco books.
Paco Pena's "Toques Flamencos" (this is out of print, but there are still
copies floating around).

Good luck!

Paul Magnussen