How do I play a requinto, terz or alto guitar?

Hampshire Guitar Orchestra » Guitar stuff » FAQs » technique (2)

Playing small scale guitars

There are no new fingerings to learn. See our transposition FAQ.


The smaller instruments have strings that are thinner than classical strings, and they are not as tight either. However, although the tension is not as high, the short scale length means that the effort needed to move the strings during plucking is, contrary to expectations, quite high.

To understand why, it's easier to consider the opposite - it takes a lot of effort to deform a normal guitar string by more than a centimetre. But if you imagine a guitar string that ran the length of your garden, then it would be very easy to deform the centre by 5, 10, even 30 cm

Curiously, then, these small guitars are hard work!

Position work

The pitch range of these instruments overlaps the prime guitar - they share about 2.5 octaves in common and only 0.5 octaves are unique. This means that they tend to play in the high positions to capitalise on these "new" notes. Played in the low positions, the sound is, in any case, thinner and less sustained than a prime guitar. In the high positions the strings feel even tighter.

Just as a violin's pizzicato is briefer than a double bass, so the sustain on these higher instruments isn't as long as on the Classical or Prime Guitar. For this reason, well-written music for these instruments tends to be a little "busier" - always on the move - possibly with rests where other guitars are playing sustained notes.
A busy part is not necessarily a difficult part, however, because the stretches on the left hand aren't so huge.


The high notes are penetrating and metallic, and devoid of much sustain. Vibrato is a well-known "trick" to add feature and (apparent) sustain to an otherwise bland note. Vibrato can also help alleviate intonation problems which are more common and more noticeable on short-scale instruments, due both to the accuracy of construction that's needed and the propensity for the strings to go out of tune at the slightest provocation!

See also guitars larger than the prime ...

playing technique | small guitars | larger guitars