Guitarist - Composer - Arranger

Tango guitar : Pick techniques

October 1, 2019

This is a collection of essential pick techniques for tango guitar playing in the traditional “guitarrero” style. Guitarreros general play by ear and are the ones responsible for developing the most essential, traditional way of playing the guitar in tango.


Semi-muted strum



This concept was passed on by the legendary Bartolomé Palermo to his students. The palm is used to create a partial mute*, right where the strings meet the saddle. Giving weight to the pick, make a solid, sweeping downstroke across all strings. Rhythmically, the stroke should feel accented. 


*Spend some time finding the sweet spot between fully open and fully muted strings. Pay attention to how you can use the palm to regulate the muting and find just the right amount. I find that you can tap into a very powerful, resonant “speaking” quality by making the right adjustments and finding the sound. 



Rhythm – muting from the right hand



Many people approach the guitarrero tango style based on guesswork and listening to recordings. Some make the mistake of thinking that the staccato articulations (both in rhythm and melody playing) come from the left hand. I was one of these people and I eventually had to relearn, making a fundamental change to my technique.  Tango guitar articulations come from the right hand. If you want to develop the traditional style, resist the urge to make staccatos with the left hand. This goes for chords and single notes. In this example we are playing one of the many versions of marcato, the most basic rhythmic pattern in tango accompaniment.


Single note pizzicato


Here the idea is the same as in chordal playing: all stopping or cutting off the sound comes from the right hand. From a technical standpoint, the movement is slightly different because at the beginning of the stroke the wrist is raised and the palm is not touching the strings. The palm then comes down to stop the note.




When playing single notes, another way to produce staccato is by using the pick. After the stroke the pick returns immediately to the string, in position to play the next note. Compared to a staccato produced by the palm, the picado has a brighter, more biting sound.


Rest stroke

Classical and flamenco players use free stokes (where the nail plays one string and continues freely without making any further contact) and rest strokes (where the nail plays one string and then comes to rest on the next). Guitarreros do the same thing with the pick. Along with the wrist position and muting techniques described previously, the rest stroke is one of the keys to producing a robust sound.


Rest stroke (bass strings)