I MENTIONED LAST MONTH that it makes a lot of sense to develop a simple fingerstyle technique as you are learning a plectrum style too. The reason for this ought to become obvious in this article, as some of the routines are definitely easier to play with a fingerstyle than with a plectrum.
So let's sort out the fingerstyle basics for starters. In the same way as we began to separate the bass note from the body of the chord using the plectrum, it's possible to use the right-hand fingers in various combinations to break up the texture of a chord shape held by the left hand. The beauty of this approach is that it's clearly more interesting musically, yet does not involve any change of approach in the left hand - you still hold down the same chord shape as before - so all the texture changes are made by the right hand.
The fingerstyle I'm going to suggest you use is an all-purpose one, using your thumb and the first three fingers of your right hand, and excluding the little finger. This is loosely based on a classical guitar right hand - because I believe that to be the strongest fingerstyle technique available. It's impossible to define the specific problems of a right-hand technique, and the only solution to handling such problems properly is to find a good teacher in your area. Any good music store will have a list of reliable teachers, so they should to be able to help.
Personally, I find this style copes with all the fingerpicking styles I play, which range from classical, to ragtime, acoustic blues, jazz guitar and so on.
Basically, the right hand works in a relaxed way if you rest your arm on the body of the guitar somewhere near your elbow, and let the hand flop down so that your thumb and fingers are positioned over the strings. It should now be a simple matter of applying these positions:
Thumb (p) = plays string 6 5 or 4
1st finger (i) = plays string 3
2nd finger (m) = plays string 2
3rd finger (a) = plays string I
The thumb strikes downwards, the fingers pluck upwards. Take a C chord as an example, split the texture up in the same way as we did last month, and Diagram A is what you get.
You'll notice the "p i m a" from the table above being applied to the notation - this is simply the standard abbreviation for the thumb and fingers, and is a nice shorthand way of showing patterns for the right hand.
To start with, you'll find you play with your whole hand, so that you lose position over the strings; the idea is to pluck the strings moving only the thumb and fingers, not the hand. This is quite hard to do, and will take a fair bit of practice. If you tense up, reposition your hand by resting your arm on the body of the guitar near the elbow, and flopping into a relaxed position over the strings as before. Arch your hand slightly, and you should finish up with a hand position where the fingers are quite upright and extended, not cramped over the strings. If you look at any classical guitarist, you'll see this hand position is exaggeratedly organised: this positioning is the result of many hours of refinement, and is best handled with the help of a competent teacher.
It is true, however, that many contemporary guitarists have taught themselves a very efficient fingerstyle technique, just by being logical about the physical movements.
Right, back to the music! Diagram B gives the pattern for C and G7, showing the fingerstyle. This produces exactly what we came up with last month for the plectrum ideas, except that this time the bassline is played with the thumb, and the body of the chord is struck by the fingers. You may well be thinking that there's no difference in the difficulty of playing these changes using either method. But there is certainly a difference in musical feel, and that is crucially important.
In Diagram C, the texture is broken up still further. How do you react?
This texture is still supported by the sounding bass note at the beginning of the bar, but this time the single-note pattern seems a bit easier to play using the fingerstyle, particularly if it is played reasonably quickly. Practise this using both methods.
Diagram D shows a whole sequence of eighth-note patterns using different textures on the C-G7 change. Play them counting the 1 2 3 4 pulse aloud, and see which come easier using a fingerstyle. Remember, though, that they should all be played both ways to begin with.
We'll develop these ideas over the next few articles. Practise the textures shown on some of the chords used in earlier articles, and as you go, try and think of the musical differences the plectrum produces over the fingerstyle. Over a period of months, you'll decide which you prefer in different situations. For the moment, keep an open mind, and practise both styles equally on all this material.
Do It Yourself
Feature by Peter Driver
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