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Thread: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

  1. #1
    Registered User Miltown's Avatar
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    Default Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I started off playing mandolin a few years ago, and I then pretty quickly also started playing flatpick guitar. I'm pretty proficient with a pick now, if I do say so myself.

    But... I've no idea what to do with a guitar without a pick in my hand. I know if I go on YouTube there will be countless lessons to view, but I thought I'd ask here first to see if anyone has any favorite resources for flatpickers trying to learn some fingerstyle techniques.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    This book doesn't have any instruction, but the pieces are all very well arranged to be suitable for the beginner and give you a lot of confidence by being able to play them: https://www.alfred.com/classical-for...ab/p/00-16751/ there are some other similar Alfred books I would also recommend, particular the ones for Spanish and Renaissance. Classical Guitar For Dummies is the book that started me down the classical guitar path when I was a teenager, worth a look as well.

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Look for anything by John Miller either on YouTube or DVD! You won’t regret it. NFI on my part, but I did take in person lessons from him for about 15 years.
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Start with some simple patterns on the right hand. Getting your hand used to hitting certain strings when you want. You can do any song you now play by simply not strumming and picking patterns, then vary the pattern. It's a simple way to start.
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Stefan Grossman. One of Rev. Gary Davis's star students, playing and teaching various styles of fingerstyle guitar for MANY years. Pretty much anything you can find of him.

    You basically turn your picking hand into two hands and, as the saying goes, "play the guitar like it was a piano". Your thumb plays the boom-chick boom-chick of the left hand in stride piano, and the fingers (Davis used only one, his index, but many others use at least two) are the right hand, playing melody and harmony.

    Once you get the hang of it, it's a lot of fun. Good luck!

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    For a beginner, there is a very simple, free solution available these days - Tommy Emmanuel videos on YouTube.

    That's not a joke. Tommy Emmanuel is a good teacher, he keeps things extremely simple for a beginner. I recently viewed probably about a dozen videos where Tommy explains four or five simple steps for a beginner to focus on. If you as a beginner were to start at step one, spend as much time as possible (weeks, months, etc.) practicing properly each step, you'll be on your way.

    The books and courses are great. I own courses from Homespun, Stephan Grossman, and books galore, and have been playing fingerstyle blues a long time, but if I were specifically teaching a beginner to play fingerstyle, I'd use Tommy's simple four steps.

    1. Practice thumb steady groove
    2. Spell out chord with three fingers
    3. Play syncopated rhythm spelling out the chords
    4. Play arpeggiated (this is where you learn "patterns")
    5. Learn a song with melody (like freight train)



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0ocjT3gObE



    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxF_gkKVJ1s

    Repetition is good, so here are a number of other videos with the same info:


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm2ODiNUhac

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUhV_nLTamA

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSmdo1ak_cE

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wmr5_25oVDA

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5e3OT3myE2w

    You get the picture - the truth is that as a beginner thumbpicker, you can get a whole lot of mileage from free lessons on YouTube with Tommy Emmanuel, and he does harp on the importance of learning very well first, the work of the thumb.

    Temptation is, "I want to play everything like a pro right now."

    Reality is, practice the thumb and make it second nature, then slowly begin to add stuff with the fingers. You'll be glad you did it that way. (BTW, virtually ALL good teachers, in any course or book you will eventually purchase, will tell you that exact same thing if you want to play any kind of folk music: blues, country blues, ragtime, etc.)

    There are a bunch of other stuff to learn, great teachers and lessons out there, to be had once you've mastered your thumb. You can use what Tommy is teaching here and apply it to any song you already play on guitar long before you begin picking out melody notes. When you can come up with good renditions of songs you already know, using thumbpicking with simple chord rhythm from the fingers, then you'll know you are ready to really get into finger picked melodies.
    Last edited by Mark Gunter; Aug-27-2018 at 1:01pm.
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    If you want to learn the ultimate fingerstyle guitar, perhaps some classical guitar lessons would be in order.

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Or flamenco - which John McLaughlin considered the ultimate gtr technique (not to mention all the flamencos )

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Have you considered hybrid picking? A lot of the guys you think of as flatpickers throw in a finger or two into their playing. You just flatpick the notes instead of thumbpick them. What you loose by being down a digit you gain by being able to throw in strums. It all depends on what you want to play. My guitar focus is to accompany my vocals. Darrell Scott and Jason Isbel do this a lot, though Jason Isbel can palm a pick and go fingerstyle mid song.

    A friend has signed up for Stevie Coyle's Peghead Nation course and really likes it. So many styles to choose from, it's hard even to decide. I remember I was never going to play even one bluegrass lick when I took up mandolin. Ha!
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I learned from John Cephas. He has some youtube videos. I also echo the Stefan Grossman videos. He has a web page with various DVDs for instruction.

    John taught me to use only thumb and one finger. So, my only choices are pinch and alternate. I have a lot of fun with my two fingers and use picks too!

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    Smile Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I learned to finger pick in the 60's when the Travis method was big. Those patterns are what I teach my beginning students and they take well. I use two fingers and the thumb. I used a National thumbpick and longer fingernails when I was on a mic years ago, but now I use my thumb and my old fingers won't keep nails, so I use the edge of my calluses. Here is a link: https://www.premierguitar.com/articl...and_Variations

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Quote Originally Posted by BluesPreacher View Post
    You basically turn your picking hand into two hands and, as the saying goes, "play the guitar like it was a piano". Your thumb plays the boom-chick boom-chick of the left hand in stride piano, and the fingers (Davis used only one, his index, but many others use at least two) are the right hand, playing melody and harmony.

    Once you get the hang of it, it's a lot of fun. Good luck!
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Temptation is, "I want to play everything like a pro right now."

    Reality is, practice the thumb and make it second nature, then slowly begin to add stuff with the fingers. You'll be glad you did it that way. (BTW, virtually ALL good teachers, in any course or book you will eventually purchase, will tell you that exact same thing if you want to play any kind of folk music: blues, country blues, ragtime, etc.)

    There are a bunch of other stuff to learn, great teachers and lessons out there, to be had once you've mastered your thumb. You can use what Tommy is teaching here and apply it to any song you already play on guitar long before you begin picking out melody notes. When you can come up with good renditions of songs you already know, using thumbpicking with simple chord rhythm from the fingers, then you'll know you are ready to really get into finger picked melodies.
    I faced this same situation when acquiring baritone and tenor ukuleles (which I tuned in fifths). Right away, I learned that a pick, no matter its thickness, sounded horrible to me on nylon strings.

    But my right hand fingers, being previously accustomed to work only together "as a unit", holding either a bow or a pick, were completely uncoordinated at first when I tried to make them take on individual tasks, as it were.

    I started briefly playing with my thumb only, which was slow and ungainly. Boy, can I identify with "I want to play everything like a pro right now!" I wanted to play everything I could play bowed or picked, right away! But unfortunately, this necessitated learning new skills. Eventually, I doubled my speed, making the "upstrokes" happen using my middle finger (not my index, because the middle one matched the tone of the thumb better due to anatomical shortcomings in the index).

    Now I do almost all my melodic playing just using thumb and middle finger. Later, I became able to include the index finger, which mostly gets called into play when playing arpeggio patterns. But now I can I let context dictate which one of the three plays the down or upstroke. My ring finger gets used only once in a blue moon, and if I don't curl my pinky out of the way, it will accidentally hit a string or the soundboard, so I never use it. These extra fingers may be more useful or necessary on six strings than four. I wouldn't know about that!

    My technique may not be orthodox, but it gets me where I'm wanting to go. And I only started this in 2017, so I'm doing what I considered utterly daunting as recently as last year! So my advice for someone new to it would be just to experiment, and keep at it, discovering what works, and it will actually start to feel natural, probably sooner than you know it! Good luck!

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    This book from Mel Bay was really good for teaching independent thumb and fingers.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    http://https://www.melbay.com/Produc...ar-method.aspx

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I invariably start with the Alfred 3 volume Begin/Intermed./Advanced books for any instrument, I remember the one for Fingerstyle guitar being good but it's been a while and I can't find it.

    You can play with 4 fingers classical style, 5 fingernails (pinky anchoring half the time and picking the rest) or thumbpick and some # of fingerpicks like Doc Watson, Jorma Kaukonen or BG banjoists.

    Whatever you choose, work on the thumb, it has to hold the low end accurately (on banjo it's the high end, and even more noticeable when it's off), and try to make the alternating fingers, T-I-T-I or I-M-I-M sound the same, even tempo and volume and tone. Very tricky.

    Another thing I think is important is to try hold the neck high, around 35 plus degrees from horizontal. Clasical players and clawhammer players like Ken Perlman do this for a reason, you hit a t a better angle
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I'm still trying after 50 years. It's really hard for me to get that timing down. I find Tommy E. and the master, Chet, along with Doc as my constant inspirations to keep try'n. Good luck to you!!!

  23. #16

    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Op
    Im the opposite.
    Have played fingerstyle guitar for decades.
    But, am good with a flat pick.

    Speaking for myself, only, id strongly suggest getting a face to face teacher.
    Why?
    Old habits, ie the temptation to revert to flat pick, may be strong, because its easier.

    You are learning a new technique. Once well grounded, you can grow on your own.

    Second, good habits should be established.
    Weekly accountability to a teacher will help you to improve more quickly than home study.

    Finger style will likely be a bit frustrating for a bit. Why? Simply, you will need to build muscle memory, and independent control over your right hand. And, all of this rhythmically! Because of this aspect, i think a teacher can help you forward.

    I , btw, have taken my own advice, for banjo. I started 3 fingerstle about 10 months ago. Im learning quickly, but even after decades of guitar fingerstyle playing, banjo picking is sufficiently different that i want a second set of ears and eyes. To avoid ingraining bad habits i might later need to unlearn. (Btw, for me, this can happen even when you think youve got it right).

    For me, the muscle control is well established, but not the technique and new types of finger picking. Im like you, starting anew. With a teacher. And metronome, and, practicing slowly, for accuracy, eveness of notes, volume, sustain, or, emphasizing melody notes, etc.

    Id also suggest immersion, for a while. Ie only play guitar with fingers for a good long time. This has worked for me when i learned clawhammer, slide, etc.

    Its simple.....kinda....if you're serious, a teacher will likely speed progress.

  24. #17

    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    A word on nails. I reinforce my natural nails with fine mesh a la James Taylor. He has a very good YouTube video on the subject.
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Like most things in music, "fingerstyle guitar" covers a wide range of things. I think that a good place to start is decide which guitar players you would like to emulate and focus on one of those. That may lead you down a particular right hand technique i.e. do you use a thumb pick or not, do you use the right hand palm to damp the bass strings.

    FWIW my main influences are Bert Jansch, Mississippi John Hurt and Merle Travis.

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I agree with Mark. It's all in the thumb hitting the alternating bass on the bottom three strings, laying down a rhythmic carpet and establishing both the groove and the chordal background. Then once you have that down solid, learning to play melodies on the top three strings with your fingers. Don't move too fast. Work on getting a nice groove with the thumb across various chord changes. Pick three-chord songs you know and just do that alternating bass thing with them. It's a two-beat rhythm, (1-2, 1-2...) with the emphasis on the 2, much like a lot of other traditional American music. That's assuming that that's the kind of thing you're interested in playing... Mississippi John Hurt, Furry Lewis, Frank Stokes, Rev. Gary Davis, Merle Travis, Doc Watson, etc. Most pop/rock fingerpicking uses the alternating bass with the thumb as well, although often not with that two-beat groove.

    I would strongly recommend videos rather than books if you aren't going to have an in-person teacher. It's essential to watch people play while you listen, to get the feel and connect it with the techniques. The Tommy Emmanuel videos Mark posted are very good. I prefer Stefan Grossman's Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques video to get started, mainly because while Emmanuel is obviously a giant, there's something a little too slick about his style for me. Grossman's own playing goes many places, but his teaching, especially early on, focuses on the basics of traditional alternating-bass technique. He starts with just the thumb like Emmanuel does, but then instead of focusing on chords and arpeggios moves to simple melodic picking with the index and middle finger. Pattern/chordal picking is really more of a folk-revival and pop thing than a country blues thing--again, this is a matter of preference, and yours may be different from mine. But if you do want to explore the country blues, once you get going, Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop has a whole stable of amazing teachers who teach a wide range of material in this vein. Paul is right, there are many nuances of technique from player to player, and that's part of the fun. Tom Feldmann's lesson on Frank Stokes is a good next stop--lots of fun songs, and while with all this stuff you can spend a lifetime trying to capture the nuances, you can play Stokes's songs in a basic but satisfying way pretty easily once you get used to chugging along with the thumb while playing syncopated melodies with the fingers.

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    @Mark Miller, I started finger picking long before I ever saw those Tommy Emmanuel videos, I just think it's cool that he teaches workshops everywhere he goes, and has distilled his advice for beginners down to four or five simple points - and those are indeed points that make a great foundation.

    That's obviously not the end-all be-all of fingerstyle, but an excellent set of starting instructions IMO. Beyond that, I've found a lot of value in classical guitar exercises, as well as playing numerous styles that interest me. I see the alternating bass that Emmanuel teaches as springing from a more piedmont blues root, touching all those guys you mention. But in addition, I've always played a lot of the mono bass styles like much of Robert Johnson's catalogue, Big Bill Broonzy and many others. Grossman can teach a person a lot about all those styles.

    The alternating bass on four beats, like Emmanuel focuses on, is everywhere. I think it even morphs to the flat picking "boom chick" when the 2 & 4 of the alternating bass becomes a light strum. Applying different styles of practice to any single tune has its merits for me.
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  30. #21

    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    All great advice. More suggestions:

    - Learn Mystery Train. (There are plenty of Mystery Train tutorials online.)
    - Find some Travis Picking exercises.
    - Check out Bennett Hammond, the drop-D wizard.

    Folks like Jorma, Stephan, and Happy make it look easy. It ain't. Hang in there, baby!

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Hey Mark, Iíve wondered about the flatpicking boom-chick too. Especially since guys who played in an older style, like Stokes, often hit something more like a hard, driving brush stroke on the 2. And arenít a lot of the pioneers of flatpicking essentially thumbpickers? (Maybelle Carter, Lester Flatt..wasnít Riley Puckett too?). Do you know more about this history? Too bad we donít have recordings from earlier...

    Very cool that you play monotonic bass too. Iíve been tugged at by Big Bill, Lightniní, and so on but havenít really dug into that. So much amazing music! Keeps life fun, huh?

  32. #23
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    The alternating bass on four beats, like Emmanuel focuses on, is everywhere. I think it even morphs to the flat picking "boom chick" when the 2 & 4 of the alternating bass becomes a light strum. Applying different styles of practice to any single tune has its merits for me.
    Alternating thumb bass is a good starting point (unless you're into Classical or Jazz). It's where I started, with my heroes being Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, John Fahey, all those guys... and then getting seriously into it with a Leo Kottke fascination. Spent a lot of time doing that. I think I can still play Kottke's "The Fisherman" which is a great goal to shoot for, with finger independence over the thumb.

    But alternating thumb bass can be a trap, if you get into other genres of music. I gradually moved away from it, aiming more for independent bass lines, Brazilian jazz, Ralph Towner tunes. Then I got into all this Irish/Scottish trad stuff, and play just a little fingerstyle guitar these days. Arrangements of slower tunes like Farewell to Nigg or Dark Island. No alternating bass, just thumb support under the melody line.

    There are lots of ways to approach fingerstyle guitar. Alternating bass is a good entry point if you're going for "Americana" music genres. Just don't get stuck there, unless you want to get stuck playing only that style.

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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    I'd recommend a three finger (thumb and two fingers) to start. Classical uses all fingers. Adding in the ring finger won't get you there as quicly, let alone the pinkie, but you can look at banjo technique as well.

    Any of the above suggestions are great.
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    Default Re: Guitar Question: Starting to Play Fingerstyle?

    Nothing can exceed the value of a year's study with a really good teacher, in person. Skype or video lessons, while useful, have the disadvantage of the teacher and student not being able to see each other from many different angles, among other things.

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