The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #93371   Message #1798947
Posted By: Don Firth
01-Aug-06 - 01:07 PM
Thread Name: Beginner Guitar Tips?
Subject: RE: Beginner Guitar Tips?
Excellent point about the left-hand pinky, Bobert!

And speaking of pinkies, lots of folkies do it, but do not rest your right-hand pinky on the soundboard of the guitar. There are very good reasons why one should not, not the least of which is that the right hand should be free, not anchored to the top of the guitar. All the support the hand needs is your forearm resting on the upper edge of the guitar. Among other things, anchoring the pinky makes it much more difficult to use the ring finger, and for what I describe in the following paragraphs, we do want to be able to use it.

So far, we've managed to link to a lot of websites that show some pretty flashy git-pickin', but someplace along the line we seem to have neglected a few basics—basics that can a) get one going right away, and b) lead fairly directly to the more impressive stuff.

Basic accompaniment, plucking the strings with the fingers rather than strumming (techniques that can be morphed easily into alternating bass finger-picking):

Pick a chord, any chord. Say, a C. Rest the right forearm on the edge of the guitar with the right hand hovering over the strings just above the sound hole, or a bit toward the bridge side of the sound hole. [To get a clear idea of the optimum right hand position, take another look at the videos I linked to above, Happy Traum and Sharon Isbin).] Keep the wrist fairly straight. Make a fist. Point your thumb to the left, toward the fingerboard. Now, relax and open the fingers, but still keep them curved. Rest the thumb (p for "pulgar") on the 5th string, and deploy the fingers so that the index finger (i) is on the 3rd string, the middle finger (m) is on the 2nd string, and the ring or annular finger (a) is on the 1st string. [Remember the designations I'm using for right-hand thumb and fingers, p, i, m, and a, because I will use them later as a sort of shorthand for talking about arpeggios and alternating bass patterns, and it will save me a lot of typing.]

Play the 5th string with the thumb (p). Now, moving all three fingers (i, m, and a) as a unit, play the top three strings together. Do it again. And again. Do it a whole bunch of times, until you get the feel of it and can do it smoothly and in tempo ("One-two, one two," etc.).

Now, do it again, but this time, play the 5th string followed by the fingers, but then, play the 4th string followed by the fingers. Keep playing going, alternate that the bass string. 5th, (fingers), 4th (fingers), 5th, (fingers), 4th (fingers) . . . .

That's a basic 2-beat or 4-beat pattern, depending on how you want to count it:   "one-two, one-two" or "one-two-three-four." Good for any song in 2/4 or 4/4 time.

Now try this:   do the exact same thing, only do the fingers twice each time, like this: Thumb plays 5th (fingers fingers), 4th (fingers fingers), and so on.

"One-two-three, one-two-three." That's a basic 3-beat pattern, commonly known as "waltz time."

Next step. As you play a two-beat or a three beat right pattern on a C chord, change to another chord, say a G7. Play the 6th string with the thumb (followed by the fingers of course) then the 4th string with the thumb (then fingers), then the 5th string with the thumb—and so on. Alternating the bass string that your thumb plays. Okay?

Try playing various chords you know this way, alternating whatever bass strings are available within that chord. Keep the right hand pattern going in an even tempo and change chords every few beats.

Burl Ives (with the possible exception of Pete Seeger and The Weavers), the first folk singer that most of my geezer generation ever heard of, made a substantial career for himself, radio, concert tours, clubs, records, and a couple of movies where he played a character very much like himself, by doing little else on the guitar than what I've just described above. That's why simple accompaniment patterns like that are often referred to as "Burl Ives basic." Depending on the song, sometimes that's all you want to do. Sure, it isn't fancy, but when I was teaching folk guitar classes (ten week courses) back in the Sixties, I sent people home at the end of the first evening able to accompany two or three songs with "Burl Ives basic." At the end of ten weeks, they knew all the first position chords and a whole handful of right-hand accompaniment patterns, including a couple of alternating bass patterns.

You'll note that even with Burl Ives basic, you are alternating the bass notes. To move from that into picking out melody lines with the fingers is not that big a step. While bouncing back and forth between bass strings, there are all kinds of wild and crazy things you can do with your fingers.

More later.

Don Firth