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Couple of fingerpicking questions

Marion 05 Mar 00 - 07:54 PM
Bud Savoie 05 Mar 00 - 08:35 PM
Paul G. 05 Mar 00 - 08:55 PM
Benjamin 05 Mar 00 - 09:53 PM
Amos 05 Mar 00 - 09:58 PM
JedMarum 05 Mar 00 - 10:15 PM
MK 05 Mar 00 - 11:10 PM
GUEST,Neil Lowe 06 Mar 00 - 07:48 AM
Easy Rider 06 Mar 00 - 09:43 AM
Murray MacLeod 07 Mar 00 - 07:36 AM
GUEST,skarpi Iceland 07 Mar 00 - 07:44 AM
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Subject: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Marion
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 07:54 PM

Hello all. I have a couple of questions about fingerpicking guitar, which I have been teaching myself with the unsystematic help of various sources for a year or so.

Recently a friend (also self-taught, but much more advanced than I) told me that there were two things I really should change:

1. I've been keeping my right fingernails very short and just plucking the strings with the flesh of my fingertips; she told me that I should grow my nails and use them as picks.

2. I've been using my right hand thumb and fingers in whatever order felt most natural, depending on the picking pattern and which strings are included in the chord. My friend told me that I should always use my thumb on the E, A, and D, my index finger on the G, my middle finger on the B, and my ring finger on the high E. She said that exceptions could be made for certain songs but that this was the rule 95% of the time.

So I've come here for some second opinions... is she right? And if so, how right is she? I mean, are these techniques important enough that I should go back and totally relearn my right hand use?

For what it's worth, my guitar is classical and I play mostly neo-folk. Although I am a novice, my ambition to become a good musician is quite serious, so I would prefer to go back and do things right rather than accepting a "good enough" style that will limit me in the future.

Thanks a lot,


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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Bud Savoie
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 08:35 PM

1. You ought to let your right-hand fingernails grow just past the ball of the finger. The sound will be different, and you will be able to strum with the backs of the nails. I've never seen anyone use them as picks, though. Your fingers still play as before, but the flesh of the finger is given "bite" by the attached nail. This only applies to bare-finger picking, of course, and many steel-string guitarists use picks on all playing fingers.

2. YOur friend is teaching you classical or parlor-style playing, and she is right. It really works well on Anglo-American ballads and old English songs like "Greensleeves." Listen to early Joan Baez, or Burl Ives, or Oscar Brand recordings for ideas as to what can be done with this "four-finger picking," as some call it. Plenty of variations possible. I played this way for about two years until I started learning other styles such as Carter Family, Travis, and Cotten Picking. Folk styles allow so much variation that it is difficult to call any style "right." If it works for you, do it.

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Paul G.
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 08:55 PM


I have the fingernails of my right hand grown, as Bud suggests, just beyonbd the ends of my fingertips -- same for the thumb nail as I don't use a thumb pick either...

I am a self-taught thumb plus two fingers picker. I use my thumb all over the place as well as using the back of my thumb nail on the reverse stroke for certain patterns. Its what I have become comfortable with and it seems to work well enough for me. The down-side is that it's hard for me to do much Travis style picking (repeating bass pattern in the thumb) because my thumb has a mind of its own and enjoys that wandering up and down all 6 strings.

My best advise is to use whatever works best for you, given the style of music you want to play...if you want to sound like somebody else (Doc Watson, Chet Adkins, Merle Travis) then you'll need to learn a specific finger picking style, or a classic style as you have described. My choice is to make the music my own, and let my natural style interpret the work of others...

Good luck with whatever you choose to do -- and remember, have fun doing it!


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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Benjamin
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 09:53 PM

I have grown my nails on my right hand, but ONLY because I play classical as well as blues, etc. If I weren't studing classical, I'd probably cut them off. Steel strings aren't very healthy on nails. If you don't play classical, I'd recomend to stick with finger tips.

2) I've always been one who used 3 fingers (thumb, index and ring) and a fourth when I need it. As for your friends assignment, I was advised to do that with the "Oh Papa" rag, and haven't gone back since. I don't see a benefit. Holding to that assignment doesn't work in classical, doesn't work in any of the blues I play(or at least would make it harder!), makes travis picking harder than it needs to be (at least in my oppinion). I don't see an advantage to that assignment. I'd forget about it if it doesn't feel natural.

As Stefan Grossman likes to say, "No Rules!"


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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Amos
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 09:58 PM

I am not a world-class finger picking but I hold my own alright even with more disciplined tunes. I have never stuck with the allocation of fingers to strings that I first learned, altho' it was vitally necessary to training the hand from no fingerpicking to fingerpicking.

FInal answer is, you must decide this for yourself after exploring the optinions and determing your own best path.

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: JedMarum
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 10:15 PM

I agree with Amos ... while it is natural that you'll do more picking with your fingers on the high strings, and more thumb work on the low strings; these aren't rules. Do what works, and what you're comfortable with.

Likewise on the nails. My right hand nails are lng for finger picking. I use a thumb pick for guitar, and none for banjo. And I grow them beyond the finger tip - I use mostly nail when I pick - the problem is; I do a fair amount of flat picking too, and I am constantly gring down my index nail to a point ... but it still works.

If you play enough with it - you'll find what works for you. By the way; if you really want to be a good player - find a good teacher, and take lessons. You'll be amaxed how quickly you'll develop!

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: MK
Date: 05 Mar 00 - 11:10 PM

I agree with most of the comments here along the lines of first, there being no rules, and second do what feels comfortable and natural for YOU.

Again, it depends on what method of finger style you want to emulate. Different styles may require different approaches and technique.

I started out completely bare fingered, just using skin and no nails, and using thumb, index and middle with the pinky anchored. I tend to play a lot of stuff using alternating bass with the thumb, while the index and middle fill, and pick out melody notes...(ie: rags, Travis, Doc Watson, etc..) You get a very mellow, plush sort of sound with just skin, but I found that when I grew a bit of nail (as Bud describes in paragraph 1 of his post) it allowed me to get a little more aggressive in my attack and kind of ''dig into it'', and to a small extent altered the attack angle at which my fingers approach the strings...but I find with me there is a fine line between having just the right amount of skin/nail combination, and the nails getting just slightly too long where the strings can get caught in the groove of the it's something I'm on constant vigil for. When I use a thumbpick and bare fingers, the angle of attack is more elevated, and with the bare fingers compensating for the louder bass sound the overall sound is even more aggressive. The only nail I tend to keep a little longer is the one on the ring finger, when doing 4 fingered rolls and jazzier voicings. All in all, I would say that I prefer the sound of skin with a hint of nail for clarity of attack, and a thumbpick (ala Chet style)....BUT

...experiment, and find technique(s) that feel comfortable and controlable, and have fun exploring.

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: GUEST,Neil Lowe
Date: 06 Mar 00 - 07:48 AM

The way she describes happens to be the way I play, but the soundest advice is what previous posters have what feels right to you. If you do decide to keep your fingernails short and play with the flesh of your finger, the skin will eventually build a callous not unlike the ones on your fretboard least mine do when I break a nail and try to compensate by plucking the string a little harder.

Regards, Neil

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Easy Rider
Date: 06 Mar 00 - 09:43 AM

I agree with all of the above. I would just like to add one thought:

I think that, except for the bass strings picked with the thumb, you should try not to pick the same string twice in a row with the same finger. Where possible, you should alternate fingers, when picking adjacent notes on the same string. This adds more variety to the sound, each finger having a different tone, and improves speed.

Try picking the same note over and over, first with one finger, then alternating two fingers. Listen to the difference in tone. Which do you like?

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 07 Mar 00 - 07:36 AM

I would like to add just one more piece of advice to any aspiring fingerpickers reading this. If you are still able to unlearn bad habits, try to ensure that you do not rest any part of your right hand on the guitar body. Do not rest your pinkie on the pick-guard, nor your wrist on the bridge. It will be dificult at first, but your eventual progress will be so much greater.

And to preempt protests from afficionados, yes I know that there are many great players who play while resting their picking hands, but they are great despite this bad habit , not because of it. If they had learnt total right hand freedom, they would be greater still.

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Subject: RE: Couple of fingerpicking questions
From: GUEST,skarpi Iceland
Date: 07 Mar 00 - 07:44 AM

Hallo all , I am trying to start to learn fingerpicking. What is the best way , what book can I get and so on . All the skarpi Iceland.

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