a guitarist's occasional blog
I'll keep this one short. I had a student who was having a little bit of trouble crossing strings with his pick. I think a lot of people get comfortable playing on one string and then have a clumsy time trying to get their pick over to play a note on a different string.
As a singer/songwriter, precision isn't always my top priority. At times, I'm guilty of using my guitar almost more like a drum (think like Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen) when I'm pounding out a song accompaniment. But over the past few years I have begun flatpicking more fiddle tunes, and I found my own picking skills lacking.
I created this short flatpicking guitar exercise for my student and for myself. The key is to go slowly and steadily, and to play without making any mistakes. Use a metronome. The goal is pick control and accuracy. Playing sloppily at a fast tempo is - quite frankly - a waste of time.
Practice this with downstrokes, upstrokes, and alternate (down/up) pick strokes. All three ways will benefit your technique. After you've got it at a decent tempo, go find some music to Led Zeppelin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" to work on. This exercise will have served you well.
In the first guitar lesson I shared, we looked at how to begin creating fingerstyle patterns using an alternating bass played by the thumb. With this lesson we take it a bit further by adding a melody on top of the bass. If you are a singer, you might just sing the melody. But not everybody wants to sing.
If you download the free pdf "Aunt Rhody for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar" lesson, you'll find two pages of music. This arrangement is based on a short recording I included on my Dancing With No Shoes On children's music album.
The first eight bars spell the simple melody of Aunt Rhody. There are a number of ways to use your fingers to pick this, but don't pick with your thumb since it will eventually be needed to play the alternating bass. Even using just your index finger to pluck the strings should get the job done. A lot of the great blues players relied on only a thumb-plus-one-finger technique. Classical guitarists will often alternate between two or even three fingers to play a melody. Don't be afraid to experiment.
The next eight bars on the first page show you the alternating bass pattern. This is similiar to what we did in the first lesson. Practice playing these notes with just the thumb. Strive for a steady rhythm. Use a metronome, and don't get caught up in trying to play too fast. Speed comes with practice. Steady tempo is more important right now. Take it slow.
Finally, page two shows you how to put it together. Notice that your fingers will be plucking the melody notes at the same time your thumb is playing bass notes. Some people refer to this as pinching the strings because your thumb plucks downward while your finger strikes the string upward. Try not to have your fingers bump into each other. To see an example of how to do that, check out some videos of Chris Smither - one of my absolute favorite players - on YOUTUBE. Chris uses a thumbpick, and his hand is in a good position to keep his thumb out of the way of his fingers. I don't play with a thumbpick and manage to accomplish the same thing.
Whether you use a thumbpick or not is up to you. You'll probably get more volume at first with a thumbpick, but you'll also need to keep track of it. My preference is to keep things simple. I don't want to feel like I can't play if I can't find my thumpick. There are advantages and disadvantages to either choice. I've never seen a classical guitarist use one. Guitarist Mark Hanson has a nice article on the subject: Whether or Not to Use a Thumbpick.
Thanks for reading, and I hope this lesson helps you move forward on playing some fingerstyle guitar.
Chuck Cheesman writes hopeful, loving, and sometimes funny songs for people of all ages.
All materials ©℗ Chuck Cheesman
Banner photo by Gina Dazzo