a guitarist's occasional blog
This week one of my students asked me if there was a book full of fingerstyle patterns he could buy. Yes, in fact, there are a lot of books filled with chord charts and picking patterns. You could buy these books and begin trying to memorize an infinite number of patterns. And you could spend a fortune filling your bookshelf with these books, probably much faster than you could memorize all those patterns.
But I think a better (and more affordable) approach is to learn a few basic patterns and try to understand how and why the patterns work the way they do. Once you get comfortable with a few basic patterns you can simply begin to mix, match, and even make-up your own patterns using the same approach.
This lesson will build on my Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson, and I suggest getting comfortable with that lesson before trying the patterns in this lesson. The point with these patterns is to get your thumb playing on autopilot; the thumb keeps the beat. Then your fingers (I, M, A) add notes to make the pattern more interesting and to fill in the harmony.
For this lesson, I've generated eight 4-measure variations for the chord progression G - Em - C - D7. All of these patterns use the same exact thumb pattern! This is the most important point for this lesson. The thumb plays the same notes for each pattern, and the fingers create the variations. As you work through each pattern, really make an effort to compare and contrast the patterns. I've tried to put them in a logical order.
In some guitar books the picking hand fingers are identified by the letters P-I-M-A. here is how that works:
Measures 1-4 and Measures 5-8 are the easiest patterns here; your index finger (I) plucks the third string and your middle finger (M) plucks the second string. Note that beats 1 and 2 of each measure are exactly the same as beats 3 and 4. Also note that the thumb plucks strings 4 - 5 - 4 - 5 for the D7 chord. That is a little tricky at first.
The pattern for Measures 9-12 introduces the first string being plucked by the third finger (A). Also note that no string is plucked on the "and" of beat 1, just like the patterns in the Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson. The pattern on Measures 13-16 goes back to having a note on the "and" of one.
Patterns for Measures 17-20 and Measures 21-24 introduce a pinch; you will need to play the thumb and a finger together on the first beat. The classic rock ballad "Dust in the Wind" uses a similar pattern, as does Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe".
The last two patterns for Measures 25-28 and Measures 29-32 add a second pinch on beat three, but it is the same basic approach as the previous two patterns – just more pinches.
Practice each of these patterns one-at-a-time repeatedly to mastery. Don't try to play through the whole lesson at once. It's much more efficient and a better use of practice time to get one pattern down before moving on to the next pattern.
This is the first lesson where I have been able to include a sound file. (I may go back an add sound to previous posts.) I suggest you get an app for your smart phone or tablet called the Amazing Slow Downer. This is a great application for guitar practice. It allows you to pull an audio file (song) into it and slow it down or speed it up while not changing the pitch. It also allows you to "loop" a section of a song so that you can practice it repeatedly. I like to take a difficult section a practice it slowly, and then slowly increase the tempo until I have the piece up to speed. You could do that with the sound file for this lesson.
Good luck with your practicing! Once you've mastered these, try to invent a few patterns of your own.
Monday night I taught my Group Guitar II students to play the song "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. The song is in the Key of B which isn't an easy key to play on the guitar. So I taught the song in G (easier to sing for most men!) and kept it simple. If you want to play in B, just slap a capo on the 4th fret.
I also taught the class how to play the opening lead guitar riff in both B and G, figuring they would want to play along with the recording. Then I showed them how to noodle on a major scale shape like the attached pdf. file. This is what I spent half my teenage years doing—noodling along with my favorite records using these shapes!
Your second finger fretting the sixth string begins the pattern, and that finger plays the note that names the scale. Start at the third fret (second position) and you are playing in G. Starting on the seventh fret (sixth position) you are playing in B. If you learn this pattern and the names of the notes all along your sixth string, you can noodle musically in any key!
Hint: Assign each finger to fret. You should not need to shift your hand to play these scales. In G you have:
Use the B Major scale and noodle along with this great Jason Mraz pop tune on Youtube. It's fun! I hope the 33,000 people who clicked "thumbs down" on his video are feeling better now.
Practicing scales isn't necessary for everyone. If your only ambition is campfire strumming, you can probably stick to learning the songs you want to sing. There is no shame in only strumming "cowboy" chords. We all have our priorities in life.
However, for students who wish to improvise, pick fiddle tunes, or play guitar solos up the neck, there is no substitute for learning scales. I've attached a free guitar lesson pdf. here with four C major scales for guitar that beginning students and guitar teachers might find useful.
Enjoy! Practice some scales, but make sure to play some music as well!
I recently taught Gene Vincent's classic "Be-Bop-A-Lula" to a beginning group guitar class. It's a great song for beginners with three chords: E, A, and B7.
I wanted to give my students a little taste of taking guitars solos. So I wrote a simple guitar solo using some common blues and rock & roll phrases over a basic 12-bar blues chord progression — the same progression used on "Be-Bop-A-Lula".
A lot of people try to begin soloing by wandering around a basic blues scale shape. I tend to think that sort of things leads to playing things that aren't very musical. I once saw an interview with Eric Clapton where he talked about constructing his solos as statements by stringing together musical phrases in a meaningful way.
Learning a the notes of a scale is like learning the letters of the alphabet. You have to organize the notes into musical words or phrases before you can start playing real, meaningful music.
The sample guitar solo I wrote for this lesson can be played as it is written. But each measure really represents a useful musical word or phrase that can be used over and over in other settings. Think about the first measure here; it's a musical phrase that can be used just about anywhere over a E or E7 chord when you are playing the blues or blues-influenced rock and country music. So think of each measure in this exercise as a word or phrase you can add to your musical vocabulary. As your vocabulary grows, your soloing will become more and more interesting.
Do learn to play this solo exactly as written. But then go back and switch measures 1-2 with measures 3-4. The solo works just as well. Or for something maybe a bit more surprising, simply play any one of the first four measures for the entire first four measures of E. It works! (Some of these phrases are reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan's intro to "Pride and Joy".)
You can continue learning new musical words and phrases from TABS you find. But listen to players like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, or Robert Cray. Steal their licks by listening. The little mistakes you make copying their playing will give your playing its own voice. That's what every one of those players did. So we can do the same thing!
My Vintage 47 is a Valco-style 12 watt tube amplifier that is built in California by David Barnes. This amp is an amazing blues and jazz amplifier with a classic sound. I picked this up right around the same time I traded out a beautiful Martin OM-21 guitar for a Gibson ES-335. I'm practicing with that combo these days in hopes of becoming a legit jazz cat in my later years — which seem to be just around the corner!
Chuck Cheesman writes hopeful, loving, and sometimes funny songs for people of all ages.
All materials ©℗ Chuck Cheesman
Banner photo by Gina Dazzo