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.
November is here again, and it's time for many of us to begin getting some holiday music ready to go—possibly fueled by too much Halloween candy.
A couple years ago I worked up an outline of "Silent Night" in an uncommon tuning: DGDF#AD. This is the same tuning I used for my original composition "South Branch"
It turns out that this DGDF#AD tuning works nicely, and it allows you to easily leave open strings ringing in the same way a piano player might use a sustain pedal. I'll use anything in my music if I think it sounds good. Letting open strings sustain works beautifully on this one, and the use of unison strings sometimes create a harp-like effect.
Be sure to bring the melody out by playing it with a bit more volume and emphasis than the (usually lower) accompaniment notes. I tried to vary the location of the melody across different strings to take advantage of tonal colors, but you should consider exploring other places on the neck where the melody works. When I begin an arrangement like this, I like to try out different ways of playing the melody before I even worry about harmony and approaches to accompaniment.
This arrangement is simply meant as a guide. I don't play it note-for-note, and I'm still working on a longer arrangement that moves to a higher octave with a little more variation. Enjoy.
"South Branch" is an original fingerstyle composition of mine that uses a unique altered tuning. I've recorded "South Branch" on my latest CD, A Whisper in this Town. This isn't nearly as difficult as people sometimes think it might be. I'm not a virtuoso fingerstyle guitar player; I'm more a singer/songwriter who is being opportunistic by exploiting an open tuning.
The key to this piece is to tune your strings (lowest to highest) D - G - D - F# - A - D. This is similar to open D tuning, but in this case you lower your 5th string from "A" to "G".
The transcription is an approximation. I tend to perform this piece a little differently each time I play it. For example, the harmonics I use as an intro were added after I had transcribed the tune. I have included a video performance of this piece that might be of some use to you as you try to learn it.
In the video, I perform this on a very nice Bourgeois Vintage OM that I no longer own. On the recording, I use my favorite little guitar. It's an unheralded Martin 00C-16DBRE that has had the electronics torn out of it. Compared to the Bourgeois and some other instruments I have had my hands on, the Martin isn't a fancy guitar. But if I could keep only one instrument, this little guitar would be it!
I would love to hear from anyone who tries to learn to play this piece! There are plenty of you who could perform this better than I am able to manage it.
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