There used to be times when my fingerpicking on an acoustic just used to sound outright FLAT. That’s because when I started fingerpicking, no one taught me how to do it properly. I was just using bad technique and I had to learn that the hard way.
Before you continue playing without guidance, what’s the harm in asking yourself, are you using the right fingerpicking techniques?
Getting familiar with fingerpicking an acoustic guitar is a very helpful thing to enhance your playing. Learning to fingerpick properly adds a whole new dimension to your playing wherein your dynamics and your versatility improve drastically.
Learning new techniques can sometimes get really complicated as it’s always a clash between what seems like The Easy Way and what we can call The Right Way. You might think that it comes natural to you and go with the easy way out whereas you should actually focus on getting it right. You need to remember that every minute spent in getting the hang of bad technique will require an additional minute to correct it.
And trust me, you don’t want to go down that road.
In this article we’ll dissect the Do’s and Don’ts of fingerpicking to help you judge if you’re doing it right and how to correct yourself if you’re not.
Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when you’re fingerpicking:
1. Finger choices for strings
The first mistake that most of us make is using the wrong fingers for picking the wrong strings. This is one of the most important things when it comes to fingerpicking. The idea is to not just go with whichever finger feels comfortable to pick whichever string at that particular time. Your finger choices need to be logical and contextually constant.
For building a strong foundation for great fingerpicking technique, stick to these conventional basics regarding finger choices:
• Thumb: Ideally, only your thumb is supposed to be used for picking the 3 low strings of your guitar (i.e. D, A and E strings)
• Index Finger: Your index finger is used for picking the 3rd string of your guitar (i.e. the G string)
• Middle Finger: Your middle finger is supposed to be used for picking the 2nd string of your guitar (i.e. the B string)
• Ring Finger: Your ring finger is used for picking the 1st string of your guitar (i.e. the high E string)
Remember, these are under ideal circumstances. Like all things, fingerpicking is highly contextual and you need to make contextual choices at a later stage. What I mean to say is that these finger choices might vary when you’re playing something different and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you follow this to the letter initially and strengthen your foundation.
If you get this right, the rest will take care of itself.
2. Being certain that your fingerpicking hand is on the right angle
While focusing on this thumb rule you need to remember that fingerpicking is not the same as playing with the pick. When you’re using a pick, your hand and arm are at an angle of about 45 degrees from the strings. It is not supposed to be the same when fingerpicking.
If you keep your fingers at a 45 degree angle even while fingerpicking, there won’t be enough space and leverage for your hand to move in the proper motion. Playing an instrument is not just about playing it right technically, it’s about the dynamics. Your fingers need to just flow.
For the proper motion, your fingers need to be at an angle of 90 degrees from the strings. That way, you will be able to generate the optimum amount of power required to fingerpick without it sounding forceful and achieve the perfect motion of your fingers. To do this, just raise your wrist a little above the normal level it is at while playing with a pick, just enough to accommodate a medium sized fist in between your palm. And you’re good to go!
Remember, if you don’t change the angle of your fingers, it will result in a very bad forced out technique that will stop you from sounding good on your guitar.
3. Controlling wrist and arm movement
One of the most important thing about fingerpicking is as the name suggests, use only your fingers. You need to discipline your wrist and arm into staying still while your fingers do all the work. Resist the urge to pull away when you pluck and you will sound good and consistent.
When you’re playing with a pick, your wrist and arm may move accordingly but with fingerpicking, it’s entirely the opposite. Even if your arm or wrist twitches a little while playing, it might become a huge issue with dynamics and technique consistency in future. You need to just kill the urge at the very initial stage.
If you keep these three rules of thumb in mind, you will build a very strong foundation for your fingerpicking techniques and they will definitely help you in future to achieve stellar dynamics in your playing.
Here are some more cool ideas that might help you improve your technique when you’ve perfected your thumb rules:
• Pick patterns
Just create random patterns and practice them with open strings, basic chords and new chords. In that particular order. Just remember to start with the thumb. For example, your pattern could be Thumb-Index-Ring-Index-Thumb. Just remember this pattern and practice with open strings first and then move on to basic chords and then new chords, with an added note maybe.
• Emphasise on the picking hand
It’s okay to not do anything with the fretting hand while you’re getting used to playing with your fingers. Initially, you can just keep playing on open strings to get your basics straight. Your emphasis in this should be on your picking hand’s motion and positioning. Control is the key here.
You could later on move to new chords and fretting hand chord changes to enhance your skills.
Once you’re comfortable with chords, you could try scales with fingerpicking. But remember, your emphasis should be majorly on your picking hand.
If you keep try these ideas out, you will achieve fluency in your fingerpicking very soon.
There would be times when you think you’re playing just fine without any of these pointers. Yes, there are a lot of ways to do something, especially in music because of its contextual nature. But that, is an advanced stage where you can improvise and come back to basics without hurting your playing. For that, you need to have a very strong base with good technique.
Just like I said, it’s the question of The Easy Way vs The Right Way.
Just stick to your basics and you’ll be fingerpicking your way through everything in no time!