How Can You Start Fingerstyle Guitar Playing?

So, you’ve been admiring those mesmerizing fingerstyle guitar performances and are curious about how you can start playing yourself? Look no further, because we’re here to guide you on your musical journey. In this article, we’ll explore all the essentials of beginning your fingerstyle guitar adventure, from choosing the right guitar to learning the basic techniques. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced guitarist wanting to expand your repertoire, this article will provide you with the necessary tools to embark on your fingerstyle guitar playing endeavor.

Choosing the Right Guitar

When it comes to fingerstyle guitar playing, choosing the right guitar is essential. There are several types of guitars to consider, each with its own unique qualities. Understanding the different guitar types will help you make an informed decision.

Understanding the Guitar Types

  1. Acoustic Guitar: The acoustic guitar is a popular choice for fingerstyle players due to its warm and rich sound. It is available in various sizes, such as dreadnought, concert, and parlor, allowing you to find one that suits your playing style and comfort.

  2. Classical Guitar: Classical guitars are known for their nylon strings, which offer a softer and mellower tone. They have a wider neck, making it easier for fingerstyle players to navigate the strings and execute complex finger movements.

  3. Steel-String Guitar: Steel-string guitars are commonly associated with folk and country music. They produce a bright and lively sound, making them ideal for fingerstyle playing. A smaller-bodied steel-string guitar, such as a folk or parlor size, can be more comfortable for fingerstyle techniques.

Considerations for Fingerstyle Playing

  1. Action: The action of a guitar refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard. For fingerstyle playing, a lower action is generally preferred, as it allows for easier fretting and fingerpicking. However, make sure the strings don’t buzz against the frets when played.

  2. Tonewood: The tonewood used in the construction of a guitar can greatly influence its sound. Different tonewoods have different characteristics, so it’s important to consider which ones resonate with your style of fingerstyle playing. Common tonewoods include spruce, cedar, mahogany, and rosewood.

  3. Electronics: If you plan on performing live or recording your fingerstyle playing, consider a guitar with built-in electronics. This will allow you to amplify your sound easily and make adjustments to your tone.

Recommended Guitar Models

  1. Martin D-28: The Martin D-28 is a classic choice for fingerstyle players. It has a rich and balanced tone, thanks to its solid spruce top and rosewood back and sides. The D-28 offers excellent projection and sustain, making it suitable for both solo fingerstyle playing and accompanying vocals.

  2. Taylor 814ce: The Taylor 814ce is a versatile guitar that excels in fingerstyle playing. It features a grand auditorium body shape and a combination of spruce and rosewood tonewoods, resulting in a clear and articulate tone. The Taylor Expression System electronics ensure a natural amplification of your fingerpicking nuances.

  3. Breedlove Pursuit Concert: The Breedlove Pursuit Concert is a more affordable option without compromising on quality. It boasts solid tonewoods, including a mahogany top and back, for a warm and balanced tone. This guitar is comfortable to play and offers great value for fingerstyle players on a budget.

Tuning Your Guitar

Properly tuning your guitar is crucial for fingerstyle playing. It ensures that your instrument is in tune with itself and allows you to produce harmonious melodies and chords. There are different tunings to consider, depending on your desired sound and the style of music you intend to play.

Standard Tuning for Fingerstyle

Standard tuning is the most common tuning for fingerstyle playing and is also the basis for many fingerpicking patterns. In standard tuning, the strings are tuned to E, A, D, G, B, and E from low to high.

Alternate Tunings for Fingerstyle

Experimenting with alternative tunings can open up a whole new world of possibilities for fingerstyle playing. Some popular alternate tunings for fingerstyle guitar include:

  1. Open D Tuning: D-A-D-F#-A-D

  2. Open G Tuning: D-G-D-G-B-D

  3. Drop D Tuning: D-A-D-G-B-E

Each tuning has its own unique characteristics and allows for different chord voicings, resonances, and melodies. Explore these alternate tunings to discover new sounds and inspirations for your fingerstyle playing.

Basic Fingerstyle Techniques

Before diving into specific fingerpicking patterns and techniques, it’s important to master the basic fingerstyle techniques that form the foundation of your playing. These techniques ensure a solid finger control and help you produce clear and consistent tones.

Thumb Independence

One of the fundamental aspects of fingerstyle playing is developing thumb independence. This entails training your thumb to maintain a steady and consistent rhythm while your fingers pluck the strings. Practice exercises that involve plucking a bass note with your thumb while simultaneously plucking higher strings with your fingers.

Finger Placement and Mobility

Proper finger placement and mobility are crucial for executing fingerstyle techniques accurately. The fingertips should lightly touch the strings, ensuring a firm connection for plucking the strings. Practice exercises that involve alternating plucking between multiple strings to improve finger mobility and accuracy.

Rest and Free Stroke

Rest stroke and free stroke are two common techniques used in fingerstyle playing. Rest stroke involves plucking a string and allowing your finger to rest on the adjacent string, producing a fuller and louder sound. Free stroke, on the other hand, involves plucking a string without touching any other strings, resulting in a brighter and more delicate sound. Mastering both techniques will allow you to vary the tone and dynamics of your playing.

Thumb Technique

The thumb plays a crucial role in fingerstyle playing, providing the bass notes and establishing the rhythmic foundation. There are various thumb techniques to explore, each offering a different tone and feel to your fingerstyle playing.

Bass Thumb Technique

The bass thumb technique involves plucking the bass notes with your thumb while your fingers handle the melody and accompaniment. This technique provides a solid rhythmic pulse and enhances the overall groove of your fingerstyle playing. Practice playing simple bass lines and gradually incorporate them into your fingerpicking patterns.

Alternating Thumb Technique

The alternating thumb technique is commonly used in blues and folk fingerstyle playing. It involves alternating between two bass strings with your thumb, creating a syncopated rhythm. This technique adds a dynamic and percussive element to your playing. Start with simple alternating bass patterns and gradually increase the complexity of your thumb movement.

Thumb Slap Technique

The thumb slap technique is a percussive technique that adds a percussive and rhythmic element to your fingerstyle playing. It involves slapping the thumb against the strings, producing a percussive sound similar to a drumbeat. Experiment with different slapping positions and intensities to create unique rhythmic patterns.

Fingerpicking Patterns

Once you have mastered the basic fingerstyle techniques, it’s time to explore different fingerpicking patterns. These patterns provide the foundation for countless songs and can be adapted and combined to create your own unique playing style.

Alternating Bass Patterns

Alternating bass patterns are often used in folk and country fingerstyle playing. They involve plucking the bass note with your thumb while alternating between the higher strings with your fingers. Start with simple alternating bass patterns, such as the “Travis Picking” pattern, and gradually progress to more complex patterns.

Travis Picking Patterns

Travis picking, named after the legendary guitarist Merle Travis, is a popular fingerpicking style used in various genres, including folk, blues, and country. It involves alternating bass notes with your thumb while your fingers pluck the melody or chords. Practice Travis picking patterns to develop your coordination between the thumb and fingers.

Carter Style Patterns

Carter style fingerpicking, influenced by legendary guitarist Mother Maybelle Carter, is characterized by its intricate fingerpicking patterns and driving basslines. It involves plucking the bass notes with the thumb, while the fingers play the melody and accompanying chords. Carter style patterns require finger independence and precise coordination. Start with simpler patterns and gradually challenge yourself with more complex arrangements.

Developing a Sense of Rhythm

Having a strong sense of rhythm is essential for fingerstyle playing. It allows you to maintain a steady tempo, syncopate, and groove with the music. Here are some techniques to develop your sense of rhythm:

Counting Beats and Measures

Understanding how to count beats and measures is a fundamental skill for any musician. Practice counting along with a metronome or a drummer to develop a solid internal sense of rhythm. This will help you stay in time while fingerpicking and playing with other musicians.

Metronome Practice

Using a metronome is an invaluable tool for developing your sense of rhythm. Start by setting the metronome to a comfortable tempo and practice playing simple fingerpicking patterns in time with the metronome. Gradually increase the tempo as your accuracy improves.

Playing with Backing Tracks

Playing along with backing tracks is an effective way to develop your sense of rhythm and improve your overall musicality. Choose backing tracks in various styles and tempos and practice playing different fingerpicking patterns and techniques while maintaining a steady tempo.

Playing Melodies and Accompaniment

Fingerstyle guitar allows you to simultaneously play melodies and accompaniment, creating a complete musical arrangement on a single instrument. Here are some techniques to incorporate melodies and harmonies into your fingerstyle playing:

Playing Melodies with Thumb and Fingers

To play melodies with thumb and fingers, assign the melody notes to specific fingers while the thumb handles the bass notes. This technique requires precision and coordination between the thumb and fingers. Practice playing simple melodies with thumb and finger combinations before progressing to more complex arrangements.

Adding Harmonies and Chords

Once you have a solid foundation in fingerstyle playing, you can start exploring harmonies and chords to enhance your arrangements. Experiment with different chord voicings and inversions to create interesting harmonies that complement the melody. Practice transitioning smoothly between chords and melody notes to achieve a seamless and cohesive sound.

Learning Songs and Repertoire

Learning songs and building a repertoire is an important part of your fingerstyle guitar journey. It allows you to apply the techniques and patterns you have learned in a musical context. Here are some tips for learning songs and building your repertoire:

Choosing Appropriate Songs

Start by choosing songs that match your skill level and musical preferences. Select songs that incorporate the fingerpicking patterns and techniques you are comfortable with, gradually introducing more challenging songs as your skills develop. Look for songs that inspire and excite you, as this will make the learning process more enjoyable.

Breaking Down Songs into Sections

When learning a new song, break it down into smaller sections or phrases. Practice each section separately, focusing on the fingerpicking patterns, chords, and melodies involved. Once each section is mastered, gradually piece them together until you can play the entire song seamlessly.

Memorization and Performance

Once you have learned a song, focus on memorization and performance. Practice playing the song from memory, focusing on accuracy, dynamics, and expression. As you gain confidence, consider performing the song for others, whether it’s in a casual setting or a more formal performance. Performing will help improve your stage presence and musicality.

Building Speed and Accuracy

Building speed and accuracy in your fingerstyle playing is a gradual process that requires consistent practice and patience. Here are some techniques to help you improve your speed and accuracy:

Slow Practice and Muscle Memory

Start by practicing fingerpicking patterns and techniques at a slow tempo, focusing on accuracy and precision. As you become more comfortable, gradually increase the tempo. Repetition will help develop muscle memory, allowing your fingers to move quickly and accurately without conscious effort.

Metronome Exercises

Using a metronome, practice playing fingerpicking patterns and solos at various tempos. Start at a comfortable tempo and gradually increase the speed while maintaining accuracy. This will help improve your timing and synchronization with the beat.

Increasing Tempo Gradually

Avoid rushing the process of building speed. Gradually increase the tempo of your practice sessions, focusing on maintaining control and accuracy. Pushing yourself too hard too soon can result in sloppy technique and mistakes, so take your time and allow your muscle memory to develop naturally.

Exploring Fingerstyle Techniques

Fingerstyle guitar offers a vast range of techniques and possibilities. Once you have mastered the basics, it’s time to explore more advanced techniques that can add depth and variety to your playing.

Palm Muting and Percussive Techniques

Palm muting involves lightly placing the side of your palm against the strings near the bridge, resulting in a muted and percussive sound. Experiment with different degrees of palm muting to achieve various tones. You can also incorporate percussive techniques, such as tapping the body of the guitar, to add rhythm and texture to your playing.

Artificial Harmonics

Artificial harmonics are created by lightly touching a string with your fretting hand while simultaneously plucking it with your picking hand. This produces a bell-like, higher-pitched sound. Experiment with different positions and techniques to achieve desired harmonics.

Tapping and Slap Techniques

Tapping and slap techniques involve using your fingers or the edge of your palm to tap the strings against the fretboard or body of the guitar. These techniques can create percussive effects and allow you to play melodies, chords, and harmonics simultaneously.

By exploring these advanced fingerstyle techniques, you can add your own unique flair and personality to your playing.

In conclusion, starting fingerstyle guitar playing requires choosing the right guitar, understanding different techniques, and practicing consistently. With time and dedication, you can develop your fingerstyle skills, build an impressive repertoire, and create beautiful music. Embrace the journey and enjoy the process of learning and mastering this captivating style of guitar playing.