Having covered Bass Runs in the keys of C Major and its
relative minor, A minor, we turn our attention now to Arpeggios, or what is
commonly known as Fingerpicking.
The ability to use the right hand fingers for fingerpicking needs to be a
part of any guitar players skill set. No matter what style you play, you
are going to need it, although we must admit it will be more crucial for
some styles, less crucial for others. But, how many times have I watched a
young electric rock player claw their way through the intro to Stairway To
This area of technique is worthy of much commentary, for a number of
reasons. As a classical player who loves and plays many styles, when I
began teaching I realized that in order to really "do right" by the
student, I should teach them the "classical" approach to what is called
fingerpicking, which in classical technique is called "free stroke". Even
though, in the music store I was teaching in, I was surrounded by other
teachers who were playing with the common and more "primitive" technique
used by folk players, and even though they were teaching their students
that way, I was going to teach the classical approach.
The reasons are quite simple. The first reason is that even way back then,
I was interested in training students so that they could go as far as
possible in the direction of great playing, and the folk technique is just
plain limited. It limits players in terms of speed, volume, and tone (and
that about covers it, doesn't it, when it comes to music!)
reason is that IF one knows how to teach it, the classical approach to
right hand finger use is easy to teach. In fact, it is as easy to teach as
the more limited approach, so why not do it? I happen to believe that,
given the proliferation in recent decades of classically trained players
(and perhaps with some help from The Principles), the old "folk"
fingerpicking technique will become a thing of the past. It will be
similar to the use of the left hand pinky. When I was a young player, you
were considered a member of the playing elite if you could use your left
hand pinky, as if you had special talent. No, just, at that time, special
training. Today, it is quite common, even for rock players (and quite
necessary as well).
I admit, in my early years, teaching players how to develop the right hand
was very challenging, there is a WHOLE lot that can easily go wrong. But,
as I developed what became in The Principles the "finger dipping"
exercises, used along with no tempo practice and all the other
understandings relative to tension and whole body awareness, I began to
get consistent and solid results. The key lies in knowing how and what to
practice in order to develop that most prized ability in the right hand
fingers: true individual use of each finger. It can be done, and can be
done by anyone.
Once the initial practice time is put into this (which may amount to only
a month or two), for the rest of your life, all types of arpeggios and
fingerpicking patterns (travis picks, for folk and country people) are
incredibly simple, and able to be done with great speed, volume, and tone.
So, I will assume that those players doing the Mel Bay Course are working
diligently on the right hand exercises from The Principles, and will be
using that technique when they practice the folk songs in The Ultimate
Folk Collection, which is one of the companion texts we are using.
The song used in this lesson uses a picking pattern that is explicitly
covered in The Principles, and thumb-index-middle-index pattern, where the
thumb plays an alternate bass. Principled Players know that the "thumb
up" motion is the danger here. This motion, done here with the added
difficulty of having the fingers in motion as well, is what causes tension
and loss of form for players. It must also be noted that in this pattern,
the three right hand fingers are first used to "up-strum" a chord. The
pattern is as follows (using a D chord):
T r T i m i
When the 3 fingers are used together, the motion must be the same as when
the 3 fingers are used individually. That is, the movement is from the
"big knuckle" (the metacarpo-phalangeal joint). This is the "waving bye
bye" motion described in The Principles. Also, make sure that you are in
The Cup position with the right hand. The fingers, moving from the big
knuckle, close in toward the hand in a group, but the fingertips stay
close to the plane of the strings. Do not let them go up into the palm.
Also, notice this: the thumb first plays the 4th string, then the 3rd
string. Likewise, the index and middle first play the 3rd and 2nd, then
the 2nd and 1st strings. There is a VERY SLIGHT dropping action of the
hand/forearm that accompanies this change of location of the fingers. It
is so slight, you would never see it by watching a player. It is felt
nonetheless. It is one of those sensations I often have to transfer to
someone in person, but you can discover it yourself if you are on the
lookout for it.
The whole point is that you don't want to reach with the fingers. Rather,
the hand/.wrist/forearm is the base from which the fingers play, and the
hand/wrist/forearm moves to bring the fingers into the correct
relationship to the strings for the action they must perform. To not do so
is to induce subtle tension into the entire arm and hand.
Most especially, remember the admonition in The Principles to "follow the
fingertips". The biggest problem players have with fingerpicking is that
the fingertips do not return close to the strings after each use (thus,
the fingerdipping exercises). Lock your eyeballs on those fingertips, and
watch what each one does after it is used, and then, watch what each one
does when it is INACTIVE and waiting, in reaction to the finger that is
ACTIVE and playing.
Okay, don't get crazy, have fun with this, and try to apply as much of
what I have spoken about as you can. Read over what I have said many
times, and of course, refer to The Principles for all the other
micro-details of right hand finger use.
To hear where proper and consistent practice of the FingerPicking
Exercises in The Principles can take you, listen to this mp3 of me playing
a study by Mauro Giuliani, which uses sextuplets (6 note arpeggio) played
at 120 bpm.