There’s nothing cooler than grabbing your guitar and bulging the eyes of a buddy, girlfriend, boyfriend, or total stranger with a cool fingerpicking tune.
Dust in the Wind, Why Georgia, The Entertainer anyone?
Sometimes, we make a few fingerpicking mistakes, a few booboos. Here’s a few common ones and how to fix them.
1. Not picking the right string.
Like, who hasn’t done this fingerpicking?
Give each finger the job of picking certain strings. For instance…
Thumb takes care of strings 6, 5, and 4: E, A, and D strings.
Pointer finger handles the 3rd string: G string.
Middle finger handles the 2nd string: B string.
Ring finger handles the 1st string: high E string.
An alternate and more traditional way is letting the middle thumb handle the E – A – D strings and the pointer and middle fingers team up on the G – B – and high E strings.
If you’ve never tried finger style guitar before, this can take some practice. But, repetition is your friend here. If you’ve never used your ring finger to pick strings you might have to re-train yourself, but it can be worth the effort. It’s not necessary, but gives you a bit more to work with.
2. Not stabilizing your picking hand.
Hitting the right strings with an unsupported picking hand over the sound hole is like a Sparrow to the nest in a tropical storm.
It’s practically impossible to get the right amount of texture or dynamics too. Some strings soft, some strings loud, some in the middle.
If you want to pluck the right strings, nothing wrong with securing your arm. One way is keeping light pressure on the top of your guitar with the meaty underside of your forearm…. As if there were another part of your forearm you could use without being a freak of nature. This helps a lot, but still offers a chance for your fingers to wander and drift some.
Alternatively, you can use a finger or two as stabilizers.
Okay, this is a controversial point to some folks out there. But, since the below works for Tommy Emmanuel, it’ll work for you.
Dedicate your pinky or pinky and ring finger as anchor points for your hand.
Plop them babies down on the pick guard or top of your guitar, and start picking with your other fingers as described above. This offers the most stable positioning. Your thumb and picking fingers will love you for it.
3. Flicking strings rather than picking strings.
There are times you really do want to reach in and pull a string vertically off the face of the guitar, flicking or snapping it.
This is great for some blues tunes or creating some dynamics to your playing. But, for most of your picking, you want strings to vibrate horizontally over the sound hole. So, the right picking technique is needed. The thumb does this pretty naturally due to its size and position to the strings.
Your fingers are another story.
For them, try not to reach in and grab the string, but pick it. Your fingertip should be pulled more towards your meaty part of your thumb, than where your finger meets your palm.
It’s a subtle difference to pluck just the one string and not rake others, but worth paying attention to. It’s a more economical way of picking as well.
4. Limiting to one or two different picking patterns.
There are all manner of fingerpicking patterns. It can be a songwriter’s mistake to limit to one picking pattern. Limiting the tools in your toolbox limits the songs you can write.
One way to add a new pattern is learning a cover tune. Find the tab for it, or pick it off by ear.
Another way is to create your own pattern. Mix it up between which notes you hit for bass notes, or try using a drone bass note.
Come up with a pattern which uses pinching technique mixed with alternate picking. But make it a pattern, meaning it repeats.
5. Trying to learn both parts at once.
When you fingerpick, you’re technically playing two different parts: bass line and melody. Try learning just the bass notes. The part the thumb takes care of. Get the steady alternate bass line down so you don’t even think of it anymore. Then, go back and add what the other fingers are doing.
Also, take it a measure or two at a time. Don’t try to learn the bass line for the entire song. It’s more enjoyable when you can put the two parts together.
Now, go make music.