Fingerstyle Beginner Lesson
Fingerstyle guitar (sometimes fingerpicking) is a technique where the fingers of the right hand play the strings. No pick is used. The right-hand thumb, index, middle and ring fingers are used, and sometimes the pinky finger. Traditionally, these fingers are lettered: p, i, m, a. The thumb is p, the index finger is i, the middle finger is m, the ring finger is a. These abbreviations come from the Spanish language. (pulgar, indice, medio, anular).
Fingerstyle is a general term for using the hand to play guitar notes, and refers to styles ranging from classical to latin to country.
The goal of the fingerstyle guitarist is to play several independent musical parts at once. The bass-lineA bass-line is a series of low notes, often played on the 6th or 5th string of the guitar, which serves as an anchor for the music., chordsA chord is a harmony resulting from several notes played at once. and melodyA melody is a memorable musical theme, usually played in a high range. of a song can be played altogether, with some adjustments.
The best way to begin playing guitar in this style is simply to play individual chords with the fingers. The notes of the chords can be arpeggiatedAn arpeggiated chord is a chord whose notes are played individually. In this case, even though they are plucked separately, they tend to collect and ring together.—played one at a time by each finger. The fingers can also play the notes all together.
Let’s start our study with a Gmaj chord. Since our example will be in the key of “G”, all tones of this chord will work—even the high “E” string, played open, which is in the key of G major but not normally in the G chord. Fingerpicking changes the ‘rules’ a little bit. This chord may not sound good if directly strummed because then its tones all “attack” together. But if it’s played with the fingers, they each begin separately and ring out; this can disguise chords that are dissonant and make them sound beautiful.
How do we approach this? Since most of us have less than six fingers on our right hand, we’ll need to choose some tones from the chord to pick. Let’s try a few sequences.
Sequence 1 – All four fingers move together
In sequence #1, all four fingers work as a team, playing each note in sequence. The thumb starts on the lowest string, and the index finger starts on the next string, and so on. When it’s time to move to the new string, all four fingers take a step down to the next set of four strings.
Sequence 2 – Thumb stays, three fingers move
In sequence #2, the thumb continues to play the bass note of the chord, G. the next three fingers work as a team like they did before, playing each note in sequence, then moving to the next set of strings and repeating. The thumb stays behind.
Sequence 3 – Four fingers move forwards, then backwards
In sequence #3, the four fingers play in sequence as before, but now they also reverse direction, so that the ring finger is first and the thumb is the last.
Once you’ve developed these fundamental motions in the right hand, the notes of the chord can begin to change as well.
Sequence 4 – (Chords)
In this last sequence, we’ll play the same three strings over and over again with the index, middle and ring fingers: the fourth string, the third string and the second string. (tones D, G and D). Now, we’ll move the bass of the chord around and create a more active, flowing chordal harmony.
Sequence 4 (Notation)
This example shows how even a very simple pattern can be musically interesting.
There are infinite possibilities for the fingerstyle chords. The bass part can move, the highest note or melody can move, and so can inner voices – the notes played on the strings that are neither highest nor lowest. Experiment with this technique of playing chords fingerstyle and moving voices around, and in time you’ll discover the possibilities for yourself.