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7/8/07

Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking is a technique for playing the guitar, or some other stringed instrument using the fingertips and/or fingernails, rather than with a plectrum (or "pick"). The term is often used synonymously with fingerstyle guitar.

It is used for classical guitar, and some other acoustic styles, but it has found its way into other genres as well, including rock and roll (as practiced by Mark Knopfler and Jorma Kaukonen for example), although its use in such genres is relatively rare. There is a whole school of jazz guitar playing using the technique. The great Joe Pass was a leading exponent of the technique and currently Britain's Martin Taylor is noted for this chord-melody approach. American guitarist Jeff Linsky combines a classical guitar technique with a polyphonic jazz improvisational style. It is not the only way to play the guitar without a pick, but it is perhaps the most common method used by professional guitar players.

Technique

There are a variety of ways to fingerpick. A more formal or classical approach is to place the picking hand over the strings near the soundhole. Although many players will lightly rest their thumb on a string even when it is not playing for stability, often the fingers only touch the strings when articulating a note, although there are more sophisticated styles that involve muting of strings with the plucking fingers. An alternate technique is to "prepare" the passage in advance by placing the right hand fingers on the strings before the notes are played. This is used primarily for ascending arpeggios.

There is a useful technique especially for jazz guitar where the picking fingers rest against the strings to mute them, sometimes immediately after they are plucked to create a staccato effect. Additionally, it is possible to pluck chords without creating arpeggios, where a number of strings are sounded at the same time.

Finger style technique is very versatile and can be combined with many other techniques, such as slapping the strings to create a percussive sound (the playing of John Martyn is an important example). It is also possible to not only pick individual strings but to strum a series of strings in a chord creating a hybrid technique of picking and strumming, typically strumming downwards with the thumb and upwards with the fingers (essentially playing more than one string with a finger or thumb in one stroke). This can create a fuller and louder sound from the guitar.

Most finger style techniques use a maximum of three fingers and thumb, the pinky finger (little finger) not being used. The most common form of fingerpicking in folk guitar uses just two fingers and thumb.

Some players, including most country blues guitarists, will brace the pinky finger and/or ring finger on the face (on an acoustic) or a pickup (on an electric). Holding it against the face on an acoustic can deaden the tone of the instrument if pressed too hard. Some players who use or used this technique include Mance Lipscomb, Big Bill Broonzy and Stefan Grossman.

Thumb and finger picks

As an alternative to using the fingertips or finger nails, fingerstyle guitarists---generally country or folk-style---may use small picks attached to the fingertips or thumb of their picking hand. These thimble-like prosthetics are also common among banjo players (Scruggs style). The picks are worn over the fleshy part of the finger or thumb.

Fingerpicks are generally worn to gain increased volume from each pluck of the string. Thumb picks are useful when more emphasis is desired for the bass line, as the thumb is typically dedicated to plucking the top three, deeper sounding, strings.

Chet Atkins, also known as Mr. Guitar, demonstrated this type of playing; he used a thumb pick and his first 3 fingers to pluck the strings.

Hybrid picking

Following on from the use of thumb picks, several guitarists who only make occasional use of finger picking may tend towards hybrid picking. In hybrid picking, the plectrum is held, as usual, between the thumb and index finger while the remaining fingers are used for fingerpicking.

Because it is convenient for guitarists who use a flatpick (plectrum), hybrid picking has found its way into styles of guitar music where fingerpicking is rarely, if ever, used. Many contemporary guitarists will use this as an auxiliary technique. Ritchie Blackmore used this technique for his famous opening riff for "Smoke on the Water" (Ritchie used to hold a pick in his teeth when performing parts with his fingers). Eric Johnson makes frequent use of the technique as well. Carl Verheyen, Brett Garsed, Albert Lee, and Steve Trovato use this technique in country and rock. Gustavo Assis-Brasil uses hybrid picking in jazz and Brazilian music, and Jesse Cook in some modern flamenco pieces. A notable user of hybrid picking is Zakk Wylde, who brings this technique to heavy metal.

Acoustic fingerstyle guitar

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VDO Finger pinking exercise

Finger Picking

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