- Fingerstyle guitar
Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking (picking individual notes with a single plectrum called a flatpick).
The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. See below.
Music arranged for fingerstyle playing can include chords, arpeggios and other elements such as artificial harmonics, hammering on and pulling off with the fretting hand, using the body of the guitar percussively, and many other techniques. Fingerpicking is the standard technique on the classical or nylon string guitar, but is considered more of an unusual or specialised technique on steel string guitars and even more so on electric guitars.
- 1 Fingerstyle as technique
- 2 Nylon string guitar styles
- 3 The North American fingerpicking tradition
- 4 Other acoustic styles
- 5 Slide, steel and slack-key guitar
- 6 Electric fingerstyle
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Fingerstyle as technique
Because notes are struck by individual digits rather than the hand working as a single unit, fingerstyle playing allows the guitarist to perform several musical elements simultaneously. One definition of the technique has been put forward by the Toronto (Canada) Fingerstyle Guitar Association:
Physically, “Fingerstyle” refers to using each of the right hand fingers independently in order to play the multiple parts of a musical arrangement that would normally be played by several band members. Bass, harmonic accompaniment, melody, and percussion can all be played simultaneously when playing Fingerstyle.
Advantages and disadvantages of fingerstyle
- Players do not have to carry a plectrum; but fingernails may have to be maintained at the right length and in good condition.
- It is possible to play multiple non-adjacent strings at exactly the same time
- It is more suitable for playing polyphonically, with separate musical lines, or separate melody, harmony and bass, and therefore more suitable to unaccompanied soloing. Fingerstyle players have up to four (very rarely five) surfaces striking the string independently; however, that does not equate to four plectrums, since plectra can strike strings on both an up and a downstroke, which fingers generally cannot.
- It is easy to play arpeggios; but the techniques for tremolo and melody playing are more complex than with plectrum playing.
- It is possible to play chords without any arpeggiation, because up to 4 strings can be plucked simultaneously.
- There is less need for fretting hand damping in playing chords, since only the strings that are required can be plucked.
- A greater variation in strokes is possible, allowing greater expressiveness in timbre.
- A wide variety of strums and rasgueados are possible
- Less energy is generally imparted to strings than with plectrum playing, leading to lower volume when playing acoustically.
- Playing on heavier gauge strings can damage nails: fingerstyle is more suited to nylon strings or lighter gauge steel strings (but this does not apply to fingerpicks).
Nylon string guitar styles
Nylon string guitars are almost always played fingerstyle.
Classical guitar fingerstyle
The term classical "Classical guitar" can refer to any kind of art music played on a nylon string guitar, or more narrowly to music of the classical period, as opposed to baroque or romantic music. The major feature of classical fingerstyle technique is that it has evolved to enable solo rendition of harmony and polyphonic music in much the same manner as the piano can. The technique is intended to maximise the degree of control over the musical dynamics, texture, volume and timbral characteristics of the guitar. Careful attention is paid to the physical posture of the player. Thumb, index, middle and ring fingers are all employed for plucking. Chords are often plucked, with strums being reserved for emphasis. The repertoire varies in terms of keys, modes, rhythms and cultural influences. Altered tunings are rarely employed, with the exception of Dropped D.
Fingerings for both hands are often given in detail in classical guitar music notation, although players are also free to add to or depart from them as part of their own interpretation. Fretting hand fingers are given as numbers in circles, plucking hand fingers are given as letters
Finger Notation Finger Notation - - Thumb p Index 1 Index i Middle 2 Middle m Ring 3 Ring a Little 4 Little c
To achieve tremolo effects and rapid, fluent scale passages, and varied arpeggios the player must practice alternation, that is, never plucking a string with the same finger twice. Common alternation patterns include:
- i-m-i-m Basic melody line on the treble strings. Has the appearance of "walking along the strings".
- i-m-a-i-m-a Tremolo pattern with a triplet feel (i.e. the same note is repeated three times)
- p-a-m-i-p-a-m-i Another tremolo pattern..
- p-m-p-m A way of playing a melody line on the lower strings.
Classical guitarists have a lot of freedom within the mechanics of playing the instrument. Often these decisions with influence on tone/timbre - factors include:
- At what position along the string the finger plucks the string (This is actively changed by guitarists since it is an effective way of changing the sound(timbre) from "soft"(dolce) plucking the string near its middle, to "hard"(ponticelo) plucking the string near its end).
- Use of nail or not: today almost all concert guitarists use their fingernails (which must be smoothly filed and carefully shaped) to pluck the string since it produces a sharper clearer sound, and also a better-controlled loud sound. The "use of nail or not" is usually a fixed consistent decision of the player and not varied; the thumb is an exception and might actively be varied between nail [sharper clearer sound] and flesh. Playing parameters include
- Which finger to use
- What angle of attack to hold the wrist and fingers at with respect to the strings
- Rest-stroke apoyando; the finger that plucks a string rests on the next string—traditionally used in single melody lines—versus free-stroke (tirando ( plucking the string without coming to a rest on the next string)
Flamenco guitar fingerstyle
Flamenco technique is related to classical technique, but with more emphasis on rhythmic drive and volume, and less on dynamic contrast and tone production. Flamenco guitarists prefer keys such as A and E that allow the use of open strings, and typically employ capos where a departure is required. They often strengthen their fingernails artificially.
Some specialized techniques include:
- Picado: Single-line scale passages performed apoyando but with more attack and articulation.
- Rasgueado: Strumming typically done by bunching all the right hand fingers and then flicking them out in quick succession to get four superimposed strums. The rasgueado or "rolling" strum is particularly characteristic of the genre.
- Alzapua: A thumb technique which has roots in oud plectrum technique. The right hand thumb is used for both single-line notes and strummed across a number of strings. Both are combined in quick succession to give it a unique sound.
- Tremolo: Done somewhat differently from the conventional classical guitar tremolo, it is very commonly played with the right hand pattern p-i-a-m-i.
Bossa nova is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played with the fingers rather than with a pick. Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in larger, jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying rhythm. Gilberto basically took one of the several rhythmic layers from a samba ensemble, specifically the tamborim, and applied it to the picking hand.
The North American fingerpicking tradition
Fingerpicking (also called thumb picking, alternating bass, or pattern picking) is a term that is used to describe both a playing style and a genre of music. It falls under the "fingerstyle" heading because it is plucked by the fingers, but it is generally used to play a specific type of folk, country-jazz and/or blues music. In this technique, the thumb maintains a steady rhythm, usually playing "alternating bass" patterns on the lower three strings, while the index, or index and middle fingers pick out melody and fill-in notes on the high strings.
The style originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as southern African-American blues guitarists tried to imitate the popular ragtime piano music of the day, with the guitarist's thumb functioning as the pianist's left hand, and the other fingers functioning as the right hand. The first recorded examples were by players such as Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie and Mississippi John Hurt. Some early blues players such as Blind Willie Johnson and Tampa Red added slide guitar techniques. Fingerpicking was soon taken up by country and Western artists such as Sam McGee, Ike Everly (father of The Everly Brothers), Merle Travis and "Thumbs" Carllile. Later Chet Atkins further developed the style.
In the 1960s, a new generation of guitarists returned to these roots and began to transcribe piano tunes for solo guitar. One of the best known and most talented of these players was Dave Van Ronk who arranged St. Louis Tickle for solo guitar. In 1971, guitarists David Laibman and Eric Schoenberg arranged and recorded Scott Joplin rags and other complex piano arrangements for the LP The New Ragtime Guitar on Folkways Records. This was followed by a Stefan Grossman method book with the same title. A year later Grossman and ED Denson founded Kicking Mule Records a company that recorded scores of LPs of solo ragtime guitar by artists including Grossman, Ton van Bergeyk, Leo Wijnkamp, Duck Baker, Peter Finger, Lasse Johansson, Tom Ball and Dale Miller. One of today's top ragtime stylists is Craig Ventresco, who is best known for playing on the soundtracks of various Terry Zwigoff movies.
Carter Family picking
Carter Family picking, also known as "'thumb brush' technique or the 'Carter lick,' and also the 'church lick' and the 'Carter scratch'", is a style of fingerstyle guitar named for Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family's distinctive style of rhythm guitar in which the melody is played on the bass strings, usually low E, A, and D while rhythm strumming continues above, on the treble strings, high E, B, and G. This often occurs during the break.
Middle | X X | X X Index | X X | X X Thumb | X X X X | X X X X
The thumb (T) alternates between bass notes, often on two different strings, while the index (I) and middle (M) fingers alternate between two treble notes, usually on two different strings, most often the second and first. Using this pattern on a C major chord is as follows in notation and tablature:
Travis' own playing was much more complicated and not limited to simple patterns. He referred to his style of playing as "thumb picking", possibly because the only pick he used when playing was a banjo thumb pick.
Clawhammer and frailing
Fingerstyle guitarist Steve Baughman distinguishes between frailing and clawhammer as follows. In frailing, the index fingertip is used for up-picking melody, and the middle fingernail is used for rhythmic downward brushing. In clawhammer, only downstrokes are used, and they are typically played with one fingernail as is the usual technique on the banjo.
American primitive guitar
American primitive guitar, or American Primitivism, is a subset of fingerstyle guitar. It originated with John Fahey, whose recordings from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s inspired many guitarists such as Leo Kottke, who made his debut recording of 6 and 12 String Guitar on Fahey's Takoma label in 1969. American primitive guitar can be characterized by the use of folk music or folk-like material, driving alternating-bass fingerpicking with a good deal of ostinato patterns, and the use of alternative tunings (scordatura) such as open D, open G, drop D and open C.
Other acoustic styles
A distinctive style to emerge from Britain in the early 1960s, which combined elements of American folk, blues, jazz and ragtime with British traditional music, was what became known as 'folk baroque'. Pioneered by musicians of the Second British folk revival began their careers in the short-lived skiffle craze of the later 1950s and often used American blues, folk and jazz styles, occasionally using open D and G tunings. However, performers like Davy Graham and Martin Carthy attempted to apply these styles to the playing of traditional English modal music. They were soon followed by artists such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who further defined the style. The style these artists developed was particularly notable for the adoption of D-A-D-G-A-D (from lowest to highest), which gave a form of suspended-fourth D chord, neither major nor minor, which could be employed as the basis for modal based folk songs. This was combined with a fingerstyle based on Travis picking and a focus on melody, that made it suitable as an accompaniment. Denselow, who coined the phrase ‘folk baroque’ singled out Graham’s recording of traditional English folk song ‘Seven Gypsys’ on Folk, Blues and Beyond (1964) as the beginning of the style. Graham mixed this with Indian, African, American, Celtic and modern and traditional American influences, while Carthy in particular used the tuning in order to replicate the drone common in medieval and folk music played by the thumb on the two lowest strings. The style was further developed by Jansch, who brought a more forceful style of picking and, indirectly, influences from Jazz and Ragtime, leading particularly to more complex basslines. Renbourn built on all these trends and was the artist whose repertoire was most influenced by medieval music.
In the early 1970s the next generation of British artists added new tunings and techniques, reflected in the work of artists like Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and particularly John Martyn, whose Solid Air (1972) set the bar for subsequent British acoustic guitarists. Perhaps the most prominent exponent of recent years has been Martin Simpson, whose complex mix of traditional English and American material, together with innovative arrangements and techniques like the use of guitar slides, represents a deliberate attempt to create a unique and personal style. Martin Carthy passed on his guitar style to French guitarist Pierre Bensusan. It was taken up by in Scotland by Dick Gaughan, and by Irish musicians like Paul Brady, Dónal Lunny and Mick Moloney. Carthy also influenced Paul Simon, particularly evident on ‘Scarborough Fair’, which he probably taught to Simon, and a recording of Davy’s 'Anji' that appears on Sounds of Silence, and as a result was copied by many subsequent folk guitarists. By the 1970s Americans such as Duck Baker, Eric Schoenberg were arranging solo guitar versions of Celtic dance tunes, slow airs, bagpipe music, and harp pieces by Turlough O'Carolan and earlier harper-composers. Renbourn and Jansch’s complex sounds were also highly influential on Mike Oldfield’s early music. The style also had an impact within electric folk, where, particularly Richard Thompson, used the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning, though with a hybrid picking style to produce a similar, but distinctive effect.
"New Age" fingerstyle
In 1976, William Ackerman started Windham Hill Records, which carried on the Takoma tradition of original compositions on solo steel string guitar. However, instead of the folk and blues oriented music of Takoma, including Fahey's American primitive guitar, the early Windham Hill artists (and others influenced by them) abandoned the steady alternating or monotonic bass in favor of sweet flowing arpeggios and flamenco-inspired percussive techniques. The label's best selling artist George Winston and others used a similar approach on piano. This music was generally pacific, accessible and expressionistic. Eventually, this music acquired the label of "New Age", given its widespread use as background music at bookstores, spas and other New Age businesses. The designation has stuck, though it wasn't a term coined by the company itself.
"Percussive picking" is an emerging term for a style incorporating sharp attacks on the strings, as well as hitting the strings and guitar top with the hand for percussive effect. Flamenco guitarists have been using these techniques for years but the greater resistance of steel strings made a similar approach difficult in fingerstyle until the use of pickups on acoustic guitars became common in the early 1970s. Michael Hedges began to use percussive techniques in the early 1980s. Current percussive fingerstylists include Tommy Emmanuel, Preston Reed, Laurence Juber, Shaun Hopper, Kaki King, Justin King, Erik Mongrain, Phil Keaggy, Thomas Leeb, Jon Gomm, Eric Roche, Doyle Dykes, Michael Gulezian, Don Ross, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D'Andrea, Trace Bundy, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Newton Faulkner, and Paul Finley.
The pioneer of Congolese fingerstyle acoustic guitar music was Jean Bosco Mwenda, also known as Mwenda wa Bayeke (1930–1990). His song "Masanga" was particularly influential, due to its complex and varied guitar part. His influences included traditional music of Zambia and the Eastern Congo, Cuban groups like the Trio Matamoros, and cowboy movies. His style used the thumb and index finger only, to produce bass, melody and accompaniment. Congolese guitarists Losta Abelo and Edouard Masengo played in a similar style.
Herbert Misango and George Mukabi were fingerstyle guitarists from Kenya.Ali Farka Toure and Vieux Farka Toure are father-and-son fingerstylists from Mali, whose style has been compared to John Lee Hooker's. Djelimady Tounkara is another Malian fingerstylist.
Tony Cox (b. 1954) is a Zimbabwean guitarist and composer based in Cape Town, South Africa. A master of the Fingerpicking style of guitar playing, he has won the SAMA (South African Music Awards) for best instrumental album twice. His music incorporates many different styles including classical, blues, rock and jazz, while keeping an African flavour.
Slide, steel and slack-key guitar
Even when the guitar is tuned to a chord, it often undesirable for all six strings to sound. When strumming with a plectrum.a guitarist must damp unwanted strings with the fretting hand; when a slide or steel is employed, this fretting hand damping no longer possible, so it becomes necessary to replace plectrum strumming with plucking of individuals strings. For this reason, slide and steel guitar playing are very often fingerstyle.
Slide guitar or bottleneck guitar is a particular method or technique for playing the guitar. The term slide refers to the motion of the slide against the strings, while bottleneck refers to the original material of choice for such slides: the necks of glass bottles. Instead of altering the pitch of the strings in the normal manner (by pressing the string against frets), a slide is placed upon the string to vary its vibrating length, and pitch. This slide can then be moved along the string without lifting, creating continuous transitions in pitch.
Slide guitar is most often played (assuming a right-handed player and guitar):
- With the guitar in the normal position, using a slide called a bottleneck on one of the fingers of the left hand; this is known as bottleneck guitar.
- With the guitar held horizontally, with the belly uppermost and the bass strings toward the player, and using a slide called a steel held in the left hand; this is known as lap steel guitar.
Slack-key guitar is a fingerpicked style that originated in Hawaii. The English term is a translation of the Hawaiian kī hō‘alu, which means "loosen the [tuning] key." Slack key is nearly always played in open or altered tunings—the most common tuning is G-major (DGDGBD), called "taropatch," though there is a family of major-seventh tunings called "wahine" (Hawaiian for "woman"), as well as tunings designed to get particular effects.
Basic slack-key style, like mainland folk-based fingerstyle, establishes an alternating bass pattern with the thumb and plays the melody line with the fingers on the higher strings. The repertory is rooted in traditional, post-Contact Hawaiian song and dance, but since t1946 (when the first commercial slack key recordings were made) the style has expanded, and some contemporary compositions have a distinctly New Age sound.
Slack key's older generation included Gabby Pahinui, Leonard Kwan, Sonny Chillingworth and Raymond Kāne. Prominent contemporary players include Keola Beamer, Moses Kahumoku, Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi, John Keawe, Ozzie Kotani and Peter Moon and Cyril Pahinui.
Fingerstyle jazz guitar
The unaccompanied guitar in jazz is often played in chord-melody style, where the guitarist plays a series of chords with the melody line on top. Fingerstyle, plectrum, or hybrid picking are equally suited to this style. Some players alternate between fingerstyle and plectrum playing, "palming" the plectrum when it is not in use. There is no single technique of fingerstyle jazz, but players generally avoid the use of capos and altered tunings.
Early blues and ragtime guitarists often used fingerstyle. True fingerstyle jazz guitar dates back to early swing era acoustic players like Eddie Lang (1902–1933) Lonnie Johnson (1899–1970) and Carl Kress (1907–1965), Dick McDonough (1904–1938) and the Argentinian Oscar Alemán (1909–1980). Django Reinhardt (1910–1953) used a classical/flamenco technique on unaccompanied pieces such as his composition Tears.
Fingerstyle jazz on the electric guitar was pioneered by George van Eps (1913–1998) who was respected for his polyphonic approach, sometimes using a seven string guitar. Wes Montgomery (1925–1968) was known for using the fleshy part of his thumb to provide the bass line while strumming chordal or melodic motives with his fingers. This style, while unorthodox, was widely regarded as an innovative method for enhancing the warm tone assciated with jazz guitar. Montgomery's influence extends to modern polyphonic jazz improvisational methods. Joe Pass (1929–1994) switched to fingerstyle mid career,making the Virtuoso series of albums. Little known to the general public Ted Greene (1946–2005) was admired by fellow musicians for his harmonic skills. Lenny Breau (1941–1984) went one better than van Eps by playing virtuosic fingerstyle on an eight string guitar. Tommy Crook replaced the lower two strings on his Gibson switchmaster with bass strings, allowing him to create the impression of playing bass and guitar simultaneously.
Chet Atkins (1924–2001) sometimes applied his formidable right-hand technique to jazz standards, with Duck Baker (b. 1949), Richard Smith (b.1971), Woody Mann and Tommy Emmanuel (b. 1955), among others, following in his footsteps. They use the fingerpicking technique of Merle Travis and others to play wide variety of material including jazz. This style is distinguished by having a steadier and "busier" (several beats to the bar) bass line than the chord melody approach of Montgomery and Pass making it suited to up-tempo material.
Today, fingerstyle jazz guitar has several proponents: the pianistic Jeff Linsky (b. 1952), freely improvises polyphonically while employing a classical guitar technique. Earl Klugh (b. 1953) has also performed fingerstyle jazz on the solo guitar. Briton Martin Taylor (b. 1956), a former Stephane Grappelli sideman, switched to fingerstyle on relaunching his career as a soloist. His predecessor in Grappelli's band, John Etheridge (b. 1948) is also an occasional fingerstyle player.
Electric blues and rock
The solid-body electric guitar is rarely played fingerstyle, although no great technical challenges are presented.
Slide guitarists often employ fingerstyle, which applies equally to the electric guitar,for instance Duane Allman and Ry Cooder. Blues guitarists have long used fingerstyle: modern exponents include Albert King, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa
Exponents of fingerstyle rock guitar include, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck (after years of pick playing), Robbie Krieger, Lindsey Buckingham, Mike Oldfield, Patrick Simmons, Wilko Johnson, J.J. Cale, Robbie Robertson, Hillel Slovak and David Longstreth
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- ^ Basics of Clawhammer Guitar
- ^ Steve Baughman's Frailing Guitar website
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- ^ a b J. Henigan, Dadgad Tuning: Traditional Irish and Original Tunes and Songs (Mel Bay, 1999), p. 4.
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- ^ Elijah Wald
- ^ Lionel Loueke on Canvas (YouTube)
- ^ Michael Horowitz: The Unaccompanied Django
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- Pearson, Wyn (2008). Hybrid Picking. Mel Bay Publications Inc. ISBN 978-078667607-1. http://www.melbay.com/product.asp?ProductID=21343DP.
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