Acoustic fingerpicking

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by Dreadnut, Feb 21, 2020.

  1. Dreadnut

    Dreadnut Tele-Holic

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    So how do you do it? I have arrived at bare-finger picking after abandoning finger/thumb picks and fingernails. So now I have callouses on my right fingers as well as my left fingers.

    I learned a lot of my fingerpicking technique and patterns from listening to and practicing along with Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, and John Prine to name a few.

    I took up fingerpicks when I started playing banjo 40 years ago, then I transferred them to guitar. That worked pretty well, but there are still some limitations, i.e., the fingerpicks can only be used in one direction.

    Then I had carpal tunnel surgery on my right hand, one surgery for the thumb and forefinger, and a separate surgery for the middle finger.

    After that, my middle finger just couldn't do the finger pick any more; it wouldn't go at the proper speed, so I couldn't do 3-finger picking with that contraption on my finger.

    Interestingly, that finger works fine without a finger pick. So I thought "I'll just grow out my own fingernails and use them."

    Well, after fiddle-farting around with my fingernails, I finally decided to cut my nails short on my picking fingers and just build up callouses like a bass player.

    This is working very well for me, and unlike with fingerpicks, I can pluck the strings in both directions, because I like doing back-handed downstrokes with my fingers/nails.
     
  2. schmee

    schmee Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I'm not a big fingerpicker in the true sense, I wish I was. But I have hybrid picked for decades.
    Lately for a couple years now I have started fingerpicking more with no pick, mostly because I'm playing more acoustic now and because I just do it here in the office learning songs or etc.
    I really do like it. Different tone nuances are definitely available with it, even on electric.
    I discovered playing the duo (just one guitar) that I can get near Jaco tones on the bass end.... accidentally discovered that.
    I'm far better playing solo fingerpicking because I do the bass lines better with my thumb free.
    I need to actually do it some time live instead of falling back to the flat pick. Trouble is, I'm not as fast fingerpicking, but probably more tasteful.
     
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  3. Obsessed

    Obsessed Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Basically only finger pick on acoustics. Can't bond with thumb or finger picks, so I wear out the pads of my hand. A delta blues player doing it the cheap way, but I admire Son House and his use of thumb and finger picks.
     
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  4. Dan German

    Dan German Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I started as a banjoist, so thumb and finger picks were what I was used to, but for some reason, I couldn’t keep playing that way. I switched to fingernails (what my guitar teacher used), but couldn’t keep them in usable condition. By default, I ended up with just my fingertips. I have played acoustic that way for 40 years, including my 12 string.
     
  5. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Friend of Leo's

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    I'm a finger picker, period. I finger pick my electrics, resonators, 12 strings and even "strum" with just nails. Experimented with thumb and metal finger picks and gave up. I use the fleshy part of my thumb with no nail, but a combination of flesh and nails on my fingers. I mostly play with two fingers but add the third for some arpeggios - and while fingers are more or less dedicated to strings, they do move around as required. I keep my nails slightly longer than the tips of my fingers (except when I break one, I do a bit of rock climbing and gardening and other things that are hard on nails). I've experimented with CA to repair nails, didn't think it worked very well. Never tried acrylics.

    There are lots of sub styles of "finger picking", mine is based on the old delta blues with thumb playing more or less alternating bass, fingers picking out a melody. I've been heavily influenced by John Fahey, Leo Kottke and some of the more modern finger style players. I don't sing and I don't play with others so my right hand has to do it all.

    Probably some of the best instructional materials were the old Stefan Grossman blues lessons, however there is a lot to be said for learning classical technique. Classical of course is much more rigid - fingers are assigned to different strings and patterns, hand position and techniques are much more formal.
     
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  6. fishermike

    fishermike TDPRI Member

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    Another "bare flesh" fingerpicker here. Can't sing, gotta make the guitar do it for me!
     
  7. mherrcat

    mherrcat Tele-Holic

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    I've recently gotten into Travis picking and find that it seems to come pretty naturally to me. I do need to work on a song for a couple of weeks to get the patterns down smooth. I like the Jim Kelly Speed Picks for thumb and use my fingernails. I haven't tried finger picks yet, but I have used them for pedal steel, so I guess I should give them a try on the acoustic.

    jerrysguitarbar.com has some good John Prine and Townes Van Zandt lessons.
     
  8. Bergy

    Bergy Tele-Holic

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    One way to begin integrating fingerstyle into your acoustic playing... just take it one finger at a time and work your way through the history of fingerstyle steel string acoustic players. Steel string acoustics have only been around for like 100 years, you might be surprised at how quickly you can begin to wrap your mind around the entirety of the repertoire.

    I started with thumb dexterity exercises then moved to other fingers, one at a time. "Dead Thumb" technique is used by lots of the earlier generations of acoustic, rural bluesmen. Think Big Bill Broonzy or Lightning Hopkins.

    Being able to move from dead-thumbing (pounding away on 1 string like a drone) to alternating bass will require some string skipping technique with the thumb. Pull up a cowboy chord E minor and pluck with your thumb on 6, 4, 2 then 5, 3, 1. You gotta find some way to dial in that thumb's muscle memory.

    The "Delta Claw Grip" I've heard described as playing with solely thumb and index finger. I associate Robert Johnson with this style of playing, altho I think he used more than 2 fingers quite often. Evolving from the claw grip, you start to get into the 2 finger versions of the Piedmont blues. Opposed to the delta claw grip, this style incorporates more ragtime syncopations. Less pinching and more alternate thumbing, IME. Think of Etta Baker's "Carolina Breakdown."

    With 3 fingers (thumb, index and middle) ya might wanna watch some Mississippi John Hurt. He braced his pinky and ring finger on the guitar and used 3 fingers to play in a Piedmont Blues style. By this point you've also got guys in the Blues-Folk revival like John Fahey and Leo Kottke to check out using lots of 3 finger techniques. Some of Leo's techniques sound like 2 fingers to me (think of that opening riff of "Vasoline Machine Gun"), but I'm pretty sure he uses more than that quite often.

    By the time you feel comfortable using 4 or 5 fingers, ya might as well start learning some Tommy Emmanuel! =)
     
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  9. NateD81

    NateD81 Tele-Meister

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    I do the exact same - good to know I’m not alone - I thought I was weird! Well, I am I guess but I’m not the only one at least.
     
  10. Deeve

    Deeve Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    whoa - too many choices!

    just posted on Bad Dog about my visit to the toystore and first purchase of thumbpicks...

    Like the dog that chases cars, I've got no idea what to do w/ these little loops of Delrin (or whatever they are made of)

    Will probably be visiting here a bit to try to learn what happens After I leave the store.

    Look, out Chet Atkins. . .
    :rolleyes:

    .IMG_20200220_151800.jpg
     
  11. Tornado

    Tornado Tele-Meister

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    I have my nails short and play half nail half flesh when picking the strings.
     
  12. Matt Sarad

    Matt Sarad Tele-Meister

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    I find that fingerpicking with flesh sounds better on my electrics. When my nails are acoustic length, my acoustic guitars sound best. I’ve trued to use Finger picks, up never got th3 hang of it over 40+ years.
     
  13. 3-Chord-Genius

    3-Chord-Genius Poster Extraordinaire

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    I suck at it. That's all I can contribute to this conversation.
     
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  14. Dukex

    Dukex Tele-Holic

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    I'm another flesh only guy with callouses (40 yrs). Suits me just fine.
     
  15. Califiddler

    Califiddler Friend of Leo's

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    I do the standard Piedmont-style, alternating bass fingerpicking. I use thumb and middle and index fingers. Middle finger plays the high E string. Index finger plays the B and G strings. Thumb plays the low E, A and D strings.

    I have fingernails on the index and middle fingers. Not as long as classical players have. I usually use just bare flesh on the thumb, but occasionally use a thumb pick, especially if I want to mute the bass strings with the heel of my palm. I can't get the angle to play the bass strings with the thumb and mute with the heel of the palm at the same time. I need the extra length of the thumb pick.

    Because I don't normally use the thumb pick, I find that when I do start using it it takes me a few days to get used to it.
     
  16. Steerforth

    Steerforth Tele-Afflicted

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    I’m predominantly a Travis-picker when I play with my fingers, though it depends on what I’m playing. And I don’t do much of that when I pick up an electric, that’s mainly an acoustic thing for me.
     
  17. JL_LI

    JL_LI Friend of Leo's

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    Finger picking is at the core of the style of almost all guitarists who use the technique. I decided one day I needed to learn, so my style is a little unorthodox. I mostly use three fingers, my thumb, index, and ring fingers. They seem to fall the most naturally on the strings. I use my middle finger too occasionally, more often for stops than anything else. I don't Travis pick. I use my thumb to start an arpeggio and use my long fingers to finish it, for stops, and for lead lines. I play solos off chords, so in a typical song three or four fingers get a workout. My finger style sounds more like what a pianist would play than a typical guitarist, but it works for me. I play a jazz number thumb only. I can't explain how I can play fast thumb only but it's what the piece calls for. I'm perfectly happy to let my right hand do some of the work with hammer ons, pull offs, and slides. I do this on electric and acoustic guitars. I use a flat pick on some songs for attack and tone, but I've been playing finger so long now, that I have to make a conscious effort when using a flat pick. I don't even think about what I'm doing when I play finger style. My mix is mostly country and country influenced with the occasional instrumental jazz number, and a few other numbers that I just like to play. Rereading the OP, I don't use finger nails. In fact I file the nails on my right hand to prevent them from affecting timbre. I could probably do OK without using my middle finger at all and one day if the arthritis gets bad enough, I may need to learn to play with four fingers on each hand.

    Considering all this, I'd like to learn classical, or at least classical technique. I'm playing off chords now. I'd like to work from sheet music and learn to play single note solos in the classical style. Playing the same material the same way gets old. I started with jazz to learn modes. The Dorian mode with its landing notes and loops has found its way into other stuff I play. Learning the classical style can't hurt. No one ever did better knowing less.
     
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  18. harpdog

    harpdog Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    I like using flesh with nail but my nails are bad. Regular finger picks don't work for me but these aLaska picks are working great. They wrap the fingertip and hook under the nail IMG_20200222_202634.jpg
     
  19. rodeoclown

    rodeoclown Tele-Meister

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    I been a few years getting the Chet Atkins picking style down, I recently discovered you can practice the technique without a guitar, the thumb movements after many hours come without thinking about it.
     
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