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The Advantages of Fingerstyle Guitar

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.


I have been playing guitar for decades now and I learned fingerstyle techniques early on. I didn’t really learn from anyone in particular, in the sense that I had formal instruction but I learned much from learning songs from some of my favorite Classic Rock guitarists. Later on, I learned from other sources as well and they would include instructional books on Classical guitar and Flamenco guitar.

Combining fingerstyle guitar with a healthy amount of music theory allowed me to develop into what I consider to be a well-rounded guitar player. I think there are so many advantages associated with being able to play fingerstyle guitar well and I would like to share some of them with you. This is really meant for people who are new to guitar playing as well as experienced guitar players who may not have ventured into that territory yet.

It Becomes Second Nature

When you have been fingerpicking for a while, it really starts to become second nature. It’s almost like an involuntary bodily function like breathing. It just happens. Sure, it can take a while to get to the point where it becomes that easy but once you get to that point, you can take any simple chord progression and make it sound great. I think it’s much better than simply just strumming all of the time. You could start a song out with some nice light fingerpicking and then go into a heavier part with some heavy or fast strumming to have a nice variety of dynamics in a song. It certainly increases your options.

When you get really good at fingerstyle, you get a level of precision I don’t think many people get with using just a regular guitar pick. Once you get a fingerpicking pattern down, it’s there for good and can be applied to so many songs. But not only could you actually apply one pattern to a number of different songs, there are a lot of potential patterns you could develop and practice as well. Once you really master a lot of different types of fingerpicking patterns, you should be able to find a pattern that will fit with just about any song and be able to do so with relative ease.

The key to it all is to practice a pattern over and over again until you have it down. Then it really does become second nature. I personally love the precision you get with it. I have been doing it so long now that it’s gotten to be so easy for me. I believe that if anyone puts in a lot of practice time, they should also be able to get to the point where it is that easy.

Two Notes at a Time

One thing that you can do with fingerstyle guitar that you can’t do by just using a guitar pick is pick two notes at a time on strings that are far apart. For instance, you could pick the low E string with your thumb at the same time you pick the high E string with your ring finger. Even if you use a pick and your fingers at the same time, it’s a form of hybrid picking and you are still pretty much fingerpicking anyway. Jimmy Page was really good at using a pick and his fingers at the same time and he, by the way, is one of my earlier influences and I have him to thank for much of my earlier development in fingerstyle guitar techniques..

When you pick two notes that are generally far apart from one another at the same time, you get a fuller sound than you would if you were only picking one note at a time. Also, it’s more intricate than just strumming a chord.

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You Can Accompany Yourself

Classical guitarists obviously use fingerstyle techniques. It works out very well for classical music because there is often a melody being picked by the fingers while the thumb often picks a bass tone. It’s also great for counterpoint. Just listen to some Bach pieces transposed for classical guitar and you can get a fine example of that.

Playing the bass notes while also playing a melody is sort of like accompanying yourself. That works extremely well when you don’t have anyone else backing you up. That’s one of the great things about solo classical guitar and fingerstyle guitar in general.

Guitar Arrangements for Piano Songs

I have taken piano songs and arranged them for fingerstyle guitar. It sometimes takes a little doing to come up with good arrangements but when you come up with them it allows you to be able to add a lot of songs to your repertoire that you might not otherwise be able to. That’s where being able to read music really comes in handy. The ability to read music combined with the mastery of fingerstyle guitar can take you pretty far.

When trying to arrange a piano or keyboard song for fingerstyle guitar, I may have to experiment a bit until I come up with an arrangement that works best. I may play in the key of D with a capo on the seventh fret, thereby transposing it to the key of A. Or I may play in the key of G with a capo on the second fret, which would still transpose it into the key of A. Whichever key allows for the best transposition of the song will be the one that I use.

Obviously not every piano song is capable of being transposed to guitar. After all, they are two completely different instruments. But there are a lot of songs that can be transposed from piano to guitar that could sound great with a good arrangement.

Getting Started

The best way to get started is to begin with picking with just your thumb and index finger. Then, after you get that down, you start to do picking patterns that will involve your thumb, index and middle fingers. After that, do patterns adding your ring finger. Before you know it, you will be picking with all of your fingers.

You could just do a search online for fingerpicking patterns to see what all you can find. You can pretty much find just about anything on the Internet if you look hard enough. The video I posted with this article includes some tips on where to go online to get started.

Developing a Practice Routine

When I started learning fingerstyle guitar techniques, I developed a basic practice routine. it’s simple really. You just play a picking pattern over and over again until you master it. It’s all about practicing through repetition. You just do it over and over gain. You could even practice it on an electric guitar to produce very little volume so that you could actually watch television while you are doing the patterns over and over again. That may help to take some of the boring aspects out of the learning process.

When you practice a picking pattern, eventually try to do it while changing chords. It might be a bit tricky at first to do smooth chord changes while fingerpicking but with some practice you will get it down. Try a variety of chord progressions with the various patterns you are practicing. You might even come up with a new original song of your own.

After you progress some, try to learn some songs that use fingerstyle guitar techniques. It’s time to put all of that practice to use. Make those songs as well as practicing the various patterns part of your regular practice routine. Remember, practice makes perfect.

© 2018 Bob Craypoe

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