This weeks lesson is a guest post from Brett at guitarfriendly.net. It's a cool lesson for someone wanting to learn about fingerpicking in particular "Travis picking", so grab your guitar sit back and learn some good basics about finger style picking.
Beginner's Guitar Lesson to Fingerpicking
Fingerpicking as a style originated in the late 1800s and early 1900s from southern American blues guitarists as a way to mimic ragtime piano. While classical composers who played guitar in the 18th century provided some basis for the fingerpicking style, fingerpicking should not be confused with any style of guitar that uses fingers to pluck the strings. Fingerpicking distinguishes itself by simultaneously providing a melody over a consistent bass-string accompaniment. Folk, country, jazz, blues, and pop music styles often utilize the fingerpicking style.
One fingerpicking style is known as "Travis picking," which is named after Merle Travis. In this fingerpicking style, the thumb and fingers are both used to pluck the strings.
In this guitar lesson, we're going to learn a basic, but extremely versatile Travis fingerpicking pattern.
For this style, a correct fingerpicking hand position will use your thumb, index, middle and ring fingers for picking. Your thumb will pluck the low E string, A string, and D string, while your index finger will pluck the G string, your middle finger will pluck the B string, and your ring finger will pluck the high E string.
There will be times where your fingers will pluck other strings, but this should work as a base fingerpicking position.
You'll also want to make sure your hand is relaxed as possible. Your wrist should not be bent or twisted as it lays across the top of the strings. Any tension will limit your speed, endurance, and accuracy as a fingerpicker.
Refer to the following picture for the correct fingerpicking position:
As you can see, you're utilizing four of your fingers. A common mistake is to start fingerpicking with only using your thumb and index finger. This isn't completely bad, but you'll be much more thankful down the road if you learn this correct position, because you'll be able to do a lot more with it.
Let's Learn a Fingerpicking Pattern
We're going to learn an "Inside-Out" fingerpicking pattern. Let's first learn this over a C major chord.
You're going to first pluck the 3rd fret of the A string, which is a C note, with your thumb. Generally when we are fingerpicking, we will want to pluck the root of the chord (in this case it is C) first. Then, we will pluck the open G string with our index finger. Then, we will pluck the 2nd fret of the D string, which is an E note, with our thumb. Lastly, we'll pluck the 1st fret of the B string, which is a C note, with our middle finger.
C major chord
At first, start very slow. It may take you awhile for your fingers to adjust, build strength, and to build speed. Speed will come as you become more comfortable. Do not try to force speed. You'll also want to count out loud so you are fingerpicking in time. This pattern is played in duple meter and each note gets an eighth note. So you will want to count out 1 & 2 & where on each count you should be playing a different note.
As you begin to get more comfortable with this pattern, let's throw in a chord change. Let's continue to use the "inside-out" fingerpicking pattern to play an E minor chord.
E minor chord
You'll notice that the fingerpicking position doesn't change much from the C chord except that you are plucking the low E string with your thumb first, and then you are alternately skipping over with your thumb to pluck the 2nd fret of the D string, which is the E note, on beat two.
Fingerpicking an E minor chord is close to fingerpicking a G major chord. Check it out.
G major chord
Once you've learn a C major chord, E minor chord, and a G major chord, give yourself a bit of a challenge and try to learn a D major chord.
For a D major chord, we'll utilize our ring finger. So the pattern will look like so.
D major chord
Feels different doesn't it? Again, you'll want to start slow and take your time with each chord. It gets much easier as you go on, but you gotta be able to walk before you can run.
As you get comfortable with each chord, try switching between chords, but while also staying in time. This will be a good challenge, and if you can switch without missing a beat, you'll be able to play a lot of songs with just these four chords. One song I can think of off the top of my head is Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.
Do I need to grow out my fingernails?
Some guitar players will grow out their finger nails to achieve more control and better dynamics with their picking. Often those who use their fingernails will be able to produce a bit of a brighter sound with a bit more of a sharper attack. Those who just pick with the ends of their fingers will usually produce a warmer and more mellow sound. Either way is not bad, it just depends what type of sound you want.
Fingerpicking requires a lot of control and coordination, but as you take your time and work on consistently striking each note and in time, you will be able to build up the speed, control, dynamics, accuracy, and endurance that'll make you an excellent fingerpicker.
Brett McQueen is recently basking in the glory of completing his studies in music and theology at university. In the unsettling freedom of currently not having a steady job, he is a worship leader, musician, songwriter, and blogger. Brett is passionate about teaching free guitar lessons for beginners so other people can succeed and reach their goals as musicians and artists.