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Finger Picking Guitar Lessons

In this we will introduce you to some of the basic things that you need to know in order to start finger picking. We will cover how to use your fingernails or just the skin on your fingers to pick the notes, the two basic ways to hold your hand when finger picking and some basic techniques for you thumb and fingers on your picking hand.

When you are finger picking you can use just the flesh on your fingers to pick the notes, or you can grow your fingernails out a bit. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. If you choose to grow your fingernails out you will get a brighter sharper tone. If you choose to keep your nails short you will get a bit darker of a tone. Try experimenting with nails and without. See which way you like better.

The two basic methods that you can use to position your hand, when bringing it up to the strings to do some finger picking, are the folk method and the classical method. Neither way is right or wrong, just different. The folk method uses either the back of the palm on the bridge, or the pinky finger on the top of the guitar to anchor the hand in place. Using your finger or palm to anchor your picking hand to the guitar can help you keep track of where you are when you are picking the strings. This method is great but you can experience some unwanted tension in your hand and wrist if you are not careful.

The classical method doesn’t use any anchoring points. Your arm should just kind of floats freely over the strings. For each method you should be relaxed. Your wrist should be pretty straight and not bent to one side or the other too much. Try experimenting with both methods and see which way works for you the best.

Let’s start finger picking. Take your thumb on you picking hand and rest it on the 6th string. If you have your nails grown out a bit you should rest thumb on the string right where the nail meets the flesh on the side nearest the string. If you are not using your nail just place the tip of your thumb on the string. Now push your thumb down through the string. Try that a few times until you get comfortable with the motion. Your thumb should be relaxed and not curved too far one way or the other. Now try playing the 5th and 4th strings with your thumb too. Any time you see a P or a T on a piece of sheet music that just means that you should use your thumb to pick that note.

Now it is time to learn a few basics for the rest of the fingers on your picking hand. Put your thumb in place on the 6th string and then place your 1st finger on the 3rd string right where the flesh meets the nail. Now play the string by using mostly the second joint on your finger to make a plucking motion. Try the same thing with your 2nd finger on the 2nd string and your 3rd finger on the 1st string. This kind of a stroke is called a free stroke and it is usually used when you are finger picking chords. When you are performing free strokes your hand should be relaxed and you fingers that you are not picking with should be free to move naturally with the finger that is picking a note. Any time you see a I M or A on a piece of music just be aware that those are indicators for the fingers on your picking hand. I stands for your index finger, M stands for your middle finger and A stands for your ring finger.

The other kind of stroke that you need to learn about is a rest stroke. It is called a rest stroke because you prepare your finger on the string that you are going to pick, and once you pick the string your finger comes to rest on the neighboring string. Rest strokes can be louder, brighter and more aggressive sounding than free strokes. They are also usually used for single note melody line type playing. Place your index finger on the 1st string. Now instead of curving your finger, like you would on a free stroke, keep it a bit straighter. Pull you finger through the string, but instead of using the second joint of your finger use the third joint for most of the plucking motion. Once you pick the string your finger should come to rest on the 2nd string. A soon as your 1st finger on your picking hand comes to rest on the 2nd string, you should put your 2nd finger on your picking hand out and prepare it to do a rest stroke on the 1st string. Perform a rest stroke with your 2nd finger on the 1st string. Alternate rest strokes using your 1st and 2nd fingers on the 1st string until you get a good feel for this technique.