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Learn Finger Picking (Guitar Lesson)

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David Anthony

Learn Finger Picking

Learning fingerstyle techniques greatly increases your abilities on the guitar. Certain pieces of music cannot be played with a pick. Playing with your fingers also enables you to apply percussive effects to your acoustic playing. In this lesson, David Anthony covers basic fingerstyle technique. He gives you some exercises / pieces that will get you started.

Taught by David Anthony in Basic Guitar with David Anthony seriesLength: 30:09Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (1:03) Opening Music Get tuned up and ready for some finger picking basics!
Chapter 2: (1:18) Finger Picking Introduction Learning to finger pick will add a whole new dimension to your playing. Finger picking enables you to play two distinct musical lines simultaneously. Typically one line will be melody and the other accompaniment. Combining a chordal rhythm and a bassline is also another possibility.

In addition, some musical passages are easier to play with the fingers than with a pick. Passages that involve rapid arpeggios or a combination tremolo/bassline are just a few examples. Also, playing with the fingers creates a much softer tone than playing with a pick. Jazz players frequently ditch their picks to provide a softer accompaniment.
Chapter 3: (6:29) Basics of Finger Picking David demonstrates a chord progression twice-once with a pick and once with his fingers. Note the overall differences in tone and feel between the two examples. The pick provides a much louder and aggressive tone. When David plays the progression with his fingers, the resulting sound is much softer and not quite as bright. It is much easier to add effects when finger picking. David slaps the strings on beats 2 and 4 to create the effect of a snare drum. He also adds a bassline to the progression. As you can see, finger picking lends itself to multi-tasking on the guitar much better than playing with a pick.

In the following scenes, David demonstrates some basic exercises that will get your fingers acquainted with finger picking.

Note: David labels each right hand finger with a circled number. When reading a piece of music that involves finger picking, these circled numbers will refer to which string is to be played. Right hand fingerings are designated with the following abbreviations:

Thumb: P
Index: I
Middle: M
Third Finger: A (for Anular)
Pinky: C (This finger is rarely ever used when finger picking. It is only used for flamenco techniques such as the rasgueado.)

David labels the right hand thumb with the letter “T.” T is used as a left hand fingering abbreviation when reading a musical score. This indicates that a string is to be fretted with the left-hand thumb.
Chapter 4: (1:50) Different Finger Picking Techniques David gives a quick introduction to the specific finger picking techniques that he will discuss in this lesson. You will learn the basics of playing arpeggios, blocked chords, and a combination of both techniques. Other techniques, such as playing scales, will be discussed at a later time.
Chapter 5: (2:43) Finger Picking Practice This basic exercise develops control of the “P” and “I” fingers. Begin the exercise by forming a basic open E chord with the left hand. Now, play each ascending string with the thumb. Be sure to review the finger picking technique rules discussed in the written portion of Lesson 14. Once you reach the first string, pluck it with the “I” finger. Descend the strings, plucking them each with the “I” finger. Finally, the sixth string will be played again with the thumb. From here, repeat the pattern for extra practice.

Be careful that you are not dragging your fingers across the strings to perform the arpeggio. Use individual strokes for each individual string. The index finger should pass through each string into the palm of the hand.
Chapter 6: (2:12) Second Part of the 1st Exercise This exercise adds the “M” finger into the arpeggio. The exercise is performed the same way as it was in Scene 5. However, the B string will now be played with the M finger.

Note: This is simply an exercise designed to strengthen your fingers. An arpeggio should never be performed like this when playing any musical excerpt. This is due to a finger crossing in the pattern. A finger crossing occurs when a finger must cross over top of another finger to pluck a string. Plucking the first string in this pattern with the “I” finger creates a finger crossing. The first string in this pattern should be plucked with the “A” finger in order to avoid this crossing. Finger crossings should be avoided at all costs. They create inaccuracy, diminish tone consistency, and generally slow you down.
Chapter 7: (5:54) Second Finger Picking Exercise This is another exercise designed to improve the strength and control of the thumb. Make sure that you follow the designated right hand fingerings that David has written underneath the tablature. Also, remember that all of the motion in your thumb should come from the joint that connects to the palm of your hand. No movement should be coming from the middle joint in your thumb.
Chapter 8: (2:16) Advanced Finger Picking Exercise Playing ascending arpeggio patterns with P, I, and M is very common. Once you have mastered the first two exercises in this lesson, devote the majority of your practice time to working on this important exercise.
Chapter 9: (6:22) Chords and Finger Picking Playing basslines in conjunction with blocked chords is a very important technique to learn if you want to play jazz music. This technique enables the guitarist to fulfill the role of a bass player when none is present while simultaneously playing blocked chords. The bassline will always be played with thumb. The rest of the chord will be plucked with the I, M, and A fingers. Since the chords in this exercise are three note voicings, the upper two notes of each chord will be played with I and M.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

scullen17scullen17 replied on March 15th, 2016

Great lessons!! Do you have lesson to help with Mark Knopfler techniques? Thank you. [email protected]

drapolonskydrapolonsky replied on January 27th, 2015

Thanks for the lesson! Totally appreciated! I love to fingerpick, but am trying to learn a variety of techniques/increase my exposure and how to be more independent from the written music. l am looking forward to watching more lessons. :)

greekbloodgreekblood replied on January 13th, 2014

Great lessons!!!

melody lafountainmelody lafountain replied on March 6th, 2012

learning quite a bit. Gives me lots to practice between lessons. Great teaching!

myriadharbourmyriadharbour replied on February 5th, 2012

Great job on the lesson David! You're by far my favorite teacher here on Jamplay. Keep -it- up.

charlie636charlie636 replied on September 6th, 2011

Ithink the supplemental for the 3rd part of exercise 2 is missing. But I think I have it. ttt1 ttt1 tttt1 , up and down the staff. I like your teaching style David, I'm learning a lot. Thanks.

azri13azri13 replied on May 12th, 2011

hello david.what is the 2nd chord that you use in scene 3 at 00:59.i notice the 1st chord is AMA7 right and the 2nd one?

nash24nash24 replied on September 24th, 2010

Sorry, but too much talking and a little too hard for beginners.

sdaless22sdaless22 replied on August 15th, 2010

Using my thumb is very easy and natural to me. But when I am stroking back down the chord with my number 1 finger, my whole hand seems to change positions and my wrist moves straight up so I can keep my 1 finger straight. Looking at David strum his hand/wrist seems to stay in the same position for the most part. Should I worry about my hand position even if the strum/timing is fine? I feel like down the road it may make me lose speed or make harder exercises more difficult than they need to be since my hand/wrist is moving so much.

patsendpatsend replied on May 18th, 2010

good, but too much difficult for beginners.

jesseboy000jesseboy000 replied on January 6th, 2009


drigerdriger replied on November 14th, 2008

what about fingernails? should they be cut short? grown long?

jboothjbooth replied on November 14th, 2008

That depends on the sound you are going for, there is not necessarily any right or wrong way unless you are trying to be a traditional classic player. Having shorter nails will give you a softer, more soothing sound where as longer nails will give you a brighter, louder more "twangy" sound. There's actually a pretty good combo in between where you have just enough nail that it hits the nail a bit as well as the soft part of your finger. This is really something that requires individual experimentation as it varies from person to person.

ldannyldanny replied on December 23rd, 2007

How do you download the exercise from the supplemental content to your PC? I could just print screen and paste to .ppt but thought there was an easier way?

jaqkarjaqkar replied on December 22nd, 2007

Exercise 2 part 1 missing from supplemental content?

bizarrobizarro replied on November 5th, 2007

Hello David, I'm not beeing able to conect your video chapters to the notes in the "supplemental content". Have you chosen to note just some of the exercises or is there any lack of precision... or am I just jet lagged after flying back from brazil? Anyway I'm quite happy to know there's also a jazz aproach for beginers. Thanks for your help.

jboothjbooth replied on November 6th, 2007

Hello. Are you familiar with reading tablature? If not you may want to read up on David's beginner lessons. I think though the problem you are having is in the supplemental portion some of the tab requires you to scroll to the right, with the scrollbar at the bottom. This may be what is throwing you off =)

Basic Guitar with David Anthony

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

David Anthony is an acoustic guitar aficionado. In this series you will learn basic concepts that are essential to playing any style of guitar music.

About David Anthony View Full Biography David Anthony was born on November 9th, 1982, in the small town of Mount Hope, NY. As a child he absorbed the church flavored musical environment that his parents provided. With this influence he realized at a young age that music would not simply be a passive experience for him. It was not until the age of 15 that he decided to string up his first guitar. Relying solely on his father for his foundational chord knowledge, he quickly became enamored with the possibility of endless melodic structures, and the goal of becoming a fantastic player himself.

His early shredder influences came from Kirk Hammet of Metallica. During his first few years of guitar playing, he developed a very workable knowledge of pentatonic, major and minor scales. Over the years his musical interests swayed from rock to standards, from jazz to classical, and a strong love of the art of flamenco guitar; Spanish finger style. It was not until the age of 18 that he decided to surround himself entirely with the music of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. This influential exclusivity enabled him to learn more about thinking outside of the musical box. In one year he had learned than in the prior 3 years. Picking up multiple ways to structure melodies, create chords and use different modes, his writing and improvisational abilities grew exponentially. In his senior year of high school, he was responsible for the development of the first Musical Appreciation class in the schools history, and had aided the instructor in the teaching of those classes.

After high school, his focus started to rest mainly in writing. With this he realized that he would need additional, abstract influences to develop a unique style of writing. After a couple more years of playing in a small band, and writing some decent material, he greeted 2004 with a move to Nashville, TN. There he found the exact influence that would change his opinion of the guitar forever. Attempting to weed out a strong foundation in shredding and solo techniques, he began learning finger style guitar, and quickly realized the options that his door would open for him.

As he picked up more complex chord structures and jazz scales, his style became a passion for him that continues to drive him and push him to learn more. He feels strongly about the connection between musical input and the music you write. He notes that his subconscious pool of influence, developed from the music he listens to, is almost directly responsible for the type of music that he writes. He adamantly believes that in order to create a unique, soulful style, the pool must remain unpolluted by substandard music. What's that mean? As David puts it, "If you don't want to play crap, don't listen to crap."

David currently teaches Jazz guitar in Fort Collins, Colorado, with plans to move back to Nashville in the spring to pursue a career in writing.

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