Finger Pickin' ... Patterns & Styles
Finger picking provides a refreshing change from strumming with a flat-pick. It can create a lilting, graceful backdrop ... or a sharp, percussive, rhythmic counterpart ... and almost anything in between. It all depends on the pattern and the style or attack you give it.
It's important that you are proficient at Playing In Time before learning any finger picking patterns ... or ... you should learn these patterns with a drummer, bassist, or drum machine. The trick is to play at a true and consistent tempo ... repeating the pattern over and over -- mechanically ... relentlessly ... evenly and steadily -- while you change chords.
Without a strong and confident meter, arpeggios stumble, stagger, and fall flat on their faces. If you want to play arpeggios well, it is IMPERITIVE that you memorize them ... totally and completely. You can't think about finger picking and create a graceful movement ... the hesitancy of thought will reveal itself as insecurity in your playing.
When you take the time to do the discipline part, the freedom thing follows; when you can pick with a uniform and sober pace ... through all the chord changes ... without having to think about anything ... then the arpeggio will come to life, and exhale magic into your performance.
The patterns I use most, can be executed using only the thumb and index finger, or they may be performed with a flatpick for a more aggressive attack. There are many styles of finger picking, some as complicated as using all 5 fingers of the right hand ... some that use painstakingly cared-for fingernails ... and some that apply steel, plastic, or synthetic finger picks that slip over the ends of your fingers. If you're serious about this, I suggest you check out some of the books I've posted below, and do some reading. I'm not into it that heavily ... I just like applying arpeggio rhythms once in a while, and I've never found a pattern I wanted to play that I couldn't pull off using just two fingers ... or, when necessary, a flat-pick.
The way I approach the right hand technique (assuming you're a right-handed player - lefty's or southpaws ... well, you know the routine, eh?) is to rest the heal of my hand ... specifically, the side of the heal - in line with the pinky ... on the bridge, right on top of the #1 and #2 string pegs, and approach the picking from there. That's my way of doin' it, anyway.
The process is a simple one to describe. As you know by now, the strings are numbered: 6 5 4 3 2 1 -- 6 representing the heaviest string, and 1 representing the thinnest. The picking patterns will be described using the numbers that relate to the strings being played ... and in their proper sequence. You'll get the idea as soon as you try my first, and simplest, pattern.
Gotcher guitar ready? Cool. Check this one out ...
The 126.96.36.199 Pattern
This is one of the simplest patterns I know. If you're using your thumb ("T") and index finger ("F"), the attack is T.F.T.F ... if you use a flat-pick, the attack is down.up.down.up. You play the 4th string (T/down) ... then the 2nd string (F/up) ... then the 3rd string (T/down) ... then the 1st string (F/up) ... plucking downward with your thumb, and pulling upward with your index finger.
PER 4/4 MEASURE: 4 . 2 . 3 . 1 - 4 . 2 . 3 . 1
The 188.8.131.52 - 184.108.40.206 Pattern
This is one of my favorite patterns. If you're using your thumb ("T") and index finger ("F"), the attack is T.T.T.T - F.F.F.F ... pretty simple. If you use a flat-pick (I usually don't with this one), the attack is down.down.down.down - up.up.up.up. You play the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings (T/down) ... then the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings (F/up). I think it's especially wonderful when you're playing 6th-chords ... or 9ths ... or minor-7ths ... and it has a mesmerizing effect - like a ticking clock, it holds your subconscious attention. It's a very soothing pattern. You can hear me playing this pattern on a song I wrote, titled Houses of Healing :: Click Here
PER 4/4 MEASURE: 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 - 1 . 2 . 3 . 4
And, finally, here are some cool books for you to check out:
The Art of Solo Fingerpicking: How to Play Alternating-Bass Fingerstyle Guitar Solos (book and CD)
by Mark Hanson
The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking: How to Play the Alternating-Bass Fingerpicking Style (Book&CD)
by Mark Hanson
Finger Picking Styles for Guitar by Frances R. Donovan, Happy Traum
Beginning Fingerstyle Blues Guitar (Book & Audio CD)
by Arnie Berle, M. Galbo
"This book has made an incredible impact on my ability to play fingerstyle. I have no previous knowledge of playing fingerstyle and always thought it something that only extremely dedicated students could master. In just a couple months of playing the lessons in the book I'm already playing basic twelve bar blues that I would never have believed I could play. The book is very informative and has good easy beginning structure that leads to some rather complicated techniques."
~firstname.lastname@example.org - Kent, Ohio
Stefan Grossmans's Beginners' Fingerpicking Guitar by Stephan Grossman