Five Reasons Why You Need to Know Some Fingerpicking

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Topics: Lessons

Andres Segovia

With obvious exceptions, there seems to be a distinct separation between those who pick and those who don’t. Classical guitarists use their fingers exclusively, whereas most rock/metal guitarists pretty much only use picks. Jazz, country, and blues players seem to be the most versatile in their use of both styles to achieve the sound they want.

Strangely enough, I have run into many guitarists in my day who simply refuse to even consider learning the “other” way. For the life of me I cannot understand why, but they are out there.

(They are “out there,” if you know what I mean.)

Anyway, I always had a hard time talking to and trying to understand the pickers that had no desire to learn to use their fingers. I was that guy that just couldn’t get it into my thick skull that they didn’t want to do it because they didn’t want to. Like telling your child, “because I said so!”

But I’m also stubborn. In many cases I just can’t take “no” for an answer. So, I’m going to give it one more shot and try to convince the resistance that there is a better way of life just over the ridge.

1. Dynamics

Unless you are one of death metal’s minions, a lot of the music you will play is not just ear-shattering bombastics from start to finish. When it comes time to soften things up a pick many times just can’t give you the warmth that section deserves. Fingerpicking, on the other hand, allows you to play exactly how hard or soft, loud or quiet you want.

2. Separation of Parts

Somewhat related to dynamics, having some fingerpicking ability under your belt will allow you to use the hybrid technique – your thumb and index finger uses a pick while your other three fingers can fingerpick at the same time. This is a very effective technique, especially in situations where you want your bass lines and upper voices to have good separation. The typical examples here are listening to jazz guitarists when they are comping and providing a walking bass line at the same time.

3. String Skipping

Unless you are a barre-chord-only kind of guy, there are times when you will want to play two or more notes at the same time that aren’t on adjacent strings. Surely you can try to mute the strings in between, but depending on what kind of music you are playing this may not sound good. Being able to reach one of the notes you need with your fingers will keep things sounding clean and precise.

4. It’s Fun!

I know that sounds rather trivial, but playing fingerstyle is a lot of fun and if you haven’t really explored it you should. Classical and folk music has a lot to offer, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog then you know how important I think cross-pollination of styles is.

5. And, for the most obvious reason of all…

Sometimes you won’t have a pick with you! Yes, it happens. You go to a party full of Swedish bikini models, there’s an acoustic guitar sitting in the corner, but you can’t play it and woo the womenfolk because you left your damn picks in your other pants pocket! You could always do the index fingernail strum thing, but that just sounds ridiculous and you know it.

But, learn to play some James Taylor or a Villa Lobos piece with your fingers and you’ll be up to your ears in silicone before you can say, “Hi, my name is…”

Regardless of what style of music you like, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better equipped  you will be, and the more you explore and try different things the better you will become as a player. So stop arguing with me and giving me 800 reasons why you can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t; listen to Uncle Frethead and try it. You just might like it…

10 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Mike Ian says:

    “The Clap” by Steve Howe. Thats how I got my feet(fingers) wet!! : )

  2. Willem says:

    I always manage not to have a pick on me when I really need one.

    To overcome this problem, rather than get into the habit of carrying a pick with me wherever I go, I have adopted this fingerstyle strumming technique.

    It basically involves strumming as if I’m holding a pick, but without actually holding one! The end result is that I strum with the sides of my index fingernail on the downstroke, and my thumb nail on the upstroke.

    Doesn’t sound half bad, either!

  3. Well I dedicate my finger picking to Romance Anonimo…
    Practiced it day and night to get it right… but it was priceless…

  4. Adrian says:

    The party full of swedish bikini models was all the motivation I needed. I’ll start practicing fingerpicking today :D

  5. G says:

    “You could always do the index fingernail strum thing, but that just sounds ridiculous and you know it.”

    Do you think Alan Morse sounds ridiculous?

    • Josh says:

      Point taken, G. No, I don’t think he sounds ridiculous. In fact, he’s one of my favorite guitar players. I guess I’ll save face by saying he’s the exception to the rule. Maybe? :)

  6. JAW says:

    I have tried many times over the years to play with a pick, with varying degrees of success. Perhaps we were all born into the world of fingers or the world of plectrums, and crossover is rare. For some reason when I see guys who are normally pick wielders playing fingerstyle – even when playing it well – they look like they are really labouring the job. Doesn’t look like their natural state.

    But good call, fingerstyle is best! :)

  7. ProFuzz says:

    I agree that it’s very important to know some fingerpicking – using it at the right moment is a really good way to diversify your guitar playing. And it’s also a good way to get some new song ideas when your inspiration has gone away. And in general – trying to play something new is always amazing!

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