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Beginning Acoustic Guitar ­ Part 4

n this session we're going to continue our study of thumb and finger independence because this is the route to true mastery of your acoustic guitar. However, it's worth recapping what we've covered so far. In Part 2 we looked at common chords and simple strumming techniques which I hope you have been practising and perfecting. You should also be adding to your repertoire of chords at every opportunity through the use of books, videos, DVD's and the wealth of resources you can find on the internet.


In Part 3 we covered a pick and strum technique known as Carter Picking, as a first step to establishing finger and thumb independence. What happens with this technique is that your thumb picks the root (bass note) of the chord, usually on the first and third beats of the bar while you strum the rest of the chord on the off beats (beats 2 and 4). Carter Picking is a great halfway house between strumming and all out fingerpicking. Fingernails for fingerpicking It should be fairly obvious that you must keep the nails on your fretting hand short. If they are too long you simply won't be able to fret properly. However, the nails on your picking hand need to be grown (see fig.1). The thumbnail is usually grown longer than the rest of the fingers. For me the optimum length for my thumbnail is Fig. 1 between 5 and 7mm and 2 to 3mm for the other nails. Some players dispense with a long thumbnail and use a thumb-pick instead. You can achieve a great variety of tones depending on which bits of the picking finger you use. For instance, if I want a soft tone I would use the pad of my finger. For a hard and wiry sound I would use nail only, but more often than not a combination of pad and nail will do the trick. These picking nails need to be smooth and rounded to follow the contour of your fingertips. Any rough edges will increase the risk of snagging a string at an inopportune moment. I always keep clippers and a nail file in my guitar case. A principal difference between strumming and fingerpicking or fingerstyle is right hand independence. When strumming the right hand is one fluidly moving unit, sweeping smoothly up and down like a pendulum, whereas in fingerstyle your fingers have to be independent of the thumb and vice versa. What is the correct position for your picking hand? Whatever you do your whole arm from the shoulder to the fingertips should be relaxed. Your thumb should be poised over the bass strings while your index, middle and ring fingers should be hovering over the G, B and E strings respectively. To achieve a good picking hand position you could try this: place a tennis ball or similar in the palm of your hand, with your hand facing towards the floor. Grip the ball and then release it. Let your hand relax slightly, hold this shape and put your hands over the strings. The shape and position should correspond to the picking hand shown in fig. 2. Fig. 2

Fingerstyle rule of thumb The rule of thumb regarding which digits play which strings is as follows: E - Thumb (p) A - Thumb (p) D - Thumb (p) G - Index Finger (i) B - Middle Finger (m) E - Ring Finger (a) Once you know what you're doing you can break these rules, but for the moment I suggest you stick to this fingerstyle rule of thumb. A quick word about the small letters in brackets in our table above. The letters pima are a standard picking hand convention, where p = thumb i = index finger m = middle finger a = ring finger. In all the musical examples here I have used the pima convention to help you sort things out correctly. I suggest you work through the exercises systematically. Do not go onto the next exercise until you have thoroughly mastered the exercise you are on. Start very slowly and pick up the tempo as you gain confidence. If you start making mistakes, it's very likely that you're going too fast. It may be difficult at first, but you will triumph in the end if you persevere. The art of the arpeggio Arpeggios are a great way to begin establishing thumb and finger independence because all your digits are required to execute them well. Basically an arpeggio is a chord or series of notes played one note after the other. You can play arpeggios with a forward roll (ascending) or a backwards roll (descending), or a combination of forwards and backwards. But whichever way it goes the arpeggio should sound nice and smooth. Eradicate jerks and aim for even volume and tone for each note. Hopefully you can see why you need to use your thumb (p), index finger (i), middle finger (m) and ring finger (a). Some players dispense with the ring finger but this means that their middle finger has to play a string and then drop down to the next one which is fine if the tempo is slow, but when things speed up it's not easy to play really smoothly. Let's start with a basic E minor arpeggio (fig. 3 next page). I have indicated the chord of E minor in the tablature but in fact you don't have to fret anything because only open strings are used. You will notice in the top line of the standard musical notation that the notes are grouped together in 3's. These are called triplets and each one lasts for one beat, so your count would be one-and-a, two-and-a, three-and-a, four-and-a. Naturally enough you will need to develop the skill of arpeggiating through chord changes, so in fig. 4 (next page) you will arpeggiate through the chords of D, A and G. Pay attention to the string changes on the G chord in bar 3 where in last two beats your index, middle and ring fingers each move up a string. Don't forget that you can use these arpeggios patterns on any chord progressions you like.

So far our arpeggio patterns have been going up and down the strings using a combination of forward and backward rolls. What most people find harder to achieve is a forward or backward roll only. Fig. 5 uses a backward roll only. In fact, you should practise this pattern both ways, ascending only and then descending only. Again the key here is to start slowly and build up the tempo gradually.

The final arpeggio exercise (fig.6) is a real tune. You should be able to recognise it. You may notice that I have simplified the rhythm slightly, but it's still definitely recognisable. Have fun and keep up the picking.

Presented by: Acoustic Guitar Workshop, Written by: Steve Elliott Copyright 2005 First published in Acoustic Magazine 2005


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