The Essential Fingerpicking Rules for Every Guitar Player

fingerstyle guitar Mar 19, 2024

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Embarking on a journey into finger-picking or finger-style guitar playing opens up a realm of expressive possibilities. Whether you're a seasoned player or just starting out, understanding and mastering the essential finger-picking rules can significantly enhance your technique. In this blog post, I aim to guide you through these fundamental principles that lay the foundation for proficient finger-style playing.

First and foremost, let's delve into a rule that acts as a cornerstone for finger-picking—assigning specific responsibilities to each digit of your picking hand. This rule is particularly crucial for players approaching the guitar from a finger-picking standpoint. The rule states that your thumb is designated for handling the top three strings (low in pitch: E, A, and D), while fingers one, two, and three are responsible for strings 3, 2, and 1, respectively.

Now, I'm not typically one for rigid rules just for the sake of having rules. However, in this case, understanding and following this particular rule can significantly aid your finger-picking journey. Whether you're a seasoned finger-picker or a beginner, adhering to this rule has theoretical reasons deeply rooted in various styles, including classical finger-picking.

In resting position, your hand should naturally align with this rule. As you lay your hand on the strings, your thumb should find itself on the sixth string, while fingers one, two, and three rest on strings 3, 2, and 1, respectively. This resting position might seem like a trivial detail, but it serves as a crucial starting point. It allows you to be in the correct place without needing to look, facilitating smoother transitions and finger movement.

Understanding why the thumb is assigned the top three strings is pivotal. Generally, the bass lines in music do not move as rapidly as the melody lines. While these are guidelines or rules of thumb, they provide a rationale for allocating specific tasks to each digit, promoting efficiency and precision in finger-picking.

To help you remember this allocation, think of P, I, M, and A as codes for your thumb and three fingers. P represents the thumb, I is for the index finger, M is for the middle finger, and A is for the ring finger. This simple code, known as PIMA, becomes a recurring theme in classical and finger-picking literature.

In the attached PDF, you'll notice PIMA is used extensively, providing a visual reference for finger-picking patterns. This code will prove beneficial as you navigate through various finger-picking exercises and songs. Now, let's explore a basic exercise that encompasses these principles.

Begin with your thumb on the sixth string and fingers one, two, and three on strings 3, 2, and 1, respectively. The exercise mimics a song in six, where the strong beats occur every six beats. This is often associated with waltz-like rhythms. As you perform this exercise, be mindful of your resting position and observe the PIMA allocation.

While practicing this exercise, it's essential to relax your fretting hand, allowing your picking hand to focus solely on the finger-picking technique. This approach is akin to a juggler honing the skill of juggling with fewer balls before introducing additional elements. In the context of guitar playing, isolate the picking hand initially, and once the finger-picking is proficient, integrate the fretting hand.

The exercise can be approached with a floating technique or by anchoring the heel of your palm near the bridge. The choice depends on your comfort and the desired control over the strings. It's worth noting that classical guitarists often favor the floating technique (for better tone and volume with nylon strings), while folk and rock players may opt for a closer anchor for added control.

As you engage in this exercise, expect some frustration initially. Finger-picking introduces a new skill, utilizing four "picks" instead of one. Concentrate on accuracy rather than speed, and you'll find that speed naturally follows as you become more proficient.

In conclusion, mastering finger-picking requires patience, practice, and adherence to fundamental rules. By assigning specific tasks to each digit, understanding the PIMA code, and practicing dedicated exercises, you pave the way for a more nuanced and expressive guitar-playing experience. Embrace the initial frustration, focus on accuracy, and soon you'll find yourself seamlessly navigating intricate finger-picking patterns with confidence and skill. Happy picking!


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