Lesson 4 : Muscle Memory

Once you have established or at least understand the basic technical rudiments, you’re on your way to independence. The next step is to forget everything. You should be able to enjoy listening to what you are creating and not worrying about where your thumb is supposed to be. Your body breathes for you, it’s not something you have to think about because your body’s autonomic nervous system does it for you.

If you think about breathing, suddenly you’re aware that you have to inhale and exhale and it becomes overwhelming. Same goes for the thumb. Unfortunately it’s not natural for your fingers to move in this manner so they must be trained. In the beginning try to play* for minimum an hour a day, it won’t take long to pick this up, but it will take a week or two before you’re thumb begins to think for itself. When you get to section two you will see how difficult this seems initially. Just remember to start slowly and learn to tap your foot on the beat. Depending on the song you can tap every beat, or just the one and the three.

*Notice that we never use the term ‘practice.’ If it feels like practice put down the guitar and take a break. This is difficult, but it should always remain fun and challenging. Push yourself and study hard but don’t fall into the habit of practicing for hours on end.

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7 Responses »

  1. I have been a recreational guitar player for 15 years and have always loved loved the fingerstyle sound, but it always seemed nebulous and out of reach for my skill level. This is an incredible resourse and you’ve inspired me to give a proper attempt. Thanks a million.

    • Thanks Steve!
      Drop a comment or message if you find yourself stuck.
      -Sean

    • I’m currently going through Arnie Berle’s beginning fingerpicking. With this great book and the tips from your site, I’m finally enjoying the guitar after years of scales and modes.
      I’m just starting off with learning a few Mississippi John Hurt tunes and a
      few from Stefan Grossman now that I’ve just bought a beatiful Parlour.

      Just cant get enough of this!!

  2. Thanks Lee,
    I’m jealous, what kind of parlour did you buy?
    -Sean

  3. Brothers and sisters,

    Any help on the following query would be very much appreciated.

    I use the term “brothers and sisters,” as I feel quite isolated in respect of getting tips from other fingerstyle enthusiasts, as no-one out of perhaps five-ten people I know who play guitar, uses fingerstyle.

    I have been learning this technique for six years now, on a continuing and ongoing basis.

    It is advised above not to “practice” for hours on end.

    I have a repetoire of up to 25 fingerstyle and slide songs, the vast majority are fingerstyle with about half a dozen slide songs.

    By that I mean songs that I can play, from start to finish, some of which I can sing, without looking at the book and without playing along with a CD or DVD.

    The songs I am learning -ie the ones I have not fully perfected – I concentrate about 75 per cent of my guitar time on, and use Berle and Galbo, Stefan Grossman, Kenny Sultan, and other material/resources to learn songs and improve my technique.

    I enjoy every minute I have with my guitar, but the learning is hard work sometimes as it requires attention to detail and constant repetition, so I have a “learning list” of ten-fifteen songs at any given time, in order to prevent my brain from siezing up.

    My question is this: What is an average optimum amount of practice a fingerstle guitar player needs to do in order to be able to add new songs to the repetoire on a regular basis — ie– every few months, taking the above background into account.

    I averge 60-90 mins per day taking both “learning” and learned songs into account, but there are still songs that I am struggling with, 12 months, 18 months after first putting them on my “to learn” list.

    Am I doing something wrong, and can I improve faster by changing how I do things?

    Any help or advice, is, as I say, very much appreciated. I have family and friends and live a very active and music-orientated life, (mostly blues) but where fingerstyle is concerned, I’m beginning to feel like Robinson Crusoe.

    Colin Devine
    Belfast

  4. Hi there!
    I just stumbled across this while trying to teach someone a bit of finger style guitar. This section here sums up exactly what I have been trying to explain!

    Whenever someone asks me how I fingerpick I find myself stumped because I kind of zone out and play what comes naturally.

    These tips are great, so thank you for posting and happy playing!

  5. Colin
    I recently picked the guitar back up after several years and decided to try learning some new songs. I started running into the same thing and this is what I did to get through it. I had my regular practice time and of course didn’t want to spend an hour on one song. So I added a couple extra times a day that I would just pick the guitar up and play the one song I was trying to get down. I played it one time through then put the guitar down. I’m past the century mark now so the short term memory seems to be less sharp but after a week of this type of practice I had the song down and committed to memory. Playing it perfectly is another thing but it’s getting better.

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