Lesson 8 – The Main Elements of Picking

The Main Elements of picking

Fingerpicking is not easy, it takes time and work to establish a solid technique. With that said, it’s also not as mystifying as it might first appear. After the thumb is established the basics can be broken up into a few distinct pieces. How do you coordinate your fingers to accompany the thumb? If you’ve worked through the exercises in the previous chapter you’ve already encountered two of them.

This first is the pinch. It might seem obvious now, but the concept throws a lot of beginners for a loop. The idea is to pinch one or more strings with your fingers at the same time you play a bass note. Go back and look at Exercise 1, the first note is the thumb (E string open), the second is a pinch (D string 2nd fret and High E open). Try this again now, aware of the pinch.

Second is the pluck. This is adding a note between the bass notes being played. Go back and look at example two, play it again and notice the pluck. It doesn’t have to be a dotted note as in the example; it could easily be played on any rhythmic interval, arpeggiated run, or whatever you can dream up.

Damping. As mentioned in the previous chapter, damping is lightly pressing the heel of your right palm on top of the bass strings to stop them from sustaining or ringing, this creates a more rhythmic, pizzicato effect. If you karate chopped your guitar right above the bridge, this would be the same position your hand should be in to apply this effect, although you should use considerably less force. Experiment with the angle, make sure as you play the bass strings are slightly muted, but not enough to stop the pitch of the notes to come through, the treble strings should ring loud and clear.

Some left hand techniques to consider are hammer ons, pull offs and slides. Don’t be afraid, I’m sure you’re having visions of Eddie Van Halen or Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid right now. As you are probably already aware, these are ways of playing two (or more) notes with one pick of the string. Here’s a simple example of each:

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4 Responses »

  1. On damping: i have been learning to fingerpick for quite some time w/o damping, and now it seems awkward & difficult. Plus i like the sound w/o it & it seems many of the masters i listen to didn’t do it either, at least not all the time – Robert Johnson & Lightnin’ Hopkins i.m thinking of. Atl least that’s not what i hear in their bass notes. Some staccato, yes, damping, not so much, as just perhaps volume control of how loud they played the notes. i have been trying this volume-control approach myself as a sort of substitute for damping, especially since i use a thumbpick. i like those bass notes to ring, just not so loud they overpower the higher notes.

    • Hey Chuck,
      Depending on who your listening to you’ll hear a lot of different approaches to damping, check out this version of Glory of Love by Big Bill Broonzy as an example:

      Really, it’s just another tool for your fingerpicking arsenal, use it at your discretion.

  2. new attendance Thx…. 🙂

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