36. Beginning Fingerstyle

The term ‘fingerstyle’ refers not to merely any form of playing the guitar with the fingers (as opposed to a pick), but to a specific type of playing involving the simultaneous use of an alternating bass line (played with the thumb) and a melody (with the fingers).  It is sometimes referred to as ‘stride guitar’, a term I like, because it reminds me of stride piano, a style of early jazz and blues piano that the guitar version often seeks to emulate. Regardless, fingerstyle guitar is a great thing, because not only is it possible to create 2 completely separate voices with the picking hand, it also produces a feeling of motion like no other, a ‘sporty’ rhythmic style that often sounds like 2 or even 3 guitars at once.

If you are not familiar with playing fingerstyle, begin by trying out a simple alternating bass pattern with your thumb. Use a metronome or simple drum track to make sure you are keeping strict tempo. This is simple, but not necessarily easy!  Here is an example:







Once this is mastered, add the index finger, playing one note:







Patiently build a feeling of stability playing each of these figures before moving to the next. Now the middle finger is added:







Here is a typical pattern using thumb, index and middle fingers together:









Any fingerstyle pattern, or any rhythmic pattern for that matter, can be ‘swung’. Although there is specific notation to describe it(see A Note about Swing/Shuffle Rhythm in THE RHYTHM SECTION© for information on this), swing rhythm can usually be successfully copied through imitation. Here are the patterns above, altered for swing rhythm:



















When these patterns are played with swing rhythm, is it easy to hear the aforementioned comparison to stride piano and related styles. Try to play these patterns, which are basically an arpeggio of a C major chord, with other chords as well.  Play them ‘straight’ and with swing rhythm as well. You can build skill very quickly this way.  For instance, moving between the chords a minor and C, with the exact same picking pattern, provide variety and a very musical sound while you are learning:








Use this same approach with other simple chords, alternating the bass in a similar way. Here is G major:








Again, using E minor:








The key to success with these is very slow tempo while you are establishing the independence of the hands.

©2012  Jim Greenfield