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© Ryan Hidson/Design Pics/Design Pics/Corbis
ACOUSTIC WEEK Fingerstyle playing can be an extremely rewarding experience for several reasons.
Firstly, you feel much more 'connected' to the guitar, and the combination of finger tip and nail imparts a really warm sound from both nylon and steel strings. Many of the guitarists featured in our following Style File section are exponents of this technique.
The basic concept of fingerstyle, is to use the thumb and first three fingers to pick the strings. This provides plenty of scope to construct interesting arrangements for the acoustic guitar. In fact, to use the analogy of an orchestra, think of your thumb as the basses, bass drum and timpani, providing the low notes and fundamental rhythm. The fingers represent the rest of the orchestra, adding harmony and melody and reinforcing the basic rhythm set down by the thumb. When you think about it, every music from classical, to country to hip hop works pretty much on this concept!
There is no single way to play fingerstyle guitar. Many famous players use completely different approaches, and all manage to achieve great results. However, the following technique is a very effective starting point: Avoid resting the hand or wrist on the guitar for support. Relax your right hand just above the soundhole so you can comfortably reach the strings with the tips of your thumb and fingers.
Now, starting with your thumb, practise gently plucking downwards on the 6th (E) string four times slowly. Then move onto the next string and so on until you reach the 1st (E) string and then work your way back again. You should maintain an equal volume at all times. Your arm and wrist should remain relaxed and move as little as possible and the plucking action should come from the whole of the thumb (not just from the upper joint). Now repeat the exercise with your first finger, plucking upwards. The power of the stroke should come from your knuckle. You should see your finger gently curl as it hits the string and continue to follow through afterwards.
Try not to 'snatch' the string. Repeat the same exercise with the middle and ring finger. At first you may have difficulty accurately targeting the strings, but you'll be surprised how quickly this improves with practice. Your patience will be rewarded!