5 Tips For Improving Acoustic Guitar Fingerstyle Technique
Essentially, the “fingerstyle” is a playing style that is held in high regard by a majority of acoustic guitar players. Simply put, guitarists that use their fingers instead of picks produce notes that are characterized with substantially different tonal qualities when compared to the notes plucked with a guitar pick.
That’s not the only reason why fingerstyle guitarists like this particular technique – a significant boost of control over the played notes is acquired, alas, at the expense of accuracy. Namely, it’s safe to assume that the “fingerstyle” technique is a bit more difficult than the standard pick method, as you’ll be using all of your fingers.
Be it as it may, we’re here to simplify this playstyle and point out some of the most common mistakes so that you can get a hang of it more easily.
Tip # 1 – Start off slow and easy
Fingerstyle is easy to try out, but difficult to master appropriately. There’s a number of mistakes beginner fingerstyle guitarists tend to make, but most of them revolve around the guitarist rushing to grasp the technique without paying much heed to the obvious lack of skill.
First of all, you don’t have to use all of your fingers straight away. Namely, your “picking hand” (if you’re a right-handed type of person, your right hand is the picking one) will be able to pluck a note or two after which confusion ensues almost without an exception.
You’ll have to get accustomed to the gaps found between each string on your acoustic guitar, and the best way to do it is by using the fingers you’re “comfortable” with.
Professionals state that each finger has a specific role – for instance, the thumb should be used to play the bass notes on the E1 (the first, widest string), the ring finger should be used to play the G string, and so on. Consult “fingerstyle & fingerpicking tablature notation” for more information.
Tip #2 – Work on your groove and rhytm
The best way to stay “in tune” with your fingerstyle technique is to synchronize your fretting and picking hands. To do so, you have to work on the “groove”. Basically, you’ll want to play familiar notes with the fingers you feel the most comfortable with, and practice your accuracy along the way.
This leads us to another common mistake beginner fingerstyle guitarists make – getting “sloppy”. Generally, the songs which appeared easy might prove to be quite hard if you want to play things by the book.
Practice separate song segments if need be, slow the tempo down a bit, or even improvise for the sake of your groove. There are lots of variations with which you can improve your groove, and these are just some of the recommendations.
If you’re asking “why is groove so important”, then the answer is quite simple. Employing the use of fingerstyle technique means that you’re willing to put in an extra effort for the sake of better quality of your sound. Groove just happens to be one of its most important parts.
Tip #3 – Accentuate the bassline and melody parts
Essentially, the bassline and melody song segments are vital, so being able to recognize them and accentuate them in turn will heavily improve your fingerstlye technique. As we’ve already mentioned, the thickest string should be played with your thumb, and you should try different variations before you decide how it’s best to achieve the optimal tone.
For instance, you could pop it like bass guitarists do, or you could gently graze it, but make sure to do it strongly enough so that it feels and sounds heavy and deep.
On the other hand, the melody parts involve more control and precision. Working on your accuracy might take some time, but it's absolutely crucial for your fingerstyle technique.
Consider practicing "melodic" parts as if they were standalone parts – pay attention to details, adjust your technique so that every single stroke is executed in organized, controlled fashion.
Tip #4 – Break down your habits
Every player has a unique, personal set of habits, and knowing that you can control them might just make the difference needed for improving your fingerstyle technique. Namely, some people have problems with their pinky finger fretting a certain position, compensating for this little flaw with faster reactions of other fingers.
On the other hand, certain guitarists tend to be a lot slower right off the bat, progressively gaining speed as they warm up. That's why we strongly advocate the statement that you can and should recognize the habits you've built over time regarding your fingerstyle technique.
The idea is quite simple – you have to know that every playing style features certain flaws, but compensating for them won't bring success by a long shot, as these "compensations" are nothing more than excuses.
Make no room for error and mistakes by taking a firm grip over your habits, regardless of how "positive" or "negative" they seem and work on them as if they're tangible problems ready to be overcame.
Tip #5 – Invent your own warmup exercises
You don't have to follow any written manuals, books, or instructions to the letter. Every written source of information should be treated as a "guideline", and it should be useful to you for as long as you feel comfortable.
Of course, certain rules should be taken for granted, but, just like there should be no room for mistakes in your playstyle (all things considered), you should be flexible about how you warm up your fingers.
Some people like to simply play their "comfort" songs until they're ready to learn different techniques and establish a stronger connection with the ones they've already learned, but, more often than not, this can lead to a certain dose of frustration.
Be innovative and creative with your warmup sessions – you could begin with strumming several open strings, or you could open up with tapping techniques. On the other hand, some players feel comfortable with playing their acoustic guitar with a pick until their fretting hand is warmed up, switching to fingerstyle afterward.
Simply put, improving your fingerstyle technique on an acoustic guitar won't take much, apart from time and some effort. Just like any guitar technique, it can be learned and mastered by will alone, which means that there are no blockades which will prevent you from grasping the matter, other than those you've built yourself.
If you feel uncertain about your technique, take a step back and contemplate on the segments which feel too hard or complex. Most pieces will fall into place eventually, but it's imperative that you keep consistent.