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Fingerpicking: A Technique For Many Genres

Sep 17, 2008
The act of playing a guitar can be divided into three basic techniques: strumming, or brushing the fingers over the strings to create chords; flatpicking, or picking individuals notes with a plectrum; and fingerpicking, or picking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails or picks attached to the fingers. This last technique, fingerpicking, is also referred to as fingerstyle guitar, although this term can refer to the music produced as well as the technique of producing it. Fingerpicking is useful in that it allows the artist to perform several musical elements simultaneously. Techniques such as flatpicking, during which the hand works as a single unit, do not allow for such scope. Fingerpicking is utilized by musicians of multiple genres and is an important element in the music of each.

The technique of fingerpicking originated in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the genre of blues music. Musicians of this genre were trying to imitate the sounds of ragtime piano music. The result was a method in which the thumb plucked a steady rhythm of bass while the index and middle fingers picked out a melody on the high strings. This technique is still used today, most commonly in folk, country-jazz and blues music. As time has gone by, fingerpicking has been adapted to suite many different styles of music, including classical guitar, jazz guitar, Celtic guitar and Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

The classical guitar is probably the most commonly played style of guitar. It is capable of producing a wide variety of music, and the classical fingerpicking technique has evolved to accommodate that variety. Classical fingerpicking permits a high degree of control over the musical dynamics, texture, volume and timbral characteristics of the instrument. As with the original technique created for ragtime, classical fingerpicking allows the musician to produce harmony and polyphonic music.

Jazz fingerpicking is used primarily with electric guitars, and the technique's proponents are often known for their innovation and unorthodox styles. Most jazz musicians who use fingerpicking play in all keys. This forms a notable contrast to those musicians who play folk, classical and flamenco music, as they tend to favor keys that provide open strings. The electric guitar is often used as a solo jazz instrument, the musician playing a series of chords on the bottom strings and the melody line on the top.

Traditional Celtic music does not make much, if any, use of the guitar. However, when the music of Ireland experienced its revival in the middle of the 20th century, guitar accompaniments to traditional folk songs were often devised. These accompaniments used a fingerpicking style that allowed for solo guitar versions of music originally intended for bagpipes or harps.

Slack-key guitar fingerpicking originated in Hawaii. This technique is nearly always used on instruments with open or altered tunings. The basic theory of slack-key is like that of the original ragtime style: the thumb is used to create an alternating bass pattern while the fingers play the melody on the higher strings. The main difference with slack-key is in the music, which is rooted in traditional Hawaiian tunes.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, fingerpicking, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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