Guitar/Picking and Plucking
There are two major methods of right hand (for right handed players) techniques namely, either by using a pick (also called a plectrum) or fingers. The plectrum is very common in rock, country and pop music, where it is considered convenient for strumming and louder guitar sound. Use of fingers is most common among classical guitarists and flamenco players, as combination of strings better executed using the right hand fingers, and generally have softer sound than the pick. Other than classical guitarists and flamenco players, use of a pick or fingers is a matter of personal preference.
Using a pick
The primary advantages of the pick are its speed, its ease of striking large chords and, because the fingernails and fingertips are not involved, its preservation of player's picking hand. Furthermore, use of a pick makes a louder and brighter sound. Its primary disadvantage is its imprecision, making muting strings necessary. Also, if the player wishes to switch to the tapping style, he or she can tap with or with out the pick: to tap with the pick just put it on its side and tap it on the desired fret. However, tapping with a pick makes it harder to tap on multiple strings.
Players wishing not to use a pick may try finger strumming. This is accomplished by holding the picking hand's first finger to the thumb, much as one might hold a pick, and striking the strings with the first fingernail. Another way is to do all down strokes with the thumb and all upstrokes with the index finger; like one is 'petting' the strings.
Apoyando, or splinter rested, involves the finger picking through a string such that the finger stops when resting on the next string. This technique produces a strong, loud tone, and is considered the opposite of Tirando.
When performing a tirando, or shooting splinter strike, the finger does not affect the next string at all. This is the opposite of apoyando.
Fingerpicking is a method of playing the guitar where you use your thumb and at least one other finger to pick or pluck notes, using your fingernails, fingerpicks or fingertips. Talented players can use all five fingers on their picking hand, but many players only use four fingers and use their pinky finger as a brace on the guitar. Most classical guitarists alter the shape of their picking hand fingernails for the purpose of producing a desired sound, however this is not necessary in non-classical music; one can purchase fingerpicks to fit on the hand.
Fingerpicking is surprisingly easy on an electric guitar, which is strange because fingerpicking is often regarded as an acoustic style. The player may hold his or her picking hand's fourth finger against the right edge (left edge on a left-handed guitar), and if it is held straight and steady, this technique may be used to brace the hand. This technique is called anchoring, and is frowned upon by some players. It is possible on acoustic guitars by using the bridge similarly, but this is not as effective as it will deaden the sound. Classical guitarists never anchor while playing.
When strumming with individual fingers, general rule is move the wrist only if the thumb is used, while if any other finger is used, only said finger will be used.
When you start trying to learn, your finger coordination will be terrible and it is easy to be discouraged. It takes several weeks to let your muscles develop, but if you practice using all your fingers at once your overall dexterity will increase much faster.
In classical guitar repertoire, there will be a "PIMA" marking for the picking hand fingers (right hand for right handed players), which indicate which finger to use:
- Pulgar, or thumb.
- Indice, or index finger.
- Medio, or middle finger.
- Anular, or ring finger.
These four are the ones that are used most frequently. Sometimes, the fourth finger is used, in which it is marked either C, X or E.
Typically, the thumb has a down-picking motion and the fingers have an up-picking motion.
Clawhammer and frailing
Clawhammer, sometimes known as frailing, is a method generally used with the five-string banjo and is characteristic of traditional Appalachian folk music of the U.S. It is primarily a down-picking style, and the hand assumes a claw-like shape and the strumming finger is kept fairly stiff, striking the strings by the motion of the hand at the wrist and elbow, rather than a flicking motion by the finger. Typically, only the thumb and second or first finger are used and the finger always downpicks, flicking the string with the back of the fingernail.
A common characteristic of clawhammer patterns is the thumb does not pick on the downbeat, as one might in typical finger-picking patterns for guitar. For example, this is a common, basic time signature|2/4 pattern:
- Pick a melody note on the downbeat (quarter note)
- On the second beat (music)|beat, strum a few strings with your strumming finger or brush with all fingers (roughly an eighth note)
- Immediately following (on the second half of this beat), pick a note with the thumb, usually the shorter fifth string. (roughly an eighth note)
Here, the thumb plays the high drone (fifth string) on the second "and" of "one and two and". This combined with the second finger strumming provides a characteristic "bum-ditty bum-ditty" sound.
Some people, however, make a distinction between frailing and clawhammer:
- In frailing, the first fingertip is used for up-picking melody, and the second fingernail is used for rhythmic downward brushing.
- In clawhammer, only downstrokes are used, and they are typically played with one fingernail as is the usual technique on the banjo.
Another well known style of finger picking is called Travis picking, named after Merle Travis who was a country singer known for his legendary picking skills. When picking, you use your thumb and first finger to hit notes at the same time, creating a double stop or interval, and then continue picking with the first finger. Usually the thumb is responsible for picking the bass line, while the first/second finger is for melody. Skilled players can carry two separate melodies with the upper and lower strings.
You can create impressive rhythms playing with just your thumb and first finger, but to really become talented you must practice using more fingers. For example, Chet Atkins expanded to use all three fingers, with thumb for bass line.
The rasgueado or splinter striking technique originated from Spanish flamenco music, and usually refers to three or four fingers and sometimes the thumb striking the strings in quick succession. The notes quickly follow one another and produce a "rattling" or cascading effect.
Scruggs-style finger-picking is a syncopated, five-string banjo style used in bluegrass music. It is played with thumb, first and second fingers; the fourth and/or third fingers are typically braced against the head of the instrument. The strings are picked rapidly in repetitive sequences or rolls; the same string is not typically picked twice in succession. Melody notes are interspersed among arpeggios, and musical phrases typically contain long series of staccato notes, often played at very rapid tempos. The music is generally syncopated, and may have a subtle swing or shuffle feel, especially on mid-tempo numbers. The result is lively, rapid music, which lends itself both as an accompaniment to other instruments and as a solo.
Scruggs style picking was popularized by Earl Scruggs in the early 1940's in rural North Carolina.
Tapping is a style of playing where notes are created by quickly pressing, or tapping, the string down on the fret that you want to play. Usually tapping involves both hands, and most often it is on an electric guitar. It is possible to tap on an acoustic, but you cannot hear the notes as clearly as on an electric.