The mission of a beginner fingerpicker is to learn the core skills to get up and running with basic songs.
The job of an intermediate player – and beyond – is to refine those same fundamental skills.
The better you are at the fundamentals, the better you are.
Here are 5 tips to help intermediate fingerpickers refine hard won skills.
#1 Lean into your picking framework
Do you pick with your thumb and three fingers?
Thumb and two?
Thumb and index only?
These are examples of what I call picking frameworks.
Beginners go through the tough process of finding which one works for them. Intermediate players need to make their preferred picking framework automatic.
Say you use the thumb and three finger picking framework. You’ll dedicate your fingers to plucking the strings like this:
- Thumb plays strings 6, 5 and 4
- Index finger plays the 3rd string
- Middle finger plays the 2nd string
- Ring finger plays the 1st string
If the note is on the 1st string, you’ll use the ring finger.
The framework eliminates the tedious decision of which finger plucks a given note. It eliminates the thinking behind the playing. Too much thinking will only slow you down and you’ve got your hands full already as a fingerpicker.
The intermediate player should automate their picking pattern.
#2 Break Your Picking Framework
Wait, isn’t this a direct contradiction to point #1?
Not at all.
And you should pick from your framework 80% of the time. But the other 20% of the time, you’ll break your framework to serve the music.
Imagine playing these triplets on the 5th and 4th strings without your index finger.
In parts like this, you’ll break free from your picking framework but you must return.
Use your picking framework to your advantage, but don’t be so strict with it.
#3 Develop Flexible Chord Changes
Beginners learn to move every finger into place at the exact same time when changing chords.
That is a required skill.
But intermediate fingerstyle players need the ability to change chords with more nuance. Since you’re playing melody, chords and bass you have to serve each part separately. But these parts are part of the bigger picture – the entire arrangement.
That means we can’t leave a melody just because it’s time to change chords.
The melody is the most important part of the arrangement. They often cross bar lines and sing over the top of chord changes and basslines. Some fingers may have to join the chord change after serving the melody.
#4 Play a Variety of Rhythms
Practice changing the rhythm of notes you pick.
Blues players can easily fall into the trap of playing everything with a shuffle rhythm. The triplet-based shuffle rhythm is rampant in the blues. It’s nearly inescapable.
But you need to be ready for other rhythms too. Changing things up rhythmically can pack a punch. Here’s an example of Skip James mixing a shuffle feel with straight sixteenth notes in Devil Got My Woman.
Challenge your fingers to pick different rhythms.
It will help make your music lively and powerful.
#5 Be Consistent
Like most guitar players, I like to mix things up and play different styles.
But if I neglect my fingerpicking for too long, I lose dexterity. Unfortunately, I lose my skills it a lot faster than it takes to gain it back. If I skip a week of fingerpicking, it takes me a day to get my fingers back in shape. If I skip two weeks, it takes me several days.
Maybe you don’t experience this exponential loss after a break, but the principle is sound:
Play fingerstyle consistently to keep your fingers fresh.
Even if just for a few minutes each day.
Do it regularly.