If you want to expand your guitar playing beyond strumming an accompaniment chord part then fingerstyle guitar is a great way to add variety to your playing. It is a great technique to learn for both the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. With its piano-like sound (since you play the bass parts and the melody parts at the same time), one can say it is the perfect technique for playing without other musicians around.
Under ‘Fingerstyle Guitar’ we understand the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or finger picks (picks attached to fingers), as opposed to ‘Flatpicking’ (picking individual notes with a single plectrum) or strumming all the strings of the instrument in chords. The term is often used synonymously with ‘Fingerpicking’.
Difference Between Strumming and Fingerstyle
The main difference between strumming and fingerstyle is that strumming is a very simple guitar technique in which we strum (brush) the strings with the finger or guitar pick up or down. This technique is perfect for beginners who want to play simple chords and songs.
With fingerstyle guitar you will pluck the strings with the ‘picking hand’ fingertips so the beginning could be more challenging than strumming as we have to now use finger independence with our dominant hand as well as the fretting hand.
The main aim when playing fingerstyle is to orchestrate the piece of music, meaning that you merge bass lines, melody lines and chords into one part. All classical guitar is fingerstyle and is played on nylon string guitars, but over the last few decades, many great players have adapted fingerstyle to steel string and even electric guitar and popularized the technique.
It is still most commonly utilized in folk and classical guitar, but it can be utilized in just about any style.
In essence fingerstyle guitar involves quick playing, moving around the fretboard and using all of the strings. If you can get good at this style then others, such as bluegrass, will come more easily to you, but be prepared for plenty of frustrated hours improving your finger independence.
If you are used to strumming, this technique can be quite overwhelming at first, so before you go here is something to keep in mind – even the most challenging fingerpicking arrangement, in any style of music, consists of three basic movements. The thumb can pluck a string, the other fingers can pluck a string or the thumb and another finger can pluck some strings at the same time (called a ‘pinch’). That is it! Once you learn these basic movements, with practice and time, it’s easily possible to learn some great sounding pieces and your guitar playing will come alive.
Here is one such piece that isn’t the easiest, but it isn’t too hard for a 1st fingerpicking piece either: Falling slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. And if you’d like to get started on a more classical route – check out ‘Giuliani Studies’ – these are technical fingerstyle studies that have existed for so long that are now available for free! And they contain chords and techniques still used to this day.
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