Fingerstyle guitar is an art form that’s rarely practiced these days. Plectrum guitar (guitar with a pick) is far more popular, but there’s no reason that well rounded guitarists can’t learn both. Here are a few tips for developing good fingerstyle technique on the guitar.
1. Work on rolls. Rolls are patterns used by fingerstyle guitar and banjo players, and your fingerstyle playing will sound a lot less random if you incorporate practiced rolls rather than randomly letting your fingers try to figure out what to do. You can use the rolls that banjo players use, like the Scruggs roll and the forward and reverse rolls, or search Google for some fingerstyle guitar patterns toget started. Learn as many patterns as you can, and work on moving between the patterns effortlessly, the same way that you’d learned chords with your left hand when you’d first started playing guitar.
2. Work with a metronome. Once you’ve got the form of a few rolls down, try practicing them with a metronome. The metronome will enforce your sense of time and allow you to begin to speed up your fingerstyle picking; start at a tempo that you’re comfortable with and slowly increase the speed, to the point where you can’t pick out a pattern on your guitar more than a few times before you lose it, then gradually work back down to the level that you’d started at. Over a few weeks, you’ll notice a huge improvement in both your time and your speed.
3. Change chords often. Once your right hand is starting to pick out guitar rolls fairly well, add in chord practice. Switch between a few simple chords in the middle of your rolls. You’ll immediately see how much harder it is than simply playing fingerstyle over the same chord. Add new chords every day, and listen closely to how your choice of roll affects the way that the chord sounds; this is imperative to good fingerstyle guitar playing. Practice with one roll at a time.
4. Finally, change chords and rolls. Changing between a few chords and a few rolls during your practice session, still with the metronome, and you’ll start to hear what rolls sound good with what chords. Once you get the ability to switch chords and rolls effortlessly in a song, you’ll pretty much have the hang of the main part of fingerstyle guitar. Now, keep practicing for at least twenty minutes a day or so–three hour marathon practice sessions won’t help if you don’t play guitar for weeks in between.
Do you have any other tips for practicing fingerstyle guitar? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.