Magazine article Guitar Player

Sneaky Fingering Secrets

Magazine article Guitar Player

Sneaky Fingering Secrets

Article excerpt

HAVING EVOLVED FROM 19th-century parlor music, American fingerstyle guitar has sprouted many stylistic branches, including country blues, old-time country, Hawaiian slack-key, Chet Atkins-style, and ragtime. Despite their differences, these musics share a common root. Players as diverse as Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake, Merle Travis, and Cyril Pahinui almost exclusively base their music on steady, alternating bass lines. It's striking that other great fingerstyle traditions--such as classical, flamenco, and bossa nova--make little, if any, use of this technique. Because of its reliance on alternating bass, American fingerstyle guitar demands a unique approach to fretting-hand fingering.

Division of labor. To play alternating bass lines, you need to commit certain fingers to sustaining bass notes, while leaving other fingers free to fret melody notes. This typically involves unorthodox fingerings.

Look at Ex. 1, which features a steady alternating bass and an active melody line within a C chord. In this pattern, your 3rd and 2nd fingers hold down the bass notes. The 2nd finger never moves, while the 3rd shifts between the fifth and sixth strings. This leaves your 1st and 4th fingers free to fret melody notes. The 4th finger works the 3rd and 4th frets, while the 1st finger handles notes on the 1st and 2nd frets.

[Ex. 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Untying the knot. It's the 2nd fret that's crucial. To play A (on the and of beat one, bar 1), the natural tendency is to move your 2nd finger from the fourth to the third string, but you'll save yourself endless headaches if you simply sneak your 1st finger over to A instead. …

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