What is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Fingerpicking, or “fingerstyle,” is a technique of guitar playing that originated in the United States about 1900 and resembles the piano ragtime manner. ‘Fingerstyle’ Guitar involves various styles based on playing the strings with the fingertips, nails, or fingerpicks and mostly with no plectrum.

“Fingerpicking” is another term that is often used in the same way as fingerstyle. With the right hand’s fingertips, you play the strings on the fingerstyle guitar or fingerpicking guitar. You use the fingers except for the pinky while applying this technique.

Because fingerpicking is so new, there aren’t many detailed documents about both the history of fingerpicking and how it was developed with instruments. In contrast to this, there is a multitude of training methods on fingerpicking, ranging from prepared classical works to popular guitar accompaniment.

How Hard is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Fingerstyle guitar is quite hard during the beginning process but it can be learned with the right methods and practice.

The beginning process is especially hard due to the wide variety available techniques. In the absence of a supporting foundation of fingerstyle arpeggios and chords that are played evenly and consistently with shifting dynamics, it is difficult.

Learning to play fingerstyle guitar will broaden your horizons because you won’t be reliant on a traditional technique taught by a teacher. Starting with simple songs and working your way up to more complex ones is the best way to learn.

Also, before attempting any difficult fingerstyle techniques, it is recommended that you first learn how to play in normal style. This technique necessitates practicing for the right hand that involves playing fingerstyle patterns over and over again while listening to a metronome. A richer, more complex sound can be achieved by combining different musical parts in real-time.

As you use directly right-hand fingers for the fingerstyle technique, another difficulty is having your right-hand fingers peeled until your skin gets thicker by practice. This can be even painful if you don’t take pauses regularly while practicing. To prevent their nails from cracking and peeling from repeated use, some guitarists use acrylic nails or thumb picks. It also makes a difference in how the notes sound.

Fingerstyle guitar is one of the most interesting ways to play the guitar. A lot of people can play chords, melodies, a lot of different rhythmic patterns, and other things with this technique.

Is Fingerstyle Harder than Normal Style?

Fingerstyle is not harder than the normal style, it’s even like an alternative once you learn the normal style. 

For most guitar teachers, it’s better to learn the fingerstyle after the normal style but this is not because the fingerstyle is the harder one.

When it comes to the term “fingerstyle,” the music and the technique used tend to be more folk-based. To play fingerstyle, you use your right hand’s fingers instead of a pick or flat pickup plectrum. For some, this may be a facilitating feature while for some, it is the opposite.

In folk and pop music, for example, most of the time, the arrangements will consist of a single vocal melody, with some instrumentation accompanying it. It’s usually learned on one’s own, and even if one does take lessons, there isn’t a lot of attention on technique.

When a technique is open to being self-taught, it definitely gives a lighter feeling. The basics of the fingerstyle are all about hearing what you’re playing. It’s also generally learned using a tab if there’s any written music involved. Not much reading music to be found here, after all.

I think knowing these factors may help you to decide if fingerstyle is harder than normal style or not.

Is Fingerstyle Guitar Exclusively Classical?

Fingerstyle guitar, nowadays, is mostly classical in the sense that on what kind of guitar you use this technique. 

I want to make it clear because there are two options when you use these two terms. If we go deep into these two terms, fingerstyle and classical are two concepts that might be difficult to understand. Because the terms “classical” and “fingerstyle” are both interbedded.

In this case, there are two possibilities; classical is one of the fingerstyle techniques, and/or you can use the fingerstyle technique through the classical style on a classical guitar. To be more clear, for example, the fingerstyle approach is also used in the playing of the banjo.

It is common for the fingerstyle technique to be performed on a steel-string guitar. Metal strings are widely employed on the other hand in the classical style of classical guitar.

Can You Play Fingerstyle on an Electric Guitar?

Fingerstyle on an electric guitar is quite similar to applying the technique to an acoustic guitar. 

However, you don’t have as many possibilities for percussion as you have on the acoustic instrument.

The strings of an electric guitar don’t hurt your fingers as much as they do on an acoustic. However, while playing fingerstyle on an acoustic guitar, the tone is far superior to that of an electric.

Additionally, many electric guitars have extremely low action to allow shredding. You may find applying fingerstyle more comfortable on an electric guitar. Your fingers will have more control over tone and attack when you play with bare hands. However, it’s good to keep in mind that it may result in fret buzz while performing specific fingerstyle patterns.

Guitar Pick or Fingerstyle?

Many beginners want to know which is better to learn first.

In the beginning stages of learning to play the guitar, most guitarists use a pick before moving on to more advanced right-hand techniques. Hybrid picking, thumb picking or fingerpicking, or just playing with the right-hand fingers in fingerstyle guitar are all examples of these methods.

Additionally, this method of playing guitar differs from “Flatpicking,” which is the practice of playing notes with a plectrum attached to the index finger known as a “flat pick,” or the practice of strumming the strings of the guitar in chords.

Are Fingerstyle and Fingerpicking the Same?

Fingerstyle and fingerpicking are basically the same. 

As I mentioned in the intro, “fingerpicking” is usually considered as another way to say “fingerstyle. But it is more complicated than that.

Fingerstyle is the technique that involves various styles and fingerpicking is one of them including various finger patterns (this is why fingerpicking is also called pattern picking or thumb picking). These patterns are used also in other styles of fingerstyle techniques such as classical, jazz, flamenco and this explains why these two terms are used in the same way. Because you apply any kind of fingerstyle by fingerpicking.

How to Improve Your Fingerstyle?

There are exercises on the internet, practice makes perfect. Many exercises that you can find easily on the internet mostly focus on different fingerpicking patterns you will need for various future scenarios.

Here, I especially want to share some practical tips from a guitarist and guitar teacher, Matt Warnock, that can help you to understand the logic about practicing fingerstyle and you can apply these exercises to any kind of guitar from jazz to folk, pop, or even classical. For more detailed courses and other information about the guitar, check it out here.

If you are a classical guitarist and you have hesitations about the fingerstyle, I recommend you check out this video for some tips.

In your first fingerstyle exercise, let the bassline of any chosen chord sequence you’re playing get all the attention. You’ll play first the bass line and then the chord.

The next practice is kind of reversing the first exercise. You’ll play the chord first, and then the bass. The point is still to keep the chord and the bass separate like in the first exercise. You can also mix these two exercises to get more used to the differences.

Then, you’ll pick a melody and you’ll continue to do a similar exercise by focusing on the melody separate from the chord.

You can also reverse the third exercise, first playing the chord and then the melody. Keeping the attention on the melody line while separating the chord creates the illusion of two guitarists playing simultaneously.

Another option is very interesting. Matt has seen piano players practice this exercise, so he decided to adapt it for the guitar. The outer two notes of each chord will be played first, followed by the inner two notes.

Then again, you reverse it first playing the inner two notes and then the outer two notes of each chord.

After getting used to the multi-note techniques, practicing ascending arpeggio and descending arpeggio exercises will provide you the finger independence and melodic material for your jams.

Finally, practicing descending chord then melody and after that, first playing melody then ascending chord will effectively improve your technique.

What’s the Best Guitar for Fingerstyle?

A classical guitar is probably most suitable for fingerstyle. 

A classical guitar is typically made with nylon strings which deform the fingers less than metal string acoustic guitar as they are more flexible.

Summary

Fingerstyle guitar is a self-taught technique that gives you an independent attitude as a musician while increasing your skills and musicality. Fingerstyle is the name of the whole technique, while fingerpicking is indicating the finger patterns involved in various styles of the technique.

A classical guitar is the best choice for your fingers’ sake especially if you are a beginner. But you can apply this technique even on an electric guitar. With some research, you can find various methods and exercises on the internet only with a click. As always in music, practicing is the key.

Arda Tuncer is a music producer, composer, songwriter, arranger, and performer. She releases music as part of the music duo, Kronik Leila. She has worked and collaborated with some prestigious orchestras around Europe, while also holding University positions as music theory professor and music research assistant. Arda studied music theory and clarinet at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and completed her degree at the Conservatory of Strasbourg in France.

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