In guitar playing, there are two major techniques, fingerpicking, and picking. Most players start with picking, as it is seen as easier to learn and pick up.
However, over some time, serious players eventually moved into fingerpicking. One of the biggest problems for those new to fingerpicking is how to play fast, as their fingers struggle to keep up. How do you fingerpick fast?
You can improve your speed and play fingerpicking fast by:
- Play the right strings with the right finger
- Strike the strings at the right angle
- Learn to play slow
- To break down the rhythmic pattern into manageable chunks
- Keep the muscles relaxed, even during high speed
- Practice fingerpicking exercise
This article looks at how you fingerpick fast and explores many common questions about fingerpicking itself. These questions include how fingerpicking differs from picking and how long it takes to be good at it.
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What Is Fingerpicking?
Fingerpicking is a technique for playing the guitar. In fingerpicking, a player uses fingers instead of a pick to pluck the strings. It can also be called fingerstyle guitar or fingerpicking guitar, although there are finer differences between these.
Players who fingerpick enjoy additional control over the sound and tone of the guitar. This is because different fingers can pluck different strings, making various sounds and effects.
Fingerpicking can be further broken down into several different styles, which include:
Travis Fingerpicking: This style originates from country music. You do this by moving the thumb back and forth between two bass strings while playing melody and harmony notes with the other fingers.
Blues Fingerpicking: Heard mostly in blues music, the method usually involves playing the bass line with the thumb. The other fingers focus on harmony and also melody.
Classical Fingerpicking: Usually seen as the most difficult fingerpicking technique. You play melodies, harmonies, and bass lines simultaneously, using your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.
Folk Fingerpicking: This is often done by picking and strumming at the same time to make a rhythmic and melodic background for the vocals. You may hear this in Flamenco-style music, for example.
Fingerpicking is a way to play the guitar that requires a lot of skill, agility, and endurance on the finger muscles. Fingerpicking guitarists also tend to have knowledge of music theory and composition.
It is hard to learn, but worth the effort as it is a versatile technique, usable in many types of music.
Is Fingerpicking Different From Fingerstyle?
Fingerpicking refers to the act of striking strings with fingers. In contrast, fingerstyle plays bass, melody, and harmony with fingers. You may see fingerpicking as a way to strike the guitar strings, but fingerstyle is a style of playing guitar.
You may generally see people treat fingerpicking and fingerstyle differently from each other. However, if you are to investigate these two in further detail, there are subtle differences between the two.
In general, you can see fingerpicking as the method of how you can strike the string, to make sounds from the guitar. In fingerpicking, you use your fingers to strike the string, not a pick or plectrum.
This differs from fingerstyle, which refers to how you actually play fingerpicking.
Fingerstyle is a style of fingerpicking where you try to play the bass, melody, and harmony on the same guitar. This means your fingerpicking will have to be complex, and you must use multiple fingers to play your fingerpicking.
Fingerpicking vs. Picking
Fingerpicking differs from picking in how it is performed, the speed, complexity, and genre. Fingerpicking also tends to be played on certain guitars and has legendary players.
|Striking Surface||ThumbIndex fingerMiddle fingerRing finger||A pick or plectrumKept between the thumb and index finger|
|Complexity||More complexMay include trying to play bass, rhythm and lead at the same time||SimplerTend to focus on one instrument at a time|
|Genre||Classical, traditional styles such as Flamenco||Rock|
|Instrument||Tend to be played on acoustic guitar with nylon strings||Tend to be played on acoustic guitar with steel strings, and electric guitar|
|Players||Sergio AltamuraAndres SegoviaAntoine DuFour||Jimi HendrixSlashEddie Van Halen|
Generally, fingerpicking and picking can be differentiated in many ways, such as:
Generally, when you fingerpick, your primary striking surface is your finger. Is it common to see fingerstyle players play with all four fingers – thumb, index, ring and middle finger.
The thumb generally plays the bass, or lower-pitched strings, while the other three play the higher-pitched strings. Pinky fingers are generally not used when fingerpicking, although it could be possible to use them.
For picking, a pick or plectrum is used to replace the finger. The pick is usually held between the index and thumb and then placed a little flat against the string.
Generally, it is possible to play pluck on the strings faster with fingerpicking, as more striking surfaces are available. With fingerpicking, four fingers can strike the string to make sounds. With picking, you only have one, the pick itself.
As a result, in fingerpicking music such as Flamenco, notes are played fast. You may also see fingerpicking players capable of playing bass, harmony, and melody at the same time.
Fingerpicking usually produces a softer, gentler sound. This could be because the fingers are the striking surface, and the fingertips are skin and flesh. This means it cannot strike the strings very hard.
This makes it more suitable for the traditional, classical style of music. This may also explain why fingerpicking guitarists tend to play solo.
With picking, since plectrums are used, guitarists can strike the strings really hard. This produced a louder sound, which may work well in music such as rock or metal.
Fingerpicking is seen as more complex, as it can be played at a higher degree of difficulty. For example, players can play the bass, melody, and harmony at the same time. Players can also play faster since they have four fingers to strike the strings.
It could be simpler to play with picking since there is only one strike surface. This makes picking more popular with new players, who also like to use picks to learn to strum.
READ MORE: Should I Learn Picking Or Strumming First?
Fingerpicking’s softer and more complex sound suits them for classical, folk, country, or Flamenco genres. These genres of music tend to rely on the guitar to play solo and complex notes to keep the listeners entertained.
Since picking is simpler and allows players to play aggressively, players tend to use it to play heavier music. These include rock, metal, punk, etc.
Since fingerpicking tends to be used in classical, folk, or flamenco music, it also tends to be played on classical guitar that uses nylon strings. These guitars produce a more traditional, gentler sound that suits these musical styles.
Acoustic or electric guitars with steel strings may be played using fingerpicking too, but they are generally played using picking. This is because they tend to be used in musical genres that prefer strumming or hard picking.
Since fingerpicking and picking are two different styles of playing, they also seem to have different master players as well.
For fingerpicking, classical players such as Sergio Altamura, Andres Segovia, and Antoine DuFour are seen as masters. There are also other players such as Jung Sungha and Tommy Emmanuel.
For picking, most of the legendary rock stars could be considered masters in the skill. These could include Slash from Guns and Roses, Jimi Hendrix, or Mark Tremonti.
Why Is Fingerpicking Difficult To Master?
Fingerpicking is difficult to master as it requires better hand coordination. Fingerpicking is harder to keep to the beat and may require more playing precision. It is also much harder than strumming.
Generally, with many beginning guitar players, they avoid fingerpicking. Instead, they tend to gravitate towards playing with a pick, which means they play picking instead.
This is because fingerpicking is difficult to master compared to picking, since:
Requires Better Hand Coordination
When you play picking, you generally control one striking surface, the pick itself. You use the pick to play the notes you want. This means you have fewer things to focus on.
However, with fingerpicking, you have four striking surfaces: thumb, index, middle, and ring finger. With these different surfaces, things become a little more complex and may require you to have better hand and finger coordination to play the notes right.
Harder To Keep Timing Right
Fingerpicking is a complex playing style; you have four striking surfaces, and you must also manage your fretting hand. On top of that, you may also need to alternate between fingerpicking and strumming. However, not all musical genres require this.
This means it may be hard to keep the playing to the beat since the playing is technical. Many new players must choose between simplifying their playing to keep to the beat or slowing down the beat to play better.
May Require More Playing Precision
Fingerpicking gives players much more control over their guitar than picking. As a result, fingerpicking musical pieces have developed a wider range and quality of sounds.
This means the playing becomes more technical and requires much more precision. These may include playing loud vs. quiet or implementing vibrato sounds.
In musical styles like Flamenco, players must switch between fingerpicking and strumming. The transition may happen fast as well.
Hard To Play Fast
Many fingerstyle players also struggle to play fast since fingerpicking music tends to be very technical. If they push up the speed, the playing quality tends to suffer, and the sound is not good.
Compared to picking, players with picks can play much faster since the music is not too technical. Players can focus on striking one note at a time, instead of up to four, as in fingerpicking.
How Do You Fingerpick Fast?
To fingerpick fast, you need to position their hands and fingers in the correct position. You also need to keep your muscles and fingers relaxed to flex them better. It could help to practice your fingers by playing scales and counting beats in smaller chunks.
If you play fingerpicking, you would be looking at legendary players like Tommy Emmanuel. As you watch him play, you may drop your jaw and wonder how he could play so technically, so fast.
There are several ways you can fingerpick faster and better, by focusing on your fingers and also mentally counting your beats in smaller chunks:
Play The Right Strings, With The Right Finger
To play fast, having your fingers and hands in the right position is very important. This allows you to play the strings using the right fingers, giving you the flexibility to play fast.
|B||Index, Middle, Ring|
Notice how you do not play the high E string with your thumb. This is because if you do so, your other fingers will be too far away from the strings. Moving the fingers back will require time, slowing your play.
Strike The Strings At The Right Angle
It may also be helpful to play fast if you learn to strike the string at the right angle. The right striking angle helps you generate the best sound without fighting through the string’s resistance.
This also helps to prevent your fingers from fatiguing, which could slow down your playing speed.
To strike your strings at the correct angle, avoid striking the strings flat using your nail. Instead, strike the strings with your finger at an angle. You can also use your fingertip, like a bassist.
Keep The Muscles Relaxed
One of the fastest ways an expert tells apart newbies in fingerpicking is the state of their fingers when playing fast.
Most newer players may struggle to play fast, meaning when they have to fingerpick fast, their fingers tense up, making it harder to move. The fingers also move jerkily, resulting in sound quality that is tense, hard, and not soft.
The way to prevent this is always relaxing the fingers and allowing them to flow naturally. This may be hard, especially if you are new, but the practice may naturally help.
Learn To Play Slow
One way to develop more relaxed fingers is to develop confidence in your playing.The best way develop confidence in fingerpicking this is to learn to play slowly.
Being slow forces you to slow down your playing, which may help to make you feel calmer while performing. This prevents you from becoming anxious when playing fast and can prevent your fingers from being tensed up.
To start to play slowly, consider slowing down the beat by half, and then try to see if you can play your fingerpicking piece at the correct pace.
As you play slowly, ensure to keep your fingers relaxed. Gradually pick up the tempo, and move back to your usual tempo.
Break Down The Rhythmic Pattern
Depending on the arrangement of the musical piece you are playing, you may be able to play faster by breaking down the rhythmic pattern.
For example, if you have to fingerpick a group of 16th beat notes (Semiquaver), instead of thinking of 8-8-8, you could break it down to 3-3-2, 3-3-2. You could also adjust this based on the fingers you are using to play the notes.
Breaking down the rhythmic patterns allows you to focus on smaller chunks of notes simultaneously, making you less likely to feel rushed. When you are less rushed, you may feel more relaxed and calm.
This cooler, calmer state of mind may translate into relaxed fingers, helping you to play faster and better.
Practice Fingerpicking Exercises To Build Speed
Finally, you can always increase your fingerpicking speed by practicing. You can choose between practicing the difficult sections in the musical piece you are learning, or you can practice scales.
When practicing the sections in your musical piece, you can start by practicing slowly and then slowly pick up the pace. Generally, this may help you develop confidence and have a calmer state of mind while playing the piece.
If practicing scales, there are practices that focus on different areas. Some focus on finger coordination, some on unique strings, and some try to help you play to the beat and right rhythm.
All these should translate into more relaxed, confident fingers during the performance, helping you nail the pieces on time, on the beat, and just nice.
How Long Does It Take To Be Good At Fingerpicking?
It may take you from a few months to a year to be good at fingerpicking. However, the time it takes to get good at fingerpicking depends on several things, such as your natural talent and how hard you practice.
It may be hard to tell you the exact time you need to be good at fingerpicking, as too many factors may influence that.
This means, rather than worrying about the time needed, focus on building a strong foundation by getting good at basic exercises and techniques.
Spend time developing muscle memory, playing arpeggios, and practicing different fingerpicking patterns. Also, invest in a good guitar. You can also learn songs and styles from folk, blues, and classical music that use fingerpicking.
Practice often, even if it is just for a few minutes a day, to improve your skills and build muscle memory. It may also help to have a guitar tutor to help you along the journey. You can also use gamified guitar learning systems such as Rocksmith to motivate you.
The key is to always understand that everyone learns at a different speed, so do not give up if you do not see progress immediately. Learn to have fun, and slowly things will come to you.