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Give Your Guitar the Finger

Fingerstyle vs. Plectrum on Electric Guitar
It is safe to say that the majority of electric guitar players today prefer a pick, but it is also safe to say that very few use a plectrum exclusively and never touch their right hand fingertips to the strings in any way. The fact that a pick is limiting is self-evident: hybrid-picking and thumbpicks are often the only way to make notes on separated strings ring simultaneously, not to mention that some rhythmic phrasing can only be done fingerstyle.

"I would like to suggest that any guitar player reading this article give more thought and attention to fingerstyle playing."
Before I go any further, let me define the term "fingerstyle". Simply put, and by nearly all accounts, "fingerstyle" means playing any type of guitar with the right hand fingertips. However, in my opinion, the term "fingerstyle" can be even more specific. For example, a classical guitarist almost unconditionally plays with the fingers, and that can be referred to as classical right hand technique. This is rigid and can hardly, if at all, be translated to the electric guitar. However, the term "fingerpicking" can be used to describe the method of playing an acoustic steel string with a memorized bass and accompanyment for singing (i.e. Paul Simon and James Taylor), or a solo arrangement in a bluesy or ragtime feel (i.e Doc Watson). Fingerstyle, therefore, describes those who do other styles of playing with the right hand fingers.

Many players come to mind using my more specific definition of fingerstyle, like Lindsey Buckingham, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, and Albert King, just to name a few. These guitarists use a nearly exclusive electric guitar fingerstyle, and by listening to any one of them, one can get a feel for the rhythmic and tonal nuances that only the fingers are capable of creating. The plucking, slapping, flicking, popping, and sometimes simply indescribable sounds that these players produce are simply not possible with a pick.

The problem with fingerstyle electric guitar is that the fingers, especially to a novice fingerstyle player, seem neither as fast nor as accurate as the plectrum, not to mention that the attack is softer and the fingertips can become quite raw and pained if overused. With that said, I'll attest that the more experienced fingerstyle player can play louder, quicker, and more accuratly than with a pick, not to mention the endlessly more colourful and interesting tonal opportunities that are available only to the fingerstyle player.

In closing, I would like to suggest that any guitar player reading this article give more thought and attention to fingerstyle playing. I studied classical guitar for a few years, and although the memorization and rigidity of the style was awkward at first, it had endless ramifications on my electric guitar playing, and on the way I perceive music in general. For every different person who plays fingerstyle electric guitar, there are as many different approaches to technique. So, find your own form, practice twice as hard as you would have with your pick, and make sounds that are ten times cooler than you'd ever have thought you could have created.

Josh Graves is a rescent graduate of classical guitar performance at Chico State, and is currently cultivating his abilities as a singer/songwriter.