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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 4 - Part 9: A 'Pick Free Zone'

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 42 **

Some of you who are familiar with my playing may be aware that I sometimes ditch the pick and favour using only my fingers. This can often create a real nice flesh on string tone and be more expressive than using just a plectrum, once you master how to approach the basics. Obvious examples of players who really employ this style and approach would be guys such as Mark Knopfler, Richie Kotzen, Mike Landau, Michael Lee Firkins, John Mayer and the master finger style player, Jeff Beck, but there are many great players out there who switch between pick and fingers to create extra depth and expression to the sound they make. All these guys I have name checked here are just as good with a pick as they are with their fingers, so don't ignore your regular picking techniques that do require a pick.

A good place to start might be to replace the downstroke you would normally play with a pick with a downstroke using your thumb. Take some time to explore how good a simple pentatonic can sound with the flesh of the thumb using all downstrokes. The tone becomes warmer and fatter and you can be aggressive and broad when attacking the note or subtle and soft. Obviously the same applies to a pick but the sound will different.

The upstroke needs to come from your finger. So where you would normally put the upstroke in your phrasing with a pick needs replacing with your first finger.  The flesh on my finger has gone fairly hard from years of doing this but I don't ever remember there being a pain threshold to get past with this. We are all different, so if anything does get a bit red or sore, then take a break and practice your alternate picking with a pick for a while.

Then you simply have to put the thumb downstroke and finger upstroke together. You can try this on one note, or two notes on different strings. The idea is to build some speed, but more importantly than speed is building good time and pulse. This whole technique is only as good as you can make it feel within the pulse and groove of whatever situation you are playing in, but this applies no matter what technique you are going for. A harsh reality for modern electric guitar playing is that if you don't have good in built time and a feel for the pulse, you are never going to sound as good as someone who does.

Double stops come alive with your fingers because it allows you to deliver the musical information at exactly the same time rather than the usual strumming more than one note, which creates a tiny delay as your pick crosses from one string to the next. Again explore any double stop licks you know with the thumb and first finger or even thumb, first and second finger to execute clusters of three notes.

I also tend to grow my nails a little for acoustic finger picking, and sometimes the nail on my first or second finger will replace the pick for any alternate picking lines I want to throw into the mix when I'm not holding a plectrum. I know a lot of people struggle with nails not growing very strong and breaking. I've been lucky in that department because mine don't seem to break that easily. If they do, they soon grow back.

Check out the examples on my filmed tutorial so that you can get familiar with the sound we are going for here. I like the colour and sound you can get with the flesh and nails of your hand and in many cases it certainly helps the tone. Many of the guitar parts and guitar solos on my album are finger based as well as pick based and being able to switch between the two hopefully adds some depth and dynamic to the music which may not have been there if I had simply played everything with a pick.

The old saying "the tone is in the fingers" has never been more true when going for this approach!

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