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Lesson Series

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Giorgio Serci - First Steps In Fingerstyle Guitar Essential Pieces Part 1: 5 Fingerstyle Exercises

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 5 **

Hello again! My aim in this guitar lesson is to capitalise on the previous one, working on five fingerstyle guitar permutations or exercises. These are designed to improve co-ordination skills between the picking-hand fingers, as well as consistency of tone and attack, but most importantly, playing any guitar chord progression in a more rhythmical and satisfying manner.

Focusing on one hand at the time will help us refine our technique more effectively. We will be often using open strings, in order not to strain the fretting hand. While executing these exercises, we should listen for consistency of tone, volume and attack. The ‘a’ finger is normally weaker than the ‘i’ and ‘m’ fingers, so we should practise, making sure each finger produces a matching sound.

As I suggested in the previous column, each finger should make contact with the chosen string, pressing toward the soundboard and then releasing from the string, preparing the finger for the next note to be played. Notice the difference in tonal colour depending on the amount of pressure, quantity of flesh and nail used and the quality of the release. The chart below will help remembering the nomenclature of the picking hand fingers.

Picking-hand fingers: p, i, m, a

Thumb= P (from Spanish ‘Pulgar’ and Italian ‘Pollice’)

Index= i
Middle finger= m
Ring finger= a (from annular)

Little finger= c (from Spanish ‘Chiquito’- is not commonly used, apart from in Flamenco guitar for the ‘rasgueados’ and other hybrid picking styles.

Five fingerstyle permutations:
(Please see the previous column for clarifications on planting, pressing and releasing a stroke).

P.1: Plant, press and release p, a together on the 6th and 1st string. Next p, i, m on the 4th, 3rd and 2nd string.

Chords used are Emajor, Amin and B7. When the root of the chord is on the

5th string, our p finger should pluck that instead of the 6th string.

P 2: Plant, press and release p, a together on the 6th and 1st string. Next i, m together on the 3rd and 2nd string.

Chords: As above, however you may want to experiment with any of your favourite chords, like G demolished.....

P 3: Plant, press and release p, a together on the 6th and 1st string. Next m, i on the 2nd and 3rd string.

Chords: As above.

P 4: Plant, press and release p, a together on the 6th and 1st string. Next i, m on the 3rd and 2nd string.

Chords: E, F#m11, E/G# (E 1st inversion: E triad with G# on the
bass). Please note the minimalistic shape used for E instead of the classic

E shape. There is no need to fret notes, which we are not going to play. This minimum-movement approach helps playing in a more accurate
and consistent manner, while saving energy.

Chord variation (more bluesy): E, F#m11, G. Try also with a swung feel.

P 5: Plant, press and release p, a together on the 6th and 1st string. Next i, m twice together on the 3rd and 2nd string.

Chords: E, F#m11, E/G# - The feel used is a shuffle 16ths, with has strong Funk connotations.

A percussion effect can be added on beat 2 and 4 (back-beat) can be added for a more rhythmic outcome.

Chord variation: Em, F#m, Am, Bm by using a Barre as appropriate.

Bar chords or barre, can be an obstacle particularly for the beginner student and often are one of the reasons why beginners give up playing guitar altogether. Barre can also be a challenge for the experienced electric guitarist switching to acoustic or classical, mainly due to the difference in neck width and string tension.

While patience and slow practice will help overcoming the challenge of the barre, there are two simple strategies we can also use to alleviate the pain of what can be a really strenuous fretting hand technique.

1. Use the middle finger together with the index to strengthen the barre.

2. Use the weight of the fretting hand and arm to press our index to the fretboard.

It is important to focus on consistency of velocity, tone of each note in a bar chord. Please note that the barre is also a very effective means to muting unwanted string and it doesn’t always include all 6 strings. In fact it can include 2, 3, 4, 5 or strings only.

The way it is represented in notation is as follows: BII (barre on the 2nd fret).

B 3/6 (barre over the 1, 2, 3 string only).

Finally, it is quite fun to use these permutations and others of your choice, with a variety of chords and slash chords. (The latter are chords having as their lowest note, any tone other than the root note. For example: Am/C is an Am over C).

You could try like me the Am, Am/C, Bm7(b5) aka half-diminished and E7. Try ending like me in the video on an Amaj7 – This is an old trick called Third Picardy, which consist of finishing a minor chord progression into a major, sharing the same root. (For example: Am to Amaj, Em to Emaj etc).

As I mentioned last time it is not uncommon for electric guitarists

adventuring the world of acoustic
and fingerstyle guitar to be a little impatient and want to play straight away challenging fingerstyle passages with the same flair in which they can play an electric guitar. For best results, it is essential to spend as much time as needed working on the above mentioned issues. We all learn in different ways and at a different pace, but we can all benefit from focusing on one hand at the time and paying attention to detail. Furthermore,

slow practice can prevent us from memorising mistakes and developing bad habits. To this end, we should remember to “never rush the brush!”

Hopefully you will find this column useful and it will encourage you to keep exploring the world of fingerstyle guitar.

Till the next time, Good-bye!

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