An A to Z of picking techniques

Jump to: navigation, search
Picking techniques
Picking techniques


An A to Z of Picking Techniques

There are several formerly recognised picking techniques, yet it is surprising how many guitar players, even experienced ones, do not even know they exist. Or to put things more correctly, they know they exist as they have probably developed the same picking techniques themselves, yet they are unaware that they are actual recognised and named techniques. Below we will take a look at these picking techniques and describe each of them. Some of these techniques, such as ragtime guitar, have fallen in to disuse over the past few decades, hopefully by re-introducing them in this short article they may be rediscovered by a new generation of players.

American Primitive Guitar

American Primitive Guitar (APG) picking technique is a solo technique, using all of the fingers, and is usually used by acoustic or electro acoustic players. APG picking techniques evolved from a melting pot of musical genres and styles such as Jazz, Folk, Church Music and Classical. American Primitive Guitar picking style uses multiple plucked strings on the guitar neck to produce a melody, and bass notes to give underlying tone. Quite often alternating bass notes will be played, to drive the composition along. APG concentrates on using simple, easy to learn techniques to build complex arrangements. American primitive guitar was pioneered by players such as Leo Kottke and John Fahey.

Fingerstyle Classical Guitar

Fingerstyle classical guitar techniques use the entire right hand, including the thumb, to play two separate melodies at the same time. Guitar players who have committed themselves to fingerstyle classical guitar style will often take on a strenuous practice regime, and develop a personal methodology to allow them to develop as musicians. Fingerstyle classic guitar is generally considered to be one of the hardest right hand techniques to master, often taking years before a student is considered proficient. The actual position of the right hand is critical in perfecting this style of picking, the hand should be raised from the fingerboard and the knuckles be in line with the strings. Classical guitar techniques allow for exceptional solo play, creating tone, timbre and dynamics.

Folk Baroque

Folk baroque is a fingerstyle which emerged from Britain. Folk baroque combines several key American musical influences including Jazz and Blues, with traditional British forms of music, including skiffle. Although folk baroque most usually uses a standard tuning, both and open D tuning and an open G tuning are frequently employed. As Folk baroque style developed it began to incorporate a wider range of musical influences, including Native American and Celtic. The actual technique used to play folk baroque is very similar to that employed in the Travis picking technique, although it concentrates more upon melody. Folk baroque was pioneered by such people as Martin Carthy and Davy Graham.

New Age Fingerstyle

Players who use the new age fingerstyle will attempt to combine bass notes with a string of arpeggios. New age fingerstyle was originally inspired by a similar sound produced by some pianists in the late 70s. The pioneers of new age fingerstyle incorporated fast arpeggio runs, very similar to those found in the Spanish music Flamenco, to produce a rich and expressive sound. New age fingerstyle will hardly ever contain any type of alternating bass, having abandoned the blues and folk routes of other fingerpicking styles. William Ackerman is generally cited as being the pioneer of the new age fingerstyle technique.

Percussive Fingerstyle

Percussive fingerstyle has grown out of several other guitar styles, most notably Flamenco. Instead of the fingers being used to play each note, other parts of the hand will also be used to produce a sound. The guitar body itself, or the strings, will often be hit or slapped to produce tone, hence the name Percussive fingerstyle. This is a fairly new style of guitar playing, which was enabled by the invention of modern day guitar pickups, and the increased physical resilience of steel guitar strings. During the 1970s, Michael Hedges began experimenting with percussive fingerstyle, and is generally believed to be its pioneer.

Ragtime Guitar

Ragtime guitar technique evolved when early guitar pioneers attempted to reproduce the sounds made by ragtime pianists. One of the less popular fingerpicking styles, it briefly became very popular in the 1960s. Almost every tune played using ragtime guitar technique was transcribed from a piano score; little of the music was actually new. It is probably due to this reason that the ragtime guitar style has fallen in to a state of disuse in recent decades. The first recorded artists to be attributed to exhibiting the ragtime guitar style was Dave Van Ronk in the early 1960s.

Slack-Key Guitar

Slack-Key guitar is a finger style that originated in Hawaii, it takes its name from the fact that it will usually be played on a guitar that has an alternate tuning, and will almost always be played entirely on open strings. There are two major open tunings used when playing Slack-Key guitar. The first is named Warahine, the second is named Taropatch. Although several other tunings are often played to produce a set range of timbres and tones for individual arrangements. Slack-Key guitar players will almost always use an alternate bass note plucked with the thumb to drive a simple melody played with the fingers of the right hand. Leonard Kwan, Raymond Kane and Gabby Pahinui are believed to be the early adopters of slack-key techniques.

Travis Picking

Travis Picking is a fingerpicking style, often known as pattern picking, which uses pre-formed and well defined right hand patterns, to bring added expression to standard chord shapes. Travis picking will almost always use an alternating bass, which will often be created by changing the underlying chord shape, to add extra dimension to the melody. The actual right hand technique used is fairly simple, with most guitar payers using the Travis picking style employing just their thumb, index and fore fingers. Merle Travis was the pioneer of Travis picking technique, although Chet Atkins was responsible for making it as popular as it is today.