Welcome to Fingerstyle Boot Camp!

I’m 200 years old, but I can still kick your ass, punk!

UPDATE: I’m proud to announce that my fingerstyle video lesson based on the 200-year-old etudes of Mauro Giuliani has been selected to appear in the debut issue of Pure Guitar, a new digital guitar mag whose editorial staff includes my two music journo mentors : Tom Wheeler and Jas Obrecht. Also on board: jazz ace Wayne Goins, session superhero Tim Pierce, Nashville’s leading guitar tech, Joe Glaser, and other preeminent axe experts.

You’ll find my article here — but frankly, I recommend starting at the homepage of issue #1 and reading all the way through!

Congrats, guys, on the new mag. I’m psyched to be part of it. :beer:

20 comments to Welcome to Fingerstyle Boot Camp!

  • Woah!!! Thanks a TON for this. I’m stuck in a rut with my fingerpicking, and this is bound to be great help. 

    You, sir, truly rule!

  • Laertes

    I practiced some of these exercises some time ago on classical guitar. If I try fingerpicking them in the electric it sounds too harsh to me, specially the first string. Can it be because I pick too hard being used to the nylon strings? Any advice, other than turning off the volume 😉 , for fingerpicking on the electric and not hurting my ears at the same time?

    In the first exercise you play in the video how do you stop the open g string from ringing out? I find it difficult to stop it with my right hand and it being open no fingers of the left hand touch it.

    Thanks Joe & all.

    • joe

      Those are two great questions, Laertes! And they’re both really hard to answer! 🙂

      For taming the harsh tone, take a careful look at the angle at which your finger strikes the string, and the amount of curvature in the finger. The closer your finger is to straight (that is, the less curvature in each finger joint) the louder and more powerful the sound will be). Also, how much nail, if any, do you use? (There’s no “right” answer — some classical players have long claws, and some great fingerstyle players use no nails at all, just the calluses of their skin. I generally keep my nails the same length as my fingertip, so that if tap a surface with my finger, the nail and meat of the finger strike together. But that’s just me.) Finally — and perhaps most significantly for your problem — study the angle at which your finger intersects the string. You get the brightest possible sound when the last joint of the finger strikes the string at something close to a 90-degree angle. If you shift even a few degrees toward a smaller angle, you get more flesh and less nail (though the exact result, of course, depends on the length of the nail).

      (BTW, here’s a good nail tip: Hold an emery board or a piece of medium-fine sandpaper in front of you, in the same position where your finger would contact the strings if you were playing, and just “play” against it for a minute. It’ll smooth down the nail in just the right spots.)

      Regarding the string-damping: There are two options, picking-hand damping and fretting-hand damping, and they tend to be techniques that guitarists either ignore, or perform unconsciously. In the video, I’m damping with my left hand — you can see how my fingers sort of “bounce” after each chord, and my middle finger, which frets the fourth string, also mutes the third string as I lift away slightly. The downside of that technique is that it’s easy to introduce an ugly “click” when you lift off. The other approach is to quickly touch the string again with the same finger that plucked it — you should be able to get a similar staccato sound without the fretting-hand “bounce.”

      The player who made me think the most about damping was the late Michael Hedges. Yeah, he recorded some drippy New Age stuff, but he really was a freaky genius, one who was extremely conscious of the most minute aspects of his technique. He once told me that his style was all about damping — that’s how he created the incredible polyphony of his best pieces. Hedges, like the great classical players, was able to emphasize any note on any string, and make it stand out as the primary voice.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Jeff_H

    Thanks Joe! This is totally what I need!


  • I’ve always admired those that could finger pick with speed. Classical is awesome. I’d love to see some bluegrass inspired picking using the same type of techniques. I’m not a bluegrass player but the speed amazes me much more than a bunch of finger tapping speed. 

  • Thanks a lot, Joe.

    To relax inbetween exercises we can practice this great Ilyn Payne fingerstyle lesson: 


    Have fun!

  • Laertes

    (This should go after your reply to my first comment but if I click the reply button after your comment no letters appear when I write)

    Thank you very much for your detailed answer. I am trying with different finger positions as you suggest. I have short nails and I think that they just touch lightly the strings after the flesh have left them.

    I think that I am getting better sounds now. I have also noticed that fingerpicking on the electric requires a much lighter touch than the classical. I have to reprogam my fingers for the electric because as I get faster on the electric they go “nylon string mode” and they start pulling hard again.

    • joe

      Glad it helped — and sorry that the reply function is broken. (You can add comments to the post, but you can’t input text to a comment intended to thread to a previous comment.) I’m working on it. I don’t suppose there are any WordPress aces out there who know about the Mingle Forum plug-in? 🙁

  • Oinkus

     I was gifted a cheap classical not long ago and have tried to pick it up now and again.I really am a one trick pony ,plectrum ,too many notes and etc… Chicken picking is also out of bounds , maybe this stuff might help me get going. I have been doing a few exercises from tabs on Songsterr but nothing like this stuff..Great idea and good plan Joe WTG ! Thanks again for all the stuff you do for us man it is really appreciated.

  • Christopher Haugan Lyngedal

    This is awesome. Your theory/technique posts are very useful, entertaining and fun to exercise – all at the same time! You don’t get that very often. Most of the time, theory/technique can be very boring, but you make me want to practice every time you post something like this! :thumbup:

  • Laertes

    Just wondering what would Mr. Giuliani think if he could watch Joe’s playing his exercises on the electric…

  • Labes

    Amazing, what a nice way to expand your skills with a thing that, i should say, i would never go for alone.
    Thank you once more !

  • Oscar Svenningsson

    There’s a small note in Swedish in the upper right corner of the old facsimile. It says “Gift from” and then a very long and fancy name. In case anyone wonders 🙂

  • Dale

    Is the Pure Guitar site down? I’m looking for the tab…
    Many thanks

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Click to upload a JPG

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.