Category: Adventures in Fingerpicking Archives - Jim Bowley

January 26, 2015

Travis Picking 101

Fingerstyle guitar – or fingerpicking – is an essential part of the guitarist’s repertoire.

After my students develop a solid right hand setup and technique, I introduce them to what is arguably the most common fingerpicking style in popular music: Travis picking.

Named after the legendary country guitarist, Merle Travis, Travis picking is a pattern-oriented style of fingerpicking that can be heard in songs like “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel (and later Mumford and Sons), “Landslide” and “Never Going Back Again” by Fleetwood Mac, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, and “Little Black Submarines” by The Black Keys.

Because of the “looped” nature of the picking pattern, the Travis style creates a beautiful bed of sound over which to sing or play a melody. For this reason, it is often used to accompany a singer, (more…)

October 29, 2012

Money Guitar Tip #5: The Sliding Thumb

tip jar

When practicing your fingerstyle technique, it’s essential that you set your right hand up correctly from the get-go. Unfortunately, we can often lose track of the fundamentals of technique and suffer through some sketchy sounding fingerpicking as a result.

One of the easiest technique fixes – and one that is critical to sounding professional – is to make sure that your thumb is positioned ahead of your fingers. (By “ahead”, I mean that your thumb is closer to the headstock than your fingers are.)

Here’s the method: place your thumb on string 6 and allow fingers 1, 2 and 3 to sit on strings 4, 3 and 2, respectively. Now slide your thumb along string 6 toward the headstock. You should notice two things: your wrist has bent a little and your fingertips are now more perpendicular to their assigned strings than they were before.

By sliding our thumb ahead of our fingers, we’ve accomplished two important things:

1 – Our thumb and first finger are not competing for the same area and bumping into one another.
2 – Our fingers are now in a better position to strike each string than they were before.

When the thumb is too far back, the fingers are naturally positioned more parallel to the strings and “scrape” them. By contrast, when the thumb moves forward, the fingers naturally move to a more perpendicular angle relative to the strings. So not only does our thumb have more room to maneuver (more…)

October 25, 2012

4 Easy Steps to Fingerstyle Success

Will Ferrell in "Old School"

On the mean streets of Baltimore in the 1970’s, being able to play “Dust in the Wind” meant you were to be respected and feared.

Okay, maybe that was a bit much.

But in my head, it sounded so good.

Especially if Will Ferrell was yelling it at the pledges in Old School, only to go and top it off with a heartfelt rendition of the Kansas classic at Blue’s funeral. (“You’re my boy, Blue!”)

Even if it doesn’t make you the neighborhood badass, learning to play fingerstyle will definitely make you a better, all-around guitarist.

Contrary to what many rockers think, all guitar does not begin and end with a pick. Any guitarist who has been playing for a few years (heck, even one year) and hasn’t explored fingerpicking is really missing the boat. There is so much good music to be played without the pick!

[Note: I’ve had more than one “electric guitarist” fall in love with fingerstyle. Before long, you may be telling people that you’re really more of an “acoustic guitarist”. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!]

Although it’s important for your right hand technique to be solid, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Forget the rigid “rules” of classical guitar. My students take a more relaxed, “pop” approach that has worked extremely well.

So follow me, fellow six-stringers, as we take 4 easy steps to fingerstyle success! (more…)

Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

© 2012 Jim Bowley All rights reserved.
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