Will mcnicol masterclass
Master your tone and articulation as Will McNicol shows you how to get the most out of your fingerstyle techniques in this inspirational one-off masterclass.
Your acoustic guitar has an enormous dynamic range and is capable of producing a plethora of different tones. Being able to take advantage of all this sonic potential can make for the most captivating performances; full to the brim with nuance and detail. In this series of exercises we’re going to look at how you can unlock the potential of your fingerstyle technique in order to expand the tonal and dynamic palette you have at your disposal.
It’s very easy for things like fingerstyle patterns to become set in stone, where your fingers are effectively on automatic pilot. However, it’s good to think of each finger as an individual entity within these patterns, each capable of its own dynamic and tonal range. By doing this you can begin to shine a spotlight on particular areas of melodic interest, whether it be a delicate first-string melody or a powerful sixth-string bass line. By accenting certain fingers within a pattern you can also begin to shift the rhythmic emphasis as well, which can have some interesting effects that we’ll discuss more in the examples.
Combining finger independence with simple alterations to things like angle-of-attack (the angle at which your picking-hand fingers come in to contact with the strings) can make the world of difference to your tone. Starting at 90° to the string will give you a much more brittle tone, and as you rotate your hand to be closer to 45° the tone will become richer and more full-bodied. Where your picking-hand is placed in relation to the bridge or neck is also a good way to play with tonal variety. Closer to the neck and you can get a much sweeter (dolce) tone, and closer to the bridge you’ll find harsher (ponticello) tones. There’s not necessarily any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here, simply different ways of playing the same thing. It’s down to you to decide which is the most appropriate, and how variations in tone can make your performance more interesting. Let’s not forget about the overall dynamic of your playing. Playing with volume can seem quite simple at first glance, but can present its own challenges. You probably have a natural dynamic where you just sit down and play without much consideration to volume. Breaking away from this comfort zone can be a little tricky at first; as you push harder to generate a much louder sound it’s easy to lose control of articulation, and things start to sound less refined. Similarly, as you move to much quieter volumes, you may find the strings scratch more and you don’t have the same confidence in your fingerstyle patterns.
So there we have it, three key factors: finger independence, tone control and volume control. Combine them and they can have a transformative effect on your playing. I hope you have fun with these exercises and demonstration piece, and that they open doors for you to look at tunes you currently play and how you can make them even more expressive. NEXT MONTH We have a two part series with Canadian rock virtuoso Nick Johnston
YOUR ACOUSTIC GUITAR HAS AN ENORMOUS RANGE AND IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A PLETHORA OF DIFFERENT TONES
Will McNicol is a very fine classical and steel-string acoustic guitarist