NYLONS AND NAILS
Sort out your fingerpicking
Bridget Mermikides looks at all the techniques needed to acquire perfect fingerstyle technique. Designed for classical but will benefit all styles.
A COMMON MISTAKE IN FREE STROKE IS FOR THE FINGERS TO BE CLAW-LIKE AND PULL THE STRINGS
Info Key Various Tempo Various CD TRACKS 24-39 Will improve your… Picking hand stability Rest and free stroke Tremolo and rasgueado
Any fingerstyle player knows how crucial it is to develop good technique in their picking hand. Once in full flow this hand relies almost exclusively on touch and feel. However, unlike the fretting hand, which gets plenty of visual attention, the picking hand is rarely glanced at.
This feature focuses mainly on classical techniques with some basic flamenco elements thrown in. And although everything here can be translated to steel-string, I am addressing tone and touch in a way that’s more relevant to nylon strings so this should make a great companion article to my regular Classical column. It might even inspire you to dig out the old nylon-string and give it a go.
The techniques will include ‘apoyando’ and ‘tirando’. Apoyando is the Spanish term for rest stroke; apoyar, meaning to rest or to lean, refers to the stroke of the finger or thumb pushing through the string and landing (resting/leaning) on an adjacent string. Tirando or ‘free stroke’, from tirar; to throw, is the term used when the finger plucks the string by curling it inside the hand, missing the adjacent string completely. Rest stroke has the stronger, warmer tone and is used for single line melodies, for occasional emphasis and for scales. Free stroke tends to be used for everything else.
The majority of teachers begin with rest stroke because the movement is easier, more natural, and produces a warm, full tone. This tone becomes the aim for the naturally quieter, thinner sounding free stroke. In the words of virtuoso guitarist and teaching guru Pepe Romero: “The rest stroke is the teacher of the free stroke”. So the free stroke has the same intrinsic movement as rest stroke in that the string is ‘pushed’ by the finger, and causes the string to vibrate as similarly as possible. A common mistake in free stroke is for the fingers to become claw-like and pull the strings outwards. Although this can feel like a natural way to pluck, it hampers the resonance and will not produce a good tone on nylon strings.
Working on the fingers individually to master the movement helps: position the hand by first resting the thumb on one of the bass strings and plant the three fingers on the top three strings. Keep the wrist away from the guitar and the fingers lengthened so that the knuckles are directly over the string on which each finger is sitting. Now push the string inwards slightly with the first finger and pluck so that the finger follows through under the hand and on the inside of the thumb. The finger should immediately relax after it plucks to allow it to ‘follow through’ naturally and then ‘spring’ back to its starting point. Repeat this process with the second and third fingers. If the nails are too long and ‘catch’ under the string, then they need to be filed to a smooth curve. Ideally the string should be plucked with a combination of fingertip flesh and the nail.
Simple tremolo picking is featured here too, and this is a real test of plucking hand control; a steady hand and consistent tone on each finger is the key. Also included are embellished chords using all strings, and rasgueado strumming techniques, some of which use the ‘c’ (fourth) finger - common in flamenco. At the end is a short piece that incorporates a number of these techniques.
Developing good fingerstyle technique is a lifetime pursuit so take your time and be honest when evaluating your tone, technique and clarity of execution. Approach the examples at the right tempo in order to get the most out of them. A regular, focused practice schedule using these exercises is guaranteed to bring your playing to a new level.
Good technique helps in obtaining great tone too