ELECTRIC FINGERSTYLE BLUES Play like 10 ‘fingers only’ giants
In this very musical lesson Jacob Quistgaard explores a variety of electric blues fingerstyle techniques and discovers countless benefits along the way. It’s time to flex those digits!
‘From The Vaults’. Quist shows why ditching a flat pick makes playing so much more organic, and why it’s so popular with so many greats.
The following pages are dedicated to exploring the advantages of fingerstyle technique as applied by a selection of the finest electric fingerstyle players, all grounded in blues. We will explore various examples of these players’ personal vocabulary and stylistic approach, in order for you to gain more insight into their worlds and thus hopefully take a load of inspiring ideas, techniques and licks with you on the way.
We will see how chord playing can be highly controlled when fingerpicked, how riffs can go from ‘pretty cool’ to ‘extraordinary’ and we will see how using fingerpicking as a lead playing technique can give your soloing a whole new dynamic dimension and range of possibilities you probably hadn’t spotted before. With possession of good fingerpicking technique, phrasing across strings and even complex string skipping patterns become much easier to execute. Sweeping is a whole new thing, often performed by the thumb. Cool sounding double-stops and chords are suddenly increasingly welcome elements in your soloing and much easier to control, in terms of keeping unwanted strings and noise from sounding.
Regarding the notation of the musical examples, I have included some fingerings and picking options for you to experiment with, but do explore what works best for you. We use the standard, classical notation system with thumb as (p), first finger as (i), second as (m), third as (a) and fourth as (c).
First up, we will visit ‘The Texas Cannonball’, Freddie King, youngest of the ‘three Kings’ of electric blues guitar. Famous for singles like Have You Ever Loved A Woman? (1960) and his Top 40 hit Hideaway (1961), King had a raw and brilliantly intuitive playing style, using a plastic thumb pick and a metal first finger pick. With this set-up, he achieved quite an aggressive finger attack, but although Freddie did use picks on his fingers, he obviously still maintained many of the great benefits of having more than one ‘picking device’ involved. So, regardless of whether you like to attach picks to your fingers or not, there’s loads of great moves to learn from this fiery blues master.
Next, it’s the instantly recognisable style of Mark Knopfler, founder of Dire Straits, whose music - in addition to selling over 120 million albums - features lots of absolutely top notch guitar playing. Knopfler is a highly accomplished fingerstyle guitarist and his smooth and dynamic soloing style, which so effortlessly incorporates melodic arpeggiations and chords embellishments, is all about fingerpicking. “The pick is the biggest amplifier there is” he says - and how right he is! The dynamic range made available by fingerpicking is vast - and can aid the development of a more personal sound too. As the young Knopfler started on his acoustic guitar, learning all the folk picking patterns, he set himself up for greatness as he transferred this skill into modern distorted bluesy rock guitar playing - using his own variant of the ‘clawhammer’ style.
Speaking of personal styles, we shall also explore the legend that is Jeff Beck - the guitar player’s guitar player. Safe to say, Beck is one of the most technically and stylistically unique players in the world, and that’s counting any of the greatest greats, past and present. Beck’s unique sound is in no small part due to his fingerpicking - having thrown away his plectrum years ago, determined to “go out naked” without a pick. The way he combines his highly evolved fingerpicking technique with maverick whammy bar use and a generally hyper-creative spirit - well that is the fundament of his awesome and instantly recognisable sound.
We shall also dive into the highly evolved guitar styles of both Allman Brothers Band mates and contributors, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Haynes with his stunningly awesome blues stylings, including his ability to play great slide in standard tuning - and Derek Trucks, whom many see as quite possibly the world’s foremost living slide guitarist! For slide, fingerpicking really does open up a whole new level of control, as not only can you easily skip across strings and pick any combination of notes and strings to play, but you also get much greater muting possibilities, through being able to use more of your picking hand freely to mute unwanted strings, separating single-note slide lines and ‘cleaning up’ chords and double-stops.
Finally, sandwiched between Haynes and Trucks, I have thrown in a touch of the legendary Wes Montgomery, who although coming from an altogether more jazzorientated perspective, will add an extra dimension with his amazing and very recognisable thumb technique. Using his thumb pretty much exclusively, Montgomery took that technique and sound all the way and it really is worth experimenting with, as it’s a great technique to have in your arsenal. Basically, a good rule of thumb (sic) is that for the smoothest possible attack on any picked note, you use your thumb - so go ahead and enjoy the beauty of Wes-style ‘thumbing’.
Lastly, don’t forget the musical examples have all been recorded and are there for you to refer to - and of course there are also backing tracks for every example, so you can enjoy playing through all the music yourself. Are you ready to get started? Remember, great tone lies at your fingertips - let’s nail it!
WE Will SEE HOW USING FINGERPICKING as a LEAD TECHNIQUE CAN GIVE YOUR SOLOING a WHOLE NEW DYNAMIC DIMENSION AND RANGE