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Finger Picking Hand Positions  

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Finger Picking “ANCHOR” 

Your finger picking anchor is a very important part of finger picking.  It will help you with precision, clarity and speed of your finger picking.  So we need to start learning about this before you actually begin with your finger picking lessons!  If you skip this page and go streight to the finger picking patterns pages you will more then likely learn some bad habits that will have to be unlearned later or worse yet, you may never reach your full potential with finger picking. Please don’t let the happen!

When you begin
to finger pick your right hand will need to be stable or “anchored”.  (If you are left handed and play chords with your right hand then this information applies to your “left” hand) When you’re picking your finger picks must come up on the string just right each time you go to pick a string.  Not only do you need to hit the intended string but you also want to play them in a consistent way.  This is done by using your little finger as a “reference point” or a “picking anchor.”  You do this by placing your little finger on the top of the guitar near the bridge and pick guard.  Use this as your anchor point.  By having this “picking anchor” on the top of the guitar you will be able to “know where you are” in relation to the strings without looking at your hand while your playing.

When you first begin it doesn’t matter.  You will want to be looking at your hand. This is fine. However, as you progress, it is BEST to learn to play without looking at your hand.  Picking hand or chord playing hand.  So soon you’ll want to start practicing without looking at your hands.  You’ll need to learn to “listen” to what you are doing.  “Listen” for mistakes, “listen” as you make those corrections and learn to “feel” how to make those corrections without looking at your picking hand.  That’s why you have the picking anchor.  Learn to rely on that picking anchor to know where you are and what adjustments you need to make.  Learn to trust your anchor and use it.  This will help you later as you learn to “listen” for “Picking Patterns”.  Basically what you want to do is to “LEARN TO LISTEN CAREFULLY”

    Picking Anchor                                  Top view as you would see it                       
               

Note the little finger is “anchored”                  Again, note the littler finger
on the top of the guitar in front of                 is “anchored.”  Learn to rely

the bridge.  Your “picking anchor”            on and trust your picking anchor.
                                 
You can move this picking anchor as you need to when changing picking patterns. In the patterns on the page “Picking Patterns #1- 4” you will place your picking anchor so that your first two fingers come up on the “b” and high “e” strings. Your first finger on the “b” string and your second finger on the “e” string.  In this position those fingers are “dedicated” to those particular strings. That means that whenever it is time to play one of those particular strings you will use the finger that is “assigned” to that string.

I will refer to this position as the
…….. FIRST POSITION.

Note the 1st finger is on the ‘b’ or 2nd string.
The 2nd finger will be on the ‘e’ or 1st string.
The “Anchor” photo above is also in the
First Position.

In the “FIRST POSITION” you will not be using your 3rd finger at all.  It just floats.  Your thumb will be covering the bass strings, the ‘e, a, d, and g’ (or 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rds strings). In most picking patterns your thumb will only be playing the ‘d and g’ strings and occasionally the ‘a’ (or 5th) string.  There are some songs that when using this position I will reach up to the top bass string the ‘e’ (or 6th) string with the thumb, but that is a rare exception.  I mention this because as you improve you too may want to do that.

To help you find your “picking anchor” at first, simply place the finger picks on the respective strings for the “Position” you will be in (for example- 1st POSITION, touch or lay the 1st finger pick against the “b” string and the 2nd finger pick on the “e” string.) and then “anchor” your little finger on the top of the guitar.  As you improve, this will just happen without giving any thought to it at all.

It is not critical where you place your anchor finger. Generally you will place your anchor somewhere between the hole of the guitar top and the bridge. Sometimes it may be close to the bridge, other times it may be closer to the hole.  Please notice there is a change in the sound of the strings as you move your hand position along the strings.  This is because picking a string near the bridge causes the string to vibrate differently then when picked over the hole.  When you pick the string near the bridge you will hear more “overtones” in the sound.  When its picked over the hole you hear more of the full strings vibration, which makes for a fuller Basie sound.  This makes for a nice variation in the quality of the sounds the guitar makes.  You will see any good artist make good use of these different sounds.  So you will want to learn to move you hand back and forth along the strings as you play to make good use of these differences.  This can be done while still “keeping your anchor,” because your anchor “slides” back and forth on the top of the guitar, helping you to “find” the strings as you go.

As I mentioned before, you will also move your anchor “up and down” in positions as you need to when changing picking Patterns.  On picking Patterns #5-9 for example you will need to move your anchor “up” towards the bass strings so that your fingers are located over the correct “assigned” strings.  I’ll talk more about this as you go through the lessons.

I refer to this position as the; 

       SECOND POSITION

Note the 1st finger is now on the ‘g’ string.
The 2nd finger on the ‘b’ string and now in
this SECOND POSITION the 3rd finger will
be “dedicated” to the ‘e’ string.  In this
position the thumb will now be covering
the three remaining bass strings.

This 2nd POSITION is the one that you will be using the most.  In this position all six strings of the guitar will be used on a regular basis.  For example, in Patterns #6, and #10-13 you will be using this picking anchor position.
                
Another position that is sometimes used is;

THIRD POSITION

Note that the 1st finger is now on the ‘a’ string.
The 2nd finger on the ‘g’ and the 3rd finger
is on the ‘b’ string.  No finger is “assigned”
to the high ‘e’ string in this POSITION.

Sometimes when I use this position I don’t use my 3rd finger at all, but just the 1st an 2nd fingers and let the thumb cover the ‘e’ and ‘a’ strings.  This is a pattern that is occasionally used when highlighting a bass program or a run that is not used much at all.  At other times this position can be used when lighting a melody line as I do towards the end of the introductory video on the Home page.

In the finger picking lessons pages I don’t show any Patterns for this third position because of its infrequent use.  I’m still showing this position here because I wanted you to know that you use this position.  If you would like to you can experiment with it.  Actually you could use some of the same patterns for the FIRST POSITION in this Position too or you could make up some of your own patterns.

As you learn the finger picking patterns you will be moving your anchor point up and down on the top of the guitar to position your fingers on the appropriate strings for those patterns. You must learn to move your anchor as you vary your picking patterns while continuing to play.  The goal is to be able change your anchor back and forth between the different patterns with not even a hint of any change or a pause at all in the musical flow.

There should be no interruption at all in the rhythm of your picking when changing anchor points. This take practice!  So I suggest some exercises on the picking pages that will help you develop this skill.  You will need to work on this once you have mastered a number of the patterns.  If you’re just starting to learn to finger pick, don’t worry about all that just right now.  Learning to move your anchor will come in time.  At first just get used to the patterns, and as you improve start getting used to moving  your hand around.


COMMON MISTAKES

Now let me point out some common mistakes that are made by new students in their hand position.  This way you can keep these in mind as not to do them.  It’s very important that the right hand be in a relaxed position with the fingers having only a slight curve.  If you are sitting with the guitar, the wrist should be relaxed with a slight bend downward.  Keep the palm of your hand up and away from the bridge and the top of the guitar and strings.

Do not flatten the hand and curl the fingers too much. These tense positions will make for fatigue and cramping in the long run, not only in your hands but also in your style of music and sound.  You need to be relaxed and let the music flow from your hand and your finger picks out of your guitar.

 

                                                          
Note the fingers are cramped, the palm                                          Again the hand is cramped!
is flat and too close to the top of the guitar.                                    The thumb is too cramped!
NOT GOOD!                                                                                    The palm is too close to the guitar.

To correct this problem you need to relax the hand more.  Move the the palm of your hand away from the guitar top more so that the picking hand is in a comfortable position.  Imaging a small ball in the palm of your hand is helpful.  With a small ball in your hand your fingers would have a natural curve around the ball.  That is the basic shape you want your hand to be in.  Of course we want to keep your hand relaxed. 

                                      
Note the relaxed curves in the                                                  Here you can clearly see the
fingers because the palm of                                                       relaxed position of the hand
the hand is up away form the                                                   like holding a ball in the palm.
top of the guitar.                                                                                            THIS IS GOOD!
THIS IS GOOD!
 
      

Wrong Finger Movement
Another common problem that beginners sometimes have. They may tend to exaggerate the finger movement of their picking hand.  Extending the fingers out almost straight while picking is not good.  If your fingers go way out and around before they come  back up onto the string then your technique is not good and needs to be corrected.

DO NOT PRACTICE IT WRONG! Slow down and correct your technique!
DO NOT develope bad habits!

To correct this problem to keep a slight curve in your fingers (like you see in the photos above) as you play.  Your fingers only need to move enough to pluck the string and that is it.  Your fingers should never straighten!  If they do while your picking this is exaggerated movement that needs to be corrected.   Keep that slight curve in you fingers whils you are picking and only move your fingers towards the strings needing to be played.  All the time the palm of your hand should remain relaxed with that slight curve.  So as you’re picking the tip of your fingers make little circles.

How little?  About the size of a quarter (25 cent piece).  If your fingers are making bigger circles like the size of a half dollar, and your fingers are straightening out while picking, then you need to work on your technique.  This exaggerated finger movement will make for problems down the road and should be corrected as soon as you can.  Slow way down and get it right.  Start from scratch if you need to but get it corrected before learning any more.

WRIST POSITION
Now lets talk a little about the wrist position because this is important too.  The amount of curve in your wrist can vary somewhat depending on your personnel taste and the way you like to hold your guitar while playing.  For example some like to have their guitar down by their hips when standing and using a guitar strap.  They think that looks “cool.”  If that’s what you prefer then your right hand position will be different then when sitting down on a stool.  If your guitar is down at your hips you will need to bend the wrist considerably upward.  If you are sitting down or your strap is holding the guitar higher up around your chest, then your wrist will need to bend slightly downward.  So the wrist position is depending on your guitar position.

The Goal With Wrist Position
What you are trying to accomplish with the angle in the wrist is to have your finger movement to be perpendicular (or at a right angle or at 90 degrees) to the string.  You want your finger picks to come up on to the strings so that the “tongue” of the pick hits flat against the string.  Please keep in mind that you will probable never have your fingers coming to the strings at exactly “right angles.  “Look at it as a goal.  The closer the better.  If your finger movement is somewhat parallel to the strings then your picks will “scrape” the wound strings as you play.  NOT GOOD!  This is what you’re trying to avoid.  Using plastic finger picks will help “mute” this problem some what.  Twisting the pick slightly  on the tip of the finger will help too. (Shown below)  However, for the BEST results, your picking technique needs to be correct.  Your technique needs to be such that the finger movement and picks are coming straight up onto the strings.   To accomplish this your wrist position is the KEY!!!  Twisting of the pick is just “fine tuning.” (See below)

 

The reason for having to bend the wrist is you must compensate for the position of the elbow.  The higher the elbow is over the bridge – the greater the need is to bend the wrist upward.  The further back the elbow is from the bridge – the need to bend the wrist downward.  When the elbow is somewhere in between – the wrist can be straighter.   With the guitar up by the chest the elbow is bent and it’s back behind the bridge – so the wrist bends downward.  With the guitar down by your waist the elbow is straighter and over the bridge – and so the wrist must bend upward.  With the guitar at your belly area the elbow is in between and so the wrist can be straighter.

Personally, with the guitar down at my hips my guitar playing is hindered because the guitar is too far away from my upper body.  In that position the left hand wrist is forced to bend too much.  This doesn’t feel comfortable or natural for me.  I like the guitar to be closer to my chest.  That way the left hand is “more relaxed” allowing for more freedom for left hand guitar work (very important to me).  I’ve always been more concerned about sounding good then looking “cool.”  The position you choose is a matter of personnel taste but the rule is you must feel comfortable and relaxed, otherwise your endurance will suffer and so will your music.

Just remember the goal is to have your finger picks come up on to the strings properly.  Below are some photos of what the wrist should be like in different playing positions.  Note the thumb position in all these photos is with the thumb extended out and the thumb pick FLAT against the string.

                                     
Here the guitar position is with                                      Here the guitar neck is down
the neck pointing upwards so                                         more, so the need for a slight 
 the wrist is almost straight                                             bend downwards in the wrist
             

                                   
Here the guitarist is standing                                        Here the guitarist stands with 
  with the guitar at his waist.                                           the guitar down by his hips.  
Note the slight bend in the                                              Note the need to bend the wrist                    
      wrist going upward.                                                     even a little more upward.

Just remember what you’re trying to accomplish.  You’re trying to have your finger picks come up on to the strings at a “right angel” so that the pick “tongue” lays flat against the strings as you pick.  Depending on how you hold your guitar, you may need to bend the wrist to make this happen.    

There is something else that can be done to “fine tune” how your picks hit the strings.  Read about this on the “How To Wear Plastic Finger Picks” page.

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