What's this style of guitar playing?
November 11, 2014 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Sounds like good old-fashioned finger picking?
posted by oceanview at 10:54 PM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

I believe the answers are: 1) finger picking. 2) Teach yourself on the internet via YouTube tutorials or guitar learning forums/website. Or guitar lessons with an actual teacher. Bonus answer: 3) Sounds like acoustic folk music to me.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:55 PM on November 11, 2014

See Fingerstyle Guitar.

Personally I'm fond of Mississippi John Hurt and Joseph Spence, though each of them have their own unique approaches.
posted by mumkin at 11:12 PM on November 11, 2014

Country blues fingerstyle guitar. Work your way through this book and this one on travis picking, listen to a lot of old blues and John Fahey, watch youtube tutorials, look up tabs of songs you like and consider taking lessons from someone who can play this style.
posted by saul wright at 11:25 PM on November 11, 2014

Country blues fingerstyle guitar sounds like a good name to me too. As to how to play it, can you play a bit of guitar already? I'm going to assume you know a bit, but please excuse me if this is too simplistic, or correct me if you want more detail.

To work up to playing something like this, first I'd mess around with a few chord progressions you're already familiar with. To begin with, put your thumb on the root note (the lowest single note you can reach, that's the same note as the chord you're playing) and each of your fingers on a string (you can forget your little finger if using it is tough, but it's good to get it involved). Don't move your thumb or fingers off the strings they're on for now. A really loose rule to make it sound good is that you play the root at the start of each bar with your thumb, then play a pattern on the higher strings with your fingers. Get a bit of a feel for how to pluck the strings to get a nice sound, and find some rhythms and patterns that work.

Then, try to learn a couple of simpler songs that have finger-picking in them. Don't worry too much about genre, the technique doesn't change too much between them. House of the Rising Sun is a good place to start, and Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah would make a decent second song.

After that, keep going with it. Loads of songs have some kind of finger-picking in them, so keep learning new stuff. I'm not very familiar with country music, but that clip you played depends a lot on hammer-ons/pull-offs, so work some of those into your playing. To make a piece of music sound 'bluesy', a simple thing to remember, is to do a pull-off so your chord goes to a chord-7 (eg, pull off the D string in an E chord, and you have an E7 chord ).

Finally, if you want to faithfully reproduce this kind of sound, you'll need the right kind of set up. He uses a steel strung, 12 string acoustic of some sort (dreadnought?). To get the 'twang' he gets, you'll need a steel strung acoustic, and probably finger picks too.
posted by Ned G at 3:55 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lol, I heard this stuff as a kid and asked myself the same question.

40 years later I am still busting my ass to come close to mere imitation of the greats. You are asking how to join a religion, and it is not something the Internet can solve for you fully, although there are amazing resources out there.

The main thing to do is listen very widely. There is a level past developing polyrhythmic independence in your fingers (for which studying classical guitar is a good shortcut).

Welcome to the cult.
posted by spitbull at 6:53 AM on November 12, 2014

Good advice here. I especially agree on using the Hanson book. Other resources I'd recommend are Stephan Grossman and John Miller books.

The key to this style is to develop what spitbull calls polyrhythmic independence with the right hand. Simply stated, this is simultaneously playing the bass line with the thumb and the melody with your fingers. Learn some Travis picking as it takes a lot of practice to get the thumb working the way Parr does in the video. The way I approach new songs is to work on the bass line and the melody separately; then I stitch them together.

Imo, the holy grail song to begin with is any one of the many versions of Libba Cotten's Freight Train. Get that down and you are on your way.
posted by CincyBlues at 8:11 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by humboldt32 at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2014

I recently saw a nice introduction to playing fingerstyle by Tommy Emmanuel: lesson
posted by thelonius at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2014

Also, not as a criticism but just an observation, you asked this about a similar track back in February. It's still country blues fingerpicking, and that comes from such a rich and varied vein of American (and ultimately African, with pieces of European and -- yes -- Hawaiian and Mexican elements) music that it doesn't make too much sense to narrow it down with a label beyond that -- which you seem to be seeking? There are numerous substyles and traditions, varying in how many fingers you use on the right hand, the precise metrics of the thumb line, the tunings used, the balance of percussiveness, polyphony/melodic voicing, and drone resonance (one thing that makes this sound so shimmery on the 12 string example above -- if it's the 12 string sound you really dig, check out Leo Kottke), and coordinated with various subgenres of music. Some substyles are named after major innovators (like Travis picking, which uses a percussive alternating bass rhythm sourced in ragtime, to my ears). All any of us can do is drop the names of major pickers.

Some less blazingly famous players I like include Harvey Reid (very Celtic, almost classical technique, a lot of drone, open tunings, albeit in the linked clip he's playing a more percussive style than he often does) and, reaching back a ways, the great Texas songster Mance Lipscomb. whose work combines a bottleneck slide with astounding right hand technique and a driving rhythm. The video shows some nice hand closeups in the middle part during the solo. And of course there's always the (blazingly famous, of course) Chet Atkins, who took Travis picking into a much more complex harmonic and tonal place, incorporating hammering/tapping techniques, classical vibrato technique, and jazz based passing chords.

Depending on how acoustic you want to keep it, these techniques are also vital in the electric guitar technical toolbox in country and r&b and rock. Add the sustain and tonal palette and faster action of an electric guitar and you get a lot of possibilities. Most top notch chicken pickers can also play straight country blues finger picking styles, from which their technique partially derives (it also derives from banjo technique).
posted by spitbull at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also as someone obsessed with this stuff, I want to recommend my favorite entry-level six string for learning it, which is the Taylor GS-Mini. For about $300, it has the tonal voicing that very few inexpensive dreadnought-style guitars offer, and a small scale makes fingerpicking a bit easier (for me, it's what I practice on when I'm learning something new before I take it to my bigger Taylor 440ce). Most entry level acoustics are designed for playing with a flatpick and banging out chords that ring. You want the opposite -- tight, punchy, defined, voicing, a really ringing treble but a bass that projects rather than booms and doesn't overwhelm the midrange (where you still play a lot of bass notes). A fingerpicker needs a guitar that responds to touch variation. After decades of playing this style on many different instruments, I have never played an inexpensive flattop that was as well adapted to fingerpicking as the GS-Mini for anything like the price. I would not recommend learning finger picking on a twelve string, however. Adds layers of complexity.

I also recommend using heavier strings than you might be used to as a flatpicker. I use .013 on the acoustics, and .011 or .012 on electrics, for example (as a general rule).

Also: nail care!
posted by spitbull at 3:33 PM on November 12, 2014

One last recommendation: in the last few years I've really become obsessed with Hawaiian slack key guitar technique, which has been very mind-expanding for me as a fingerpicker. My favorite living player is Cyril Pahinui. That shit is humbling. There is a third rhythmic layer in between the bass and melody lines, mostly achieved with drone sonority, which is the slow hula undulation that makes this stuff dance music (listen for the slow rhythmic oscillation at half or 1/4 the overt pulse of the song). It's really three parts, one of which is not directly articulated but emerges in the interplay of bass and melody lines. (PS I picked all these videos over better tracks because they show hands up close for extended segments.)
posted by spitbull at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2014

Thanks for the awesome advice! I'm gonna get to work.

Also, another player I've found with some inspiring stuff in (I think) the same style is Nathan Salsburg.

I'm still working on figuring out the various fingerpicking styles. American primitivism seems to be what I like, but not sure how that differs from country-blues fingerpicking. Or Travis picking.
posted by pilibeen at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2014

There is no historic style called "primitivism." That's a fairly limiting label for such sophisticated traditions. Nothing primitive about it.

Google "Kora harp" to hear where it comes from. The polyphonic roots of this tradition are older than Bach.
posted by spitbull at 5:27 PM on November 12, 2014

American Primitivism basically takes the traditional country blues fingerpicking techniques and uses them often with different tunings and chord changes to create more avant-garde compositions. Travis picking is referring only to the picking technique and is usually referring more to folk or country. There's a good outline on wikipedia. Obviously, Fahey's the go-to guy for American Primitivism but it's having a bit of a reinessaunce right now and there's a ton of good stuff out there.
posted by saul wright at 9:34 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

How can primitivism have a renaissance?

I insist that is a modern name for old styles and an insulting one at that. Fahey aside, most guitarists won't know what that term means as a way of playing.
posted by spitbull at 5:03 AM on November 13, 2014

Because among the strands of American vernacular musics, finger picked guitars are everywhere and arguably constitute the most sophisticated African musical retention in our tradition.
posted by spitbull at 5:06 AM on November 13, 2014

Thanks again for the excellent advice, all. Gives me some more digging to do.
posted by pilibeen at 5:19 PM on November 13, 2014

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