Andrew Foy Guitar Player

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Fingerstyle Guitar

Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar or bass guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking (plucking individual notes with a single plectrum, commonly called a “pick”). The term “fingerstyle” is something of a misnomer since it is present in several different genres and styles of music—but mostly, because it involves a completely different technique, not just a “style” of playing, especially for the guitarist’s picking/plucking hand. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking except in classical guitar circles, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. The terms “fingerstyle” and “fingerpicking” also applied to similar string instruments such as the banjo.

Music arranged for fingerstyle playing can include chords, arpeggios (the notes of a chord played one after the other, as opposed to simultaneously) and other elements such as artificial harmonics, hammering on and pulling off notes with the fretting hand, using the body of the guitar percussively (by tapping rhythms on the body), and many other techniques. Often, the guitarist will play the melody notes, interspersed with the melody’s accompanying chords and the deep bassline (or bass notes) simultaneously. Some fingerpicking guitarists also intersperse percussive tapping along with the melody, chords and bassline. Fingerstyle is a standard technique on the classical or nylon string guitar but is considered more of a specialized technique on steel-string guitars. Fingerpicking is less common on electric guitar. The timbre of fingerpicked notes is described as “resulting in a more piano-like attack,” and less like pizzicato.

Because individual digits play notes on the guitar rather than the hand working as a single unit (which is the case when a guitarist is holding a single pick), a guitarist playing fingerstyle can perform several musical elements simultaneously. One definition of the technique has been put forward by the Toronto (Canada) Fingerstyle Guitar Association:

    Physically, “Fingerstyle” refers to using each of the right-hand fingers independently to play the multiple parts of a musical arrangement that would normally be played by several band members. Deep bass notes, harmonic accompaniment (the chord progression), melody, and percussion can all be played simultaneously when playing Fingerstyle.

Many fingerstyle guitarists have adopted a combination of acrylic nails and a thumb pick to improve tone and decrease nail wear and the chance of breaking or chipping. Notable guitarists to adopt this hardware are Ani DiFranco, Doyle Dykes, Don Ross, and Richard Smith.

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