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Paddy1951 02-04-2019 07:24 PM

Unusual Fingerstyle
 
I watched a documentary tonight about bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell.

His playing style was somewhat unusual. Thumb pick and his index finger. No other fingers. Other blues artists were also shown and their fingerstyles were kind of all over the place.
I know Elizabeth Cotten's playing style was ridiculed at one point. She was also a two finger player.

This has me wondering.... Do any of you fingerstyle players routinely play with an unconventioal approach?

I admire those that make great music doing it as they chose.

I once saw an Irish player who used ALL of her fingers and her thumb. She was wonderful.

Whatever works... works, IMO.

So, any non-conventional fingerstylists?

TBman 02-04-2019 08:30 PM

When I'm lazy I'll just do thumb and index. It's not a good habit to get into, at least not for me.

frankmcr 02-04-2019 09:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TBman (Post 5970436)
When I'm lazy I'll just do thumb and index. It's not a good habit to get into, at least not for me.

Worked OK for Merle Travis.

62&climbing 02-04-2019 09:14 PM

I thought I once saw a John Prine interview where he claims he does the same thing... thumb and forefinger.

Sloplay 02-04-2019 09:34 PM

Hi. I fingerpick using only thumb and index; I have nerve damage that just seems to get in the way of using middle and ring fingers. It usually works out ok, just have to figure out different ways of picking strings.

Dino Silone 02-04-2019 09:36 PM

I first learned thumb and two finger Piedmont style, but also do thumb and index as well, depending on what I’m playing - sometimes that’s the most natural way to get the feel right. Some other famous thumb and one finger players include Magic Sam, Doc Watson (though he was mostly known for flat-picking), Reverend Gary Davis, Wild Jimmy Spruill, and lots of others.

Elizabeth Cotten had a “strange” style because she was left-handed, and learned to play on right-handed guitars, so she learned to play upside down. Her index finger did the thumb part, and the thumb did the index finger part. Weird or not, I love listening to and playing her stuff (though I play it right-handed, and usually use thumb and two fingers, just because I figured out how to play her stuff by listening, so did it using the techniques I was most comfortable with.)

I don’t know that I’d call these styles “weird” - they’re traditional country blues styles. There are a number of distinct styles, all different, though some players are hard to put into one of the bins. (Like Mississippi John Hurt, who was billed as a Delta bluesman, though his style wasn’t remotely Delta. He used thumb and two fingers.) I think it was Stefan Grossman who said that you can’t get a real blues feel if you use thumb and three fingers, “fingerstyle”.

In fact, modern thumb and three finger “fingerstyle” is only one of many flavors of fingerpicking, and not common in traditional American folk and blues styles. So maybe it’s the weird one? Or maybe it’s just all good...:)

lar 02-04-2019 11:06 PM

If you like unconventional you might be interested in this thread:

https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/...d.php?t=532809

Pitar 02-05-2019 06:44 PM

I use all 5. Self taught, young, emboldened with enthusiasm and desire to play (but little actual knowledge of how) I thought playing with all 5 was the proper way to go. I did not think to question myself or seek any formal guidance whether in print or in person. I just bought a guitar, a book of chords and started in with all 5 moving.

Then I discovered the various patterns and dynamics of finger picking and modified my picking as needed. Sometimes I use three, sometimes all, sometimes a mixed bag, and always needs-dependent.

I will state to the curious that using 5 isn't without compromise. The little finger does not have the same power as the other fingers so be kind to yourselves and don't expect a balanced hand when attempting to bring all 5 to an aggressive piece. That's better accomplished by adapting the hand to us 4.

I will also state that the thumb pick is your friend. It will initially challenge your pride all the while putting a hurt on your thumb. But, with patience and a small measure of fortitude you will gain deft use of it and never again play without it.

TBman 02-05-2019 07:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by frankmcr (Post 5970460)
Worked OK for Merle Travis.

That's nice. What does that have to do with what works best for me?

ceciltguitar 02-05-2019 08:09 PM

My right hand technique is frequently closer to traditional classical guitar technique than anything else.

I also use some flamenco techniques that I learned from a year of studying the basics of flamenco with a flamenco guitarist.

I also flatpick with my index (plastic, crazy glue and Swiss Silk reinforced) fingernail, by holding my thumb and finger as if holding a flatpick.

Since studying both hand anatomy and the sensory and motor homunculi, and noting all that Django Reinhardt achieved with just 2 fingers on his left hand, I have consciously shifted to aiming for naturally doing more with less with both hands, which for the right hand means using the ring finger and pinky less. Works well for me.

Sometimes I use only thumb and index finger, usually using the index finger to strum both down and up strokes, which may sometimes be embellished with rasguedo like strums.

I could go on. But, really, one of the nice things about the guitar is that you can do anything that you can imagine, and that there are players all over the world using all kinds of right and left hand techniques for wonderful musical effects.

DungBeatle 02-05-2019 08:31 PM

I use all five but I am mostly using thumb for bass notes and the other four play the back beat with a few very simple fills thrown in every now and then. Guitar is just for background when singing, I can't play the guitar like I play piano.
~Bob

frankmcr 02-05-2019 10:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TBman (Post 5970436)
When I'm lazy I'll just do thumb and index. It's not a good habit to get into, at least not for me.

Quote:

Originally Posted by frankmcr (Post 5970460)
Worked OK for Merle Travis.

Quote:

Originally Posted by TBman (Post 5971297)
That's nice. What does that have to do with what works best for me?


Thought some response was needed to the assertions that playing with just thumb & index was "lazy" and "not a good habit to get into".

Those claims come across far more emphatically than the half-hearted ("at least...") disclaimer at the end.

TBman 02-05-2019 11:38 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by frankmcr (Post 5971413)
Thought some response was needed to the assertions that playing with just thumb & index was "lazy" and "not a good habit to get into".

Those claims come across far more emphatically than the half-hearted ("at least...") disclaimer at the end.

Quote:

When I'm lazy I'll just do thumb and index. It's not a good habit to get into, at least not for me.
How's that, better? :D :D

JonPR 02-06-2019 06:26 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Paddy1951 (Post 5970371)
I watched a documentary tonight about bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell.

His playing style was somewhat unusual. Thumb pick and his index finger. No other fingers. Other blues artists were also shown and their fingerstyles were kind of all over the place.
I know Elizabeth Cotten's playing style was ridiculed at one point. She was also a two finger player.

Well the main thing that made her unusual was playing the guitar upside down! Bass strings on the bottom, played with the index, thumb for the melodies. That's really unconventional. (Although only an idiot would ridicule her for it.)
Quote:

Originally Posted by Paddy1951 (Post 5970371)
This has me wondering.... Do any of you fingerstyle players routinely play with an unconventioal approach?

What's a "conventional" approach? You mean classical p-i-m-a orthodoxy? You would use that if you were taught it.
Otherwise, self-taught players will each go with what feels natural. It's pretty intuitive to play the bass strings with your thumb and the others with at least one finger. How many fingers you use would depend (a) on how many notes you need to play at any one time, and (b) on whether you find it quicker to alternate fingers or play everything with just one.

IOW, common practices among self-taught fingerpickers will gravitate to certain obvious techniques (practical, ergonomic), but with plenty of personal variation within those.
The great Merle Travis, e.g., only used thumb and index. Middle ring and pinky were anchored on the scratchplate all the time.
I suspect most of us (like most of those old blues players) mostly use thumb index and middle, maybe with ring (or even pinky) as a spare.

Personally, my main fingers are thumb, middle and ring, with index as spare. I started out that way because, when resting my wrist by the bridge, my middle and ring fingers reached the strings more easily than my index.

Paddy1951 02-09-2019 08:59 AM

Thanks for all the responses. Your accounts of how you approach fingerstyle, has been very informative.

I am not, primarily, a fingerstyle player, so hearing about all the different ways gives me food for thought how I might play.


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