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-   -   Which two fingers do you use the most while playing finger style? (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=603253)

JonPR 01-10-2021 04:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599784)
Well, I don’t consider myself a hair-splitter. I like learning about the guitar and its history, but I don’t care much for bickering.

I'm not bickering. But I do enjoy the occasional bit of hair-splitting. I'm a pedant - because one thing that frustrates me about internet forums is that imprecision of language wastes a whole lot of time, as people misread one another, or think they're disagreeing when really they're not.
Sorry if I misread anything you wrote. ;) I'm not disagreeing with you, only disambiguating - to use a wikipedia term. Or trying to anyway. (If you misread me, that's my fault, not yours.)
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599784)
Are you saying that was unusual at the time and unique to him?

I don't know. I only know I've never seen anyone else play like that. Everyone else I've seen playing in that style uses (used) at least index and middle, occasionally ring too. They may use index primarily, but commonly backed up with the middle.
Travis - in all the videos I've seen - seemed to never use his middle finger at all, let alone the ring. But he did develop incredible dexterity with just thumb and index.
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599784)
I would call it classical guitar technique. I didn’t say anything about it because it has nothing to do with what’s being discussed.

Understood. I was only making the (admittedly pedantic) point, that it's also "fingerstyle" in the definition you gave: playing the guitar without a pick (plectrum).

And I wouldn't say it has nothing to do with the topic. I'm sure most people on this forum are folk or blues players, not classical players, but there is a lot of overlap in the technique (if not in the material), we can all learn something from classical techniques.
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599784)
Yes, but, on those old recordings, they played with just the thumb and a finger or two. Are there many (any?) from the first half of the 20th century in which the guitarist plays with more than that?

Again, I don't know. Film of players from that era is very thin on the ground! ;)
But what does seem to be the case is that that style doesn't generally require more than two fingers - and sometimes (as Travis proved later) - one finger might well be enough. (I'd guess the man he learned from might have used just thumb and index.)

I was just surprised when you described the style as "developed in the late 20th century". I wasn't aware of any different style developed that late. Of course you're right it "combine[d] several techniques and musical influences", but - AFAIK - only in the sense that the players of that period copied many preceding players (recordings from the previous decades).
The way you expressed it made it seem as if it was a new style, that was my point. (Sorry again if I misunderstood your point - I know you were being deliberately brief.)

The acoustic fingerstyle of the 1960s and later was often a little different in sound from the styles recorded between the late 20s and late 50s that the later players copied, but mostly in quality of sound, not really in terms of fingering.
There certainly were some new techniques developed alongside that "traditional" (alternating bass) approach - such as various percussive techniques and new tunings - but I'm guessing you weren't thinking of those. ;)
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599784)
I use all five fingers (little finger only for strumming).

Right. Flamenco players also use all five - but that's another potential area of confusion of course.
"All five fingers" includes the "thumb"! That's OK, but if we count the thumb as a 5th "finger", and then read someone saying they "only use two fingers" how do we know whether they mean "thumb and index", or "index and middle" (thumb being assumed)? ;)
Disambiguation does come in useful sometimes... ;)

Again, sorry to make such a meal of some very trivial distinctions. Hopefully there's some clarification amongst the verbosity here... :D

NormanKliman 01-10-2021 05:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6600428)
Hopefully there's some clarification amongst the verbosity here... :D

Yes, of course there is. Thanks for such a considerate and thoughtful post.

Gary Davis said on several occasions that he played with only thumb and forefinger, sometimes adding, “because that’s all you need.” It seems clear he greatly developed that style, but I assume he wasn’t its creator. It sounds to me like Blind Blake played almost entirely with thumb and forefinger. You might remember that I was asking about West Coast Blues a while back. That’s the only one of his that I’ve spent some time studying, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking (you’ve studied more of his material than I have, as I recall), but it seems to me he used mostly thumb and forefinger. When I play West Coast Blues, I have to slip in a middle finger once in a while, and I assume he did, too, but nearly all of it can be played without the ring finger. Once you start using the thumb with a little more oomph on beats 2 and 4—enough to carry through to the trebles—, it’s surprising how much can be done with just thumb and forefinger. As you say,
Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6600428)
that style doesn't generally require more than two fingers

I haven’t heard anyone in the first half of the 20th century use their ring finger as part of their approach to playing guitar (to be clear: using it frequently and in American blues and folk music). Now then, there are plenty of old players I’ve never listened to, or maybe I’ve heard it done and haven’t noticed, so it’s just an educated guess.
Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6600428)
I was just surprised when you described the style as "developed in the late 20th century"

I could have worded it more precisely (“last half of the 20th century”), and, again, it’s just a guess based on what I’ve heard. My idea is that “fingerstyle” (second definition in post #24) has seen a lot of change in recent decades and is still in a state of flux. If I’m right about nobody relying on their ring finger in prewar days, that’d be the first development, and the most recent would be alternate tunings, percussive effects and fretboard tapping, which aren’t new but have become much, much more common than they were just 20 years ago. So, in that sense, I see it as a new or greatly rejuvenated style.

Thanks for the response. I hope I haven’t given you the wrong impression, because I’ve respected your knowledge and experience from day one. If you disagree with anything I’ve written or something doesn’t make sense, feel free to point it out and I’ll do my best to respond (a little more nicely).:)

JonPR 01-10-2021 06:06 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6600451)
Yes, of course there is. Thanks for such a considerate and thoughtful post.

Likewise! :)
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6600451)
Gary Davis said on several occasions that he played with only thumb and forefinger, sometimes adding, “because that’s all you need.” It seems clear he greatly developed that style, but I assume he wasn’t its creator.

Yes! I forgot about him. He did indeed play with thumb and index alone, as can easily be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fpPgo4Deo4
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6600451)
It sounds to me like Blind Blake played almost entirely with thumb and forefinger. You might remember that I was asking about West Coast Blues a while back. That’s the only one of his that I’ve spent some time studying, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking (you’ve studied more of his material than I have, as I recall), but it seems to me he used mostly thumb and forefinger. When I play West Coast Blues, I have to slip in a middle finger once in a while, and I assume he did, too, but nearly all of it can be played without the ring finger. Once you start using the thumb with a little more oomph on beats 2 and 4—enough to carry through to the trebles—, it’s surprising how much can be done with just thumb and forefinger.

Good points. I don't know that many Blind Blake tunes; I'd find it difficult to use thumb+1 for Diddy Wah Diddy or Southern Rag (IMO they were played thumb+2, they're certainly much easier that way), but I'm sure you're right thumb+1 works for most. He was certainly busy with his thumb, much like Merle Travis was.

Skip James, meanwhile (like Mississippi John Hurt) used thumb+2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytVww5r4Nk0 (mainly index obviously, but plenty of middle there too.)
Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6600451)
I haven’t heard anyone in the first half of the 20th century use their ring finger as part of their approach to playing guitar (to be clear: using it frequently and in American blues and folk music). Now then, there are plenty of old players I’ve never listened to, or maybe I’ve heard it done and haven’t noticed, so it’s just an educated guess.

OK, if we're talking use of ring finger, I agree.
But then not many of the later players use their ring either - at least not when paying the alternating bass style. It would be different when acoustic fingerstylists play in a more arpeggiated style - i.e., more like a classical way of playing chords.

IOW, maybe this comes down to the style of the music being played - specifically whether alternating bass is used. I know I have seen some beginners attempt alternating bass using their index instead of thumb on bass beats 2 and 4 - a real no-no! That might well be how a classically trained player might approach it, especially when bass notes occur on the 3rd string. But the whole idea of that style is the thumb leads, striking every beat. Get it right, and you really do only need one finger for most standard patterns; a second finger comes in when a treble line requires an additional note. The ring would only be used when a 4-string chord was required - and even then, a lot of those old players would just rake with the thumb (as those videos show).

I.e., I guess you're right that the post 1960s players might choose to use the ring occasionally, perhaps to get a cleaner sound (for pretty folk styles ;)) than those thumb rakes (or index strums) you hear in the old blues tunes. One wouldn't have to be classically trained to think of that: it would make sense of you're arpeggiating a chord with 4 or more strings to allocate one finger per string as much as possible. (I'm thinking something like Paul Simon's Scarborough Fair, that he got from Martin Carthy. Here's Carthy in 1963, using thumb+3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I77MooeGMxI Obviously that's a much more classically-influenced style than "Travis picking"!)

davidbeinct 01-10-2021 08:45 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NormanKliman (Post 6599463)
I would call that Travis picking before I called it fingerstyle. The latter term isnít well defined, as far as I know, such that all Travis pickers are fingerstylists but not all fingerstylists are Travis pickers. I know you know this, I realize itís splitting hairs, and I wouldnít normally correct anyoneís usage of the term, but since you corrected his with that example...

It seems to me that fingerstyle means two things: (1) in a very broad sense, playing the guitar with your fingers instead of a pick, and (2) specifically, a style of playing the guitar without a pick that was developed in the late 20th century and that combines several techniques and musical influences (examples of those techniques and influences would round out this definition).

And when I say pick, Iím referring to holding a plectrum between your fingers, so Iíd (grudgingly) concede that fingerstyle includes the use of thumbpicks and banjo picks, although "fingerpick" would be a better term for that, in my opinion.

How about if the more relevant part of his post IMO, is addressed?
Quote:

Originally Posted by Don W (Post 6598620)
3 fingers are required for fingerstyle. 1 or 2 finglers are fine for pattern fingerpicking...both are great but they are different. In order to play bass, rhythm and melody at the same time you need 3 fingers...there are a few guys that occasionally use 4 fingers.

Since Merle Travis, who clearly did all that with thumb and index, has already been addressed, perhaps we should look at this guy to see that Travis was not a fluke?

davidbeinct 01-10-2021 08:49 AM

I guess I should have read through more of the discussion before posting that but itís such a great tune I hope no one minds.

Llewlyn 01-10-2021 10:22 AM

I use thumb + index + middle + ring.

Thumb only for basses. IMR can play the three high strings (one finger per string), or IM can alternate on all 6 strings to play lines.

Sometimes I cheat if it's simpler or for tone reason (eg I really like the tone of my R compared to I and M).

Ll.

JonPR 01-11-2021 05:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by davidbeinct (Post 6600563)
Since Merle Travis, who clearly did all that with thumb and index, has already been addressed, perhaps we should look at this guy to see that Travis was not a fluke?

Indeed. But if you want to "look" and not just listen, you need the video I linked to before (I should maybe have given it youtube tags). ;)


PajamasMusic 01-11-2021 06:33 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by paulzoom (Post 6598227)
For a while it was my thumb and forefinger but lately I’ve been finding it easier to use the middle finger because it’s longer and easier to reach. Does anyone else do that?

Like you said you started out, with the thumb and forefinger, lobster claw style. I've tried to do it differently, but honestly, just seems so foreign to me. But I don't finger-style much anymore and what I do do, it works very well for me.

der Geist 01-11-2021 07:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Don W (Post 6598620)
3 fingers are required for fingerstyle. 1 or 2 finglers are fine for pattern fingerpicking...both are great but they are different. In order to play bass, rhythm and melody at the same time you need 3 fingers...there are a few guys that occasionally use 4 fingers.


I think I would have to disagree that three fingers are ďrequiredĒ. Not including your thumb (because it is a thumb, not a finger) plenty of people only use 2. I just got a course by Tommy Emanuel and he emphatically states he almost only only uses 2 fingers. Then of course there is Phil Keaggy. I also only use two fingers and a thumb.

thomasn 01-12-2021 04:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by paulzoom (Post 6598227)
For a while it was my thumb and forefinger but lately Iíve been finding it easier to use the middle finger because itís longer and easier to reach. Does anyone else do that?


Same for me. My middle finger started to replace my index finger over time.

Fatfinger McGee 01-13-2021 11:08 AM

Wes Montgomery played everything with his thumb :).

David Eastwood 01-13-2021 11:12 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fatfinger McGee (Post 6603576)
Wes Montgomery played everything with his thumb :).

Thatís because he had to use his fingers to hold the pickguard down :)

Fatfinger McGee 01-13-2021 11:35 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by eatswodo (Post 6603582)
That’s because he had to use his fingers to hold the pickguard down :)

That makes more sense than my theory, I always figured he was born with 5 thumbs :).


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