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Old 03-27-2021, 07:27 PM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Question Question About "Classical" Position for Blues Fingerpicking

Hello Acoustic Guit-people,

I've been working on fingerpicking lately and I had a quandary I was hoping the internet might opine upon.

I've been working through some Stefan Grossman material and I came upon this little tidbit...

EDIT: Youtube inline appears broken? Here's a link link to the section.

...wherein he states that he "doesn't recommending using the classical position" where you use three fingers plus thumb, assigning ring to e, middle to B, and index to G. He say it "doesn't seem to work [because] you don't really get the feel of it".

Meanwhile Ken Perlman seems to make liberal use of the ring finger in his "Fingerstyle Guitar" book.

So does anyone think there is any truth to the use of the ring finger somehow inhibiting the feeling of the blues? I suppose the answer is earlier in the clip I shared and is to "do what feels comfortable." I find it easier to learn songs from tab if I assign a finger per three highest strings, it seems to reduce cognitive load. Any opinions out there from fingerstyle guitarists? Am I doing myself a disservice by using three fingers liberally?
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Old 03-27-2021, 07:45 PM
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rick-slo rick-slo is offline
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Post 1. Welcome to the forum.

Classical guitar does not assign fingers to individual strings. Regarding the ring finger I use it for blues tunes picking as much as any other genre.
Also I don't rest a finger on the guitar top. On the other hand one could and could get used to doing it that way but it well may be limiting in the long
run for general guitar playing.
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Old 03-27-2021, 07:58 PM
RRuskin RRuskin is offline
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Stefan is a proponent of "do it like the old guys did." That may work for him but it doesn't necessarily work for everyone else. Like him, I took from Rev. Davis who as most know, only used his thumb & index finger. He had phenomenal hearing and would stop me to correct each and every flaw he heard in my playing. He never said anything about my use of more fingers of my right hand than he did. The point is, do what is efficient and sounds good & don't worry what others opinion of "right & wrong are.
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Last edited by RRuskin; 03-28-2021 at 09:56 AM.
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Old 03-27-2021, 07:59 PM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Thanks! Been lurking for a while.

Yeah, I don't rest my pinky on the guitar face either, though I used to... Not sure when I quit doing that but my hand seems to "know where it is" now.

It just feels more comfortable to do the "finger assignment" method, although I do notice I use ignore the ring finger _sometimes_, but not often. I think it's a habit from playing baritone uke. When I'm Travis picking over there I hardly ever use it.

And yeah I didn't mean classical guitar style but rather just using the term as Stefan used it. Really hard for me to get used to alternating fingers on one string... No plans to take up the nylon string guitar.
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Old 03-27-2021, 08:06 PM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RRuskin View Post
Stefan is a proponent of "do it like the old guys did." That may work for him but it doesn't necessarily work for everyone else. Like him, I took from Rev. Davis who as most know, only used his thumb & index finger. He had phenomenal hearing ad would stop me to correct each and every flaw he heard in my playing. He never said anything about my use of more fingers of my right hand than he did. The point is, do what is efficient and sounds good & don't worry what others opinion of "right & wrong are.
Thanks for the reply. I like that advice, and about what I figured.

But I did hurt my hand about a year ago (hence the above mentioned foray into uke playing - that didn't seem to strain it) so I suppose there are some wrong ways to do things! I think that was from barring way to hard playing Rocksmith and focusing on the **** game rather than my body. But now I'm off topic... and luckily it feels fine now.
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Old 03-28-2021, 06:26 AM
pegleghowell pegleghowell is offline
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There are no rules..do what works for you.
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Old 03-28-2021, 07:07 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Grossman is right, Gary Davis only use thumb and index.

Merle Travis also used thumb and index only (other fingers on the scratchplate).

Mississippi John Hurt used thumb, index and middle (ring and pinky resting on the guitar).

Skip James used thumb, index and middle - and (judging from this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-XOO6XeM8Q) with his wrist high above the bridge, similar to classical position, not resting on it as the above players did.

It may or may not be significant that both Davis and Travis used a thumbpick and neither MJH nor James did (again, only judging from these rare videos).
But there is no significance to how many fingers they used - other than to point out that you need no more than thumb and index to play in Davis/Travis style. Everything they did can (obviously) be achieved with nothing more than that. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us have to limit ourselves in the same way, if we find it helps to add another finger or two!

Personally, I use thumb, middle and ring, with index as my spare when needed. I taught myself without benefit of any books or videos - just from records and finding what fingers worked best. My middle felt like my strongest finger, and the one that reached the strings more easily than the index from the right hand position I was using (mostly resting on the bridge, but not using a thumbpick). The ring was the natural extra finger when needed. The index had further to stretch to get to the strings, hence it became 3rd choice.

It was the same when I started playing classical pieces. I found I could play them all perfectly well using thumb and two (sometime three) fingers, but still with middle and ring being primary.
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Old 03-28-2021, 07:57 AM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JonPR View Post
Grossman is right, Gary Davis only use thumb and index.



Merle Travis also used thumb and index only (other fingers on the scratchplate).



Mississippi John Hurt used thumb, index and middle (ring and pinky resting on the guitar).



Skip James used thumb, index and middle - and (judging from this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-XOO6XeM8Q) with his wrist high above the bridge, similar to classical position, not resting on it as the above players did.



It may or may not be significant that both Davis and Travis used a thumbpick and neither MJH nor James did (again, only judging from these rare videos).

But there is no significance to how many fingers they used - other than to point out that you need no more than thumb and index to play in Davis/Travis style. Everything they did can (obviously) be achieved with nothing more than that. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us have to limit ourselves in the same way, if we find it helps to add another finger or two!



Personally, I use thumb, middle and ring, with index as my spare when needed. I taught myself without benefit of any books or videos - just from records and finding what fingers worked best. My middle felt like my strongest finger, and the one that reached the strings more easily than the index from the right hand position I was using (mostly resting on the bridge, but not using a thumbpick). The ring was the natural extra finger when needed. The index had further to stretch to get to the strings, hence it became 3rd choice.



It was the same when I started playing classical pieces. I found I could play them all perfectly well using thumb and two (sometime three) fingers, but still with middle and ring being primary.
That's interesting! And of course there are many players (Richard Thomson comes to mind) who use the same three but because the index is busy holding a pick.

Thanks for the replies, all. I just thought it was odd that Grossman said using more fingers "doesn't seem to work" when it seems to work just fine for me... Reminds me of the old saying, "everyone is entitled to their opinions, even if they're wrong."

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Old 03-29-2021, 09:17 AM
davidbeinct davidbeinct is offline
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I took a video lesson from John Miller, who does a lot of videos for Stefan Grossman. He also cautioned against using my ring finger, although not for feel. He said our ring finger shares a tendon with the middle finger and itís therefore harder to play faster passages using thumb n three. I noticed he was correct about speed, at least for me. I may bring ring back in if I start fooling with jazz voicings but Iím very comfortable with thumb n two now.
I will say the one area where only using index affects feel is when raking the strings, usually the top two to four. I donít think you can get the same sound using one finger per string.
When I decided to try one more time at 57 to learn guitar the most freeing thing I learned I read here. Steel string acoustic is a vernacular instrument and there are many different ways to get the job done and none of them have been codified like in say classical piano.
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Old 03-29-2021, 03:17 PM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbeinct View Post
I took a video lesson from John Miller, who does a lot of videos for Stefan Grossman. He also cautioned against using my ring finger, although not for feel. He said our ring finger shares a tendon with the middle finger and itís therefore harder to play faster passages using thumb n three. I noticed he was correct about speed, at least for me. I may bring ring back in if I start fooling with jazz voicings but Iím very comfortable with thumb n two now.
I will say the one area where only using index affects feel is when raking the strings, usually the top two to four. I donít think you can get the same sound using one finger per string.
When I decided to try one more time at 57 to learn guitar the most freeing thing I learned I read here. Steel string acoustic is a vernacular instrument and there are many different ways to get the job done and none of them have been codified like in say classical piano.
That's a great tip, thanks for passing it along!

I have noticed that I can only achieve a certain speed with my current style, but I'm not totally convinced it's a mechanical issue yet; I notice I tense up when I try to play as fast as possible and that slows me down... But I don't doubt the accuracy of that statement. On my fretting hand I definitely feel my pinky is "stronger" than my ring. Probably for this reason.

Old habits die hard so for me it's often better to be quite conscious of the habits I'm forming, hence this call on the collective wisdom of the forum. And also I think it's human nature to wonder if you'd done it another way... so no matter what I choose part of me will think I chose wrong! But for now I'm pretty comfortable with three, and it's probably easier to lose the ring later than it is to learn the ring if I haven't practiced it. So I think I'll stick with my current ways BUT I'll be on the lookout for the speed trap you mentioned. Thanks so much.

Your last note is great too. I mean all these fingerpicking books push one to use the thumb-wrap technique which I had assiduously avoided for years. Now that I can actually do it, I love it! Why not add another tool to the toolbox? It also reminds me of the Fernando Sor quote: "Never in my life have I heard a guitarist whose playing was supportable, if he played with the nails." I think it's interesting how customs change with the times. I've never seen a classical guitar player who uses flesh.
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Old 03-29-2021, 10:44 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidbeinct View Post
He said our ring finger shares a tendon with the middle finger and itís therefore harder to play faster passages using thumb n three.
While it is true that our ring finger shares a tendon, classical players train to overcome that limitation and develop the ability to use the ring finger to play quite quickly. As an example, listen to any tremolo piece played by a classical player.

If classical players can overcome that limitation, so too can steel string players. Whether or not steel string players feel it worth the effort to do so is a different issue.


Quote:
Steel string acoustic is a vernacular instrument and there are many different ways to get the job done and none of them have been codified like in say classical piano.
Generally true. However, classical guitar technique has been quite heavily codified. The interesting question is why so little of that has carried over to steel string playing.
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Old 03-30-2021, 05:02 AM
NormanKliman NormanKliman is offline
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Originally Posted by schrectacular View Post
So does anyone think there is any truth to the use of the ring finger somehow inhibiting the feeling of the blues?
I try to do it all with thumb, index and middle and use ring when it facilitates an otherwise difficult part. I agree that using fewer fingers sounds better. With thumb, index and middle, I can do most everything Iíve tried to play so far, although I think thumb and three fingers will let you do things that the old-time players couldnít do. Itís not sacrilege. That said, sometimes I have to correct myself because I donít need anything but the thumb on beats two and four. I just thumb the basses a little harder and it carries over to the trebles. That often makes a particular passage sound better (and is easier, too).
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Originally Posted by charles Tauber View Post
The interesting question is why so little of that has carried over to steel string playing.
After playing nothing but standard-sized nylon-string guitar for many years, the necks of steel-string guitars are too narrow for me to play now. My fingers wonít go to the right notes and/or strings. Iíve only tried a couple of times in the last 30 years, so maybe Iíd just have to get used to it, but it would take weeks.
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Old 03-30-2021, 05:22 AM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NormanKliman View Post
After playing nothing but standard-sized nylon-string guitar for many years, the necks of steel-string guitars are too narrow for me to play now. My fingers wonít go to the right notes and/or strings. Iíve only tried a couple of times in the last 30 years, so maybe Iíd just have to get used to it, but it would take weeks.
You might be underestimating yourself - as mentioned above I also pick on the baritone ukulele that has absolutely MASSIVE gaps between the strings. The guitar felt very foreign in comparison, but it was surprising how fast a second muscle memory asserted itself, and now I don't really feel it moving between them. That was my experience, anyway. It went from feeling 'impossible' to 'just fine' much more quickly than I thought.
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Old 03-30-2021, 05:24 AM
schrectacular schrectacular is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charles Tauber View Post
If classical players can overcome that limitation, so too can steel string players. Whether or not steel string players feel it worth the effort to do so is a different issue.
Good point and thanks for the encouragement.
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Old 03-30-2021, 05:56 AM
NormanKliman NormanKliman is offline
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Quote:
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I also pick on the baritone ukulele that has absolutely MASSIVE gaps between the strings.
A baritone ukelele? Thatís like a tiny guitar. Or a jumbo shrimp or something. Whatís the width between the nut and the first fret?
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