Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

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Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby rhirvine » Thu May 12, 2022 4:52 pm

It's probably too late in my life to be asking this question but I just watched that great video of Paul Yandel playing "Oh By Jingo". I noticed that he didn't use his ring finger very much if at all but I feel now that I overused it considering it is my weakest fingernail, always breaking easily and even getting sore. I'm asking you fingerpicking guitarists out there if it's unusual to use that finger as much as I did. Thanks.
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby kwarren » Mon May 16, 2022 9:18 pm

I started out playing classical guitar before I discovered fingerstyle so I believe in making use of all the fingers on your picking hand ( but maybe not the pinky finger so much ). If you watch the many videos of Chet on the nylon string, you’ll notice he uses the ring finger quite a bit. On pieces like Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Waltz for the Lonely, you can’t play them without using the ring finger ( or at least not smoothly ).
If you watch Jerry Reed, in his later years, he tends to keep his index finger curled up out of the way and uses mainly the middle and ring finger…and the thumb, of course.
Merle Travis, on the other hand, only used his thumb and index finger.
I say if you feel comfortable using your ring finger, go ahead and use it.
If weak nails are the issue, you may need to start using artificial nails. Many professional players do.
Tommy Emmanuel doesn’t have any nails on his picking hand, nor does Earl Klugh. They’ve developed calluses on the tips of their fingers and get their sound that way.
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby Hendrik » Tue May 17, 2022 11:08 am

I use my ring finger all the time. I don’t think there is a good or wrong in this case. If it feels natural to you, keep using it. And what is stated in the comment above; for some tunes you really need that finger. I had a conversation with Rande about bracing the pinky of your picking hand on the body of the guitar. Richard Smith says it can limit you to some extent. I really believe that but it feels so natural to me to rest the pinky on the body and I can get a better tone with it. I don’t think anyone would assume that tucking your index finger would be the best way to play banjo rolls haha!
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby AngusH » Fri May 20, 2022 3:34 am

Definitely thumb and three fingers for me - my middle and ring fingers are pretty much interchangeable these days, and seem to decide between themselves who's picking up the work as it comes in ;) Doc's another one who picks with just thumb and index, and I'm always in awe of that - but then look at what he can do with a single flatpick...

As for resting a digit or more on the top of guitar, I think I used to do that, but if I try it now my hand feels as though it's in a straitjacket. I think some of it's down to muscle memory and some down to the guitar you play - I'm currently using an F-sized Lowden and that body size seems to drop my wrist and hand just where they need to be.

By complete coincidence I was watching Pete Huttlinger's (excellent - they all are) Essential Exercises for Fingerstyle Guitar yesterday and he mentions this very issue. His take is that the soundboard is the major element in producing the guitar's voice, and that resting one (or more) fingers on it will have an adverse effect on both volume and tone.

It's also frowned up by classical guitarists, although I suppose much of what we do is. I've been watching, listening to and trying (with varying degrees of abject failure) to play a lot of Leo Kottke lately and his right hand is a study in itself. He went back to basics after near career-ending tendonitis, and now picks with his (pickless) thumb well forward and his fingers almost perpendicular to the strings - quite apart from the relentless movement of the hand, that position renders it all but impossible to rest anything on the top of the guitar.

Thankfully there is no 'right' way - we find the way that works for us, and for the lucky few, those breaks of the 'rules' can be the thing that marks them out from the crowd.

Happy picking 8-)
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby rhirvine » Fri May 20, 2022 1:09 pm

Thanks guys. I appreciate your advice. BYW I never set out to do it but I don't rest my right little finger on the pick guard.
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby albertgen » Tue May 24, 2022 10:49 am

I used to use the ring finger all the time, then I noticed that Chet did not use it that much except to back up the middle finger or on classical pieces. His ring finger and middle finger stuck together like glue. It is a weaker finger and is better for back up, but I think it comes in handy on a lot of arpeggios. Albert
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby Ray Bohlken » Wed May 25, 2022 2:22 pm

I use my ring finger very much in my Chet style playing. It just felt natural to do so. Check out Copper Kettle on my Youtube channel if you get a chance and Walk Don't Run, too.
Take care.
Ray Bohlken
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Re: Use of fingers (pickin') of the right hand

Postby DagerRande » Wed Jun 01, 2022 7:49 am

My choice of when to use the ring finger depends upon whether or not I feel that it's necessary in order to play a particular song requiring 4 notes to be played simultaneously. If I feel that 3 notes are busy "doing other things" and I need that 4th note, then I'll use it. I also use it for "economic convenience" to make use of the position that it may already be in, rather than to have to awkwardly and quickly move another finger to that position when it would have made more sense to use that ring finger that was already there. In addition, I would also use my little (pinky) finger for all the above reasons if there weren't such a disparity in length when compared to the others. There are some whose little fingers are much closer to the length of the others, allowing it to be used much more easily. I've read that Lenny Breau is one of these.

The bottom line is that I'm a HUGE believer in the "economy of motion" and anyone who has followed my comments on FaceBook where someone has posted a performance, may have noticed that I generally go beyond "great job!", etc., and I'll analyze and ask questions about technique. The idea is to improve my own skills. I don't struggle with finding the notes because, for me, that's the easy part, thanks to years of trial and error with slowing down 33 &1/3 rpm vinyl records to 16 & 2/3 and deciphering all of that detail at 1 octave lower! There was no way to learn by watching.
Rande Dager

We are all capable of doing more than we think we can!
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