Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

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Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Jim Jarrell » Wed Oct 21, 2020 11:22 am

In earlier posts on the Chet forum re. "A Young Chet "Picker," the following comments were made by Rande Dager


4) I noticed that he never braced his pinky on the guitar during the alternating thumb-bass parts. I've seen many people not brace their pinky during portions of a finger style arrangement but would usually place it on the guitar during the alternating thumb portions and then remove it for the other parts. This guy kept it off the guitar the entire time!

Richard Smith once explained to me that the other fingers move more freely when the fingers are all suspended. It makes sense but very difficult to do for someone like me who has always depended upon bracing the pinky for stability. Of course, I'm only talking about during the portion of the song that Paul Yandell despised being referred to as the "Boom-Chick" portion! :-)


With a follow-up comment by "Hendrik"

"You told me about point 4 Rande. After you shared this story, I tried to tuck my anchored pinky when not playing "boom chick". I just can't do it, it feels 'amputated'. Even when I play Reed stuff, like banjo rolls, I'm most of the time achoring my pinky"


Given the forum has been pretty darn silent lately, I thought I'd add my $.02 to the discussion. And again, being a fast typist, this could be a long one...sorry.

I started playing fingerstyle in earnest about 1970 using Happy Traum and Stefan Grossman folk and blues tab books (buying lps to match the tabs).

And, like many (most?), I played with my picking hand (my right hand) ring and pinky fingers *firmly* planted on the top of the guitar on the pick guard. As such, I only played with my T, I, & M fingers. I played that way until the late 90s until I was taught how to get my hand off the top of the guitar and free up my right hand to include the ring finger when playing (like Chet did).

And its interesting to note that the person who taught me was Leo Kottke. While sitting and talking with him about some of his tunes and the tabs that myself and other Tab Pigs had done for his music, he handed me his guitar for me to play one.
After I started playing, he stopped me and said, "Uh...you know, you really should get your hand off the top of the guitar and also learn to play with your ring finger." He then said, "I started like you but learned how to break the habit of planting my hand on the top." He then showed me the following:

Take your picking hand ring finger and *lightly* place it on the 1st string. Place the ring finger on the string much like you would put your middle finger on it right before playing it. Except do it with your hand *off* the top of the guitar. At first plant it there and find approximately the same level of support you get by planting it on the top of the guitar. And yes, some overall hand adjustments will be needed.

At first, just start slowly playing the other 5 strings (2 through 6). Different finger picking patterns in E and A and chords/patterns that *don't* require using the first string. And note, the pinky just floats out beside the ring finger that's touching the 1st string. And make no mistake, playing with a muted bass by resting the upper part of your hand to mute the 6th to 4th strings helps but the same technique works if not playing a muted bass.

In short, the concept being that having your hand *totally* free over the strings (like a classical player) is hard to do because you're used to having the hand "supported" by planting the fingers on the top of the guitar (or pickguard). By placing the ring finger on the top and/or side of the 1st string, you can slowly develop that same feel of "support" you had when the top of the guitar was providing the support.

Then, after X amount of time, you can start to add in the first string by picking it with the ring finger. Of course this means you have to release the pressure of it being rested (or supported) by the first string to do so. Once you play the first string, you can then go back and rest it on the string. Now, clearly there's initially a tendency to mute the first string after you pick it when you rest the ring finger back on it. But after awhile you'll be able to hold off while the 1st string note rings out.

Another way to look at it is that placing your hand on top of the guitar is a way to give yourself a "point of reference" while you play the strings with the T, I, and M fingers. That same "point of reference" comes into play when you take your hand *off* the top of the guitar and simply put the ring finger on the 1st string.

All the above may sound complicated, by I played for about 30 years with my hand firmly planted on the top of the guitar. And I've got a Martin HD-35 I bought new in 83 that is almost mint, except for the wear on the pickguard where I put my right hand when playing. But again, in about '98 Kottke showed me the above technique and, while it took some time to get the feel of, I'm been playing that way now for over 20 years.

Jim Jarrell
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby DagerRande » Wed Oct 21, 2020 5:55 pm

Jim, I really appreciate you sharing all of that! I think that all fingerstyle guitarists should read it and at least try it. I'm 71 now and I would be 93 to have the experience with it that you've had between 1998 and 2020!

Maybe I would get the hang of it while I'm still in my 80's! :lol:

By the way, I copied and pasted your post into a Word file to preserve it for later reference!
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Steve Moran » Thu Oct 22, 2020 11:22 am

Jim and Rande,
This brings to mind the balance between finding anchor points with the picking hand while, at the same time, allowing free movement curling the fingers in the picking hand. I'm sure Chet has talked multiple times about anchoring when you can (likely referring to both hands). For certain tunes he uses the right hand pinky to anchor on the face of the guitar.

Anchor points that are really helpful; 1)muted base of palm when thumbthumping, 2)anchoring pinky somewhere on or near face of guitar on some tunes (related to this post of course something like Alhambra the group of picking fingers needs to roll so can't do much anchoring other than forearm for that one), and 3)for steel string using a Chet curved Bigsby arm to wrap the pinky around which keeps your four fingers away from the face of guitar and provides a good consistent spacing from the face of strings to your picking fingers - with a swivel arm you can rotate around and move multi-string picking pattern from string-to-string.

I am surprised Chet pretty much always used his fixed-arm Bigsby all the time as there are benefits to having it swivel so you can rotate a picking pattern - anybody else wondered this? This particularly comes to mind with a 3 finger pattern spanning three strings.

Interesting how some people can tuck that pinky on the picking hand in the palm (like Jerry Reed) and others can't. My hands weren't built that way.

Thanks for sharing that Jim about using the first string itself as an anchor at times - need to try that!

Thanks
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby DagerRande » Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:51 pm

Steve, I started bracing my pinky in order to allow using the heel of my right hand for the muffling effect for certain Chet tunes, which is difficult to do with all fingers floating in space. Unfortunately, I use the same technique outside of the need to muffle anything.
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Hendrik » Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:08 am

It's an interesting subject. I think it's good to always explore new techniques, cause it can certainly make you a better player and make playing more comfortable. But after exploration something just feels right for you, why not stick with that? The ways how the three greats played:

Merle Travis
Merle and many other Kentucky based players, used only the thumb and index finger on the picking hand. He planted the other three fingers on the body. He did things that I think are impossible with only two fingers. I tried to play rolls this way, like for example the ones in Cannonball Rag. It feels like you could do this so much easier, but Merle killed it.

Chet Atkins
We know Chet rested his pinky most of the time, but I did noticed he didn't do that often when playing a classical guitar. Especially when playing classical pieces like Recuerdos de la Alhambra or songs with mostly single line runs.

Jerry Reed
Jerry used a very unorthodox technique, he tucked his index finger of his picking hand and used the rest of the other fingers to pick (nay, claw). He did use the the index finger sometimes, but his trademark was that he tucked it.

Again, it's good to try different ways of playing with your picking hand, but I think it's a matter of what works for you.
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby DagerRande » Mon Oct 26, 2020 8:14 am

Hendrik, my concern is that some songs are almost impossible to play without changing how you hold your picking hand. For example, if someone says that they have to brace their pinky for everything just because it's more comfortable, they won't be able to play "Requerdos De LaHambra". Richard Smith told me that he feels that NEVER bracing your pinky allows for more freedom in ALL cases! I've told him that I lose my stability with many "Chet style" songs when I don't brace it. However, I can't play "The Claw" with my pinky resting on the guitar. Richard plays the muffled bass and everything else with all of his fingers being free! He never had a period in his life where he used to brace his pinky and then had to change it. That's how he has played from the beginning! At 5 years old, I don't know how he naturally avoided that? He told me that it was always comfortable for him.
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Steve Moran » Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:52 pm

Rande, Jim, and Hendrik,
It seems like there's a solution to this issue with a Bigsby guitar. With a Chet curved arm and the distance from the bridge as well as height above the strings set just right, the pinky can be an anchor point almost all the time with the pinky curled around the arm. This isn't so much bracing your pinky but providing an anchor point while the pinky can stay mostly closed which puts your picking hand in a similar position to the Alhambra picking position. It seems like a big issue with placing your pinky lower is that it's mostly straight - and the other three fingers don't want to curl up unless the pinky is curled. With a Bigsby set just right the pinky can stay curled most of the time and free the other three picking fingers (I-M-A) to move easily. Anyway there's two cents thrown in there.

I certainly understand what you're saying about anchoring the right hand with a classical guitar where you don't have any device for your right hand to know how far it is from the strings. Maybe a pinky brace off the face of a classical guitar would be beneficial for some? Did ya'll see the Chet Gibson CE guitar on Reverb.com which has a Bigsby on it? Interesting and I'm wondering if it stays in tune at all - the seller didn't know how well it stays in tune. The listing might be over now but maybe you can still bring it up.
Thanks.
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Jim Jarrell » Tue Oct 27, 2020 4:27 pm

Steve said,

"It seems like there's a solution to this issue with a Bigsby guitar. With a Chet curved arm and the distance from the bridge as well as height above the strings set just right, the pinky can be an anchor point almost all the time with the pinky curled around the arm. This isn't so much bracing your pinky but providing an anchor point while the pinky can stay mostly closed which puts your picking hand in a similar position to the Alhambra picking position. It seems like a big issue with placing your pinky lower is that it's mostly straight - and the other three fingers don't want to curl up unless the pinky is curled. With a Bigsby set just right the pinky can stay curled most of the time and free the other three picking fingers (I-M-A) to move easily. Anyway there's two cents thrown in there."

I agree that the Bigsby arm would be a great place to anchor the pinky. I have a '58 6122 reissue and replaced the Bigsby arm with one used on the '59 6122 (thinner and curved). Joe Carducci gave me a '59 arm gratis at CAAS several years ago (great guy!). And I was *amazed* at how easy it is to remove and install a Bigsby arm!

I found the '58 straight arm to be too high and thought I could modify the '59 arm to work better. Too date no such luck and I continue, as mentioned before, to just rest/anchor my ring finger on the side of the 1st string with the pinky floating free beside it. The downside being is that I'm terrible at adding the Bigsby vibrato to my playing.

But again, as mentioned early, I use the 1st string as a "resting place" (or "point of reference") and let the pinky just float free right beside it. And again, if nothing else, by getting my fingers off the top of the guitar (pickguard) I learned to use my ring finger for playing.

A "classic" example of how this can work with the ring finger on the 1st string is the old Mason Williams tune "Classical Gas." You can play just about the *entire* intro and the 1st string is never played until almost the very end when needed for a C chord. Likewise, the first verse doesn't use the 1st string until almost the very end and before the chorus (where 1st string is used a *lot*).

See this online tab as an example:

https://www.songsterr.com/a/wsa/mason-w ... tab-s179t0

Jim Jarrell
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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby Jim Jarrell » Wed Oct 28, 2020 11:10 am

Holy cow....speaking of anchoring your finger on the first string and playing "Classical Gas," here's Chet playing the tune.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dNQCT7KAO8

Note at about the 1:18 mark and at other times that it looks like he's anchoring his pinky on the first string and not the top of the guitar. Or at least putting the pinky on the 1st string as a "point of reference." Could be (?)

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Re: Bracing pinky or hand on top of the guitar while playing

Postby DagerRande » Wed Oct 28, 2020 12:51 pm

Yes Jim, he isn't always consistent but he probably does what he needs to for whatever song he's playing. Richard Smith pretty much allows his pinky to remain "floating" at all times, even with the muffling.
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