Fingerpicking is a totally different approach to guitar playing that is a lot of fun and challenging. But the surprise to me from learning fingerpicking, was the the added benefits to my overall guitar playing techniques.
As I have found, the benefits of fingerpicking have far exceeded any of my expectations. I have always been interested in fingerpicking and in particular Travis picking. Strumming with a pick has always been a bit of an issue and I still don’t fee totally comfortable with a pick in my hand. Probably more mental than anything else, but never the less a struggle. I was looking at fingerpicking as another means of playing. I figured if I could learn to fingerpick then I would feel more comfortable with my playing.
I struggled for over six months trying to learn the Travis picking style of fingerpicking. I watched and followed many video tutorials only to find that I had advanced very little. It was frustrating until I found a video by Dennis Anthonis on a Travis picking pattern. Eureka! His method is so simple and I caught on fairly quickly and in the two months I have been practicing I am now able to change chords and pick at a level I am pleased with.
But the added benefits I discovered have elevated my guitar playing overall to another level as well.
1. Fingerpicking forces you to focus on technique. It’s simple really, you have to be on time with chord changes compared to strumming. When you are playing with a group you can mess up all day and still make it sound half decent. But you can’t do that with fingerpicking because you are playing individual strings, and if you are late on your chord change it is quite noticeable.
2. The speed at which I can change chords now has improved a great deal. This is a great benefit and pointed out how lax I was at this. Playing with my buddies helped but I could be slack with chord change speed all day and it wouldn’t really matter them. As well this really helps if you want to play with players other than you jam buddies. Some players really mind that some players can’t keep up.
3. Chord changing speed has helped with my strumming. A bad habit of players who are always catching up is that they tend to stop strumming when they miss or are late changing chords.
This big improvement is a result of practice. I know most people don’t want to hear that, but practice does make perfect. Your improvement will be a direct result of your practice routine and frequency of practice.
Just a couple things about learning and practicing fingerpicking.
Choose a fingerpicking pattern that you find comfortable to learn. It doesn’t have to be a complicated pattern but one that you feel comfortable playing. You can always learn more complicated patterns later. And practicing any fingerpicking pattern just reinforces that muscle memory and over time it makes learning more complicated patterns easier.
Practice with a metronome or if you find that too boring practice to a two chord song. Practice that pattern until you fell comfortable changing chords between two chords and then introduce another chord.
People get frustrated because they are not progressing fast enough. Set a goal. My long term goal was, “where will I be in a year from now if I keep playing”. Your first short term goal could be to learn to play between two chords. If you have a set practice schedule, you will get better, but it takes time. Noodling is not practice, make sure you are practicing a skill like changing from chord to anther smoothly. Practice the things you are weak at until they get to the same level as the things you are good at.
If you just want a new challenge, to learn fingerpicking as an alternative to strumming or if you want to improve your playing technique in general, with dedicated practice fingerpicking will do that for you.