Paul Smith Music  Finger Picking Hand Position 

 
Introduction to Tab / Patterns #1-4Patterns #5-9  /  Patterns #10-13 /  Patterns #14-20 / Patterns #21-25  

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      About Right Hand Positioning.  

YOUR "ANCHOR" 

When you begin
to finger pick your right hand will need to be stable or "anchored". 
(If you are left handed and play chords with your right hand then this information
applies to your "left" hand) When you're picking your finger picks must come up 
on the string just right each time you go to pick a string.  Not only just hit the
intended string but you want to play them in a consistent way.  This is done by using
your little finger as a reference or a "picking anchor."  Place your little finger on the
top of the guitar near the bridge and pick guard.  Use this as your anchor point. 
By having this "picking anchor" on the top of the guitar you will be able to
"know where you are" in relation to the strings without looking at your hand. 
At first it doesn't matter because your just getting started and you will want to be
looking at your hand.  However, as you progress, it is BEST to practice without
looking at your picking hand.  Learn to "listen" to what you are doing. 
"Listen" for mistakes, "listen" as you make those corrections and learn to "feel"
how to make those corrections without looking at your picking hand.  That's why
you have the picking anchor.  Learn to rely on that picking anchor.  Learn to trust
it and use it.  This will help you later as you learn to "listen" for "Picking Patterns".  
Basically what you want to do is to "LEARN TO LISTEN CAREFULLY"

             Picking Anchor                              Picking Anchor
   
 Note the little finger is "anchored"        Top view as you would see it.

 on the top of the guitar in front  of         Again, note the littler finger
 the bridge.  This is your "picking           is "anchored."  Learn to rely
 anchor."                                              on and trust your picking anchor.


You can move this picking anchor as you need to when changing picking patterns. 
In the patterns on the page "Picking Patterns #1- 4"  you will place your picking anchor
so that your first two fingers come up on the "b" and high "e" strings. Your first finger 
on the "b" string and your second finger on the "e" string.  In this position those fingers 
are "dedicated" to those particular strings.  That means that when it is time to play one 
of those particular strings you will use the finger that is "assigned" to that string.
  
I will refer to this position as the 

        FIRST POSITION.
   
Note the 1st finger is on the 'b' (or 2nd) string. The 2nd finger will be on the 'e' 
(High or 1st) string.  In this "FIRST POSITION" you will not be using your 3rd finger 
at all.  It just floats.  Your thumb will be covering the bass strings, the 'e, a, d, and g' 
(or 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rds strings). In most picking patterns your thumb will only be
playing the 'd and g' strings and occasionally the 'a' (or 5th) string.  There are some songs
that when using this position I will reach up to the top bass string the 'e' (or 6th) string
with the thumb, but that is a rare exception.  I mention this because as you improve you
too may want to do that.

To help you find your "picking anchor" at first, simply place the finger picks on the 
respective strings for the "Position" you will be in (for example - 1st POSITION, touch 
or lay the 1st finger pick against the "b" string and the 2nd finger pick on the "e" string.) 
and then "anchor" your little finger on the top of the guitar.  As you improve, this will 
just happen without giving any thought to it at all.  

It is not critical where you place your anchor finger.  Generally you will have your 
anchor somewhere between the hole of the guitar top and the bridge.  Sometimes it 
may be close to the bridge, other times it may be further up, even over the guitar hole.  
Please notice there is a change in the sound of the strings as you move your hand 
position along the strings.  This is because picking a string near the bridge causes 
the string to vibrate differently then when picked over the hole.  Near the bridge you 
hear more "overtones" in the sound. When its picked over the hole you hear more 
of the full strings vibration, which makes for a fuller bass sound.  This makes for 
a nice variation in the quality of the sounds the guitar makes.  You will see any 
good artist make good use of these different sounds.  So you will want to learn to 
move you hand back and forth along the strings as you play to make good use of 
these differences.  This can be done while still "keeping your anchor," because your 
anchor "slides" back and forth on the top of the guitar, helping you to "find" the 
strings as you go.   

As I mentioned before, you will also move your anchor "up and down" as you need 
to when changing picking Patterns.  On picking Patterns #5-9 for example you will 
need to move your anchor "up" towards the bass strings so that your fingers are located 
over the correct "assigned" strings.  

I refer to this position as the 

       SECOND POSITION

Note the 1st finger is now on the 'g' string.  The 2nd finger on the 'b' string and now 
in this SECOND POSITION the 3rd finger will be "dedicated" to the 'e' string.  
In this position the thumb will now be covering the three bass strings.

This 2nd POSITION is the one that you will be using the most.  In this position all six 
strings of the guitar will be used on a regular basis.  For example, in Patterns #6, and 
#10-13 you will be using this picking anchor position.

Another position that is sometimes used is

       THIRD POSITION

Note that the 1st finger is now on the 'a' string.  Sometimes when I use this position I don't 
use my 3rd finger at all, but just the 1st an 2nd fingers and let the thumb cover the 'e' 
and 'a' strings.  This is a pattern that is occasionally used when highlighting a bass 
program or a run that is not used much at all.  At other times this position can be used
when lighting a melody line as I do towards the end of the 1st video on the page

WHY learn finger picking guitar? And HOW to learn!


I don't show any Patterns for this third position on my Patterns pages because of its
infrequent use but I'm still showing this position here because I wanted you to know
that you can do some interesting things in this position if you would like.  Actually you
could use some of the same patterns for the 1st POSITION in this Position too or you
could make up you own patterns.
  
On the other pages you will be moving your anchor point up and down on the top of 
the guitar to position your fingers on the appropriate strings for those patterns.  You 
must learn to move your anchor as you vary your picking patterns while 
continuing to play
.  The goal is to be able change your anchor back and forth 
between the different patterns with not even a hint of any change or a pause at all in 
the musical flow.  T
here should be no interruption in the rhythm at all even when 
changing anchor points.  I suggest some exercises on the picking pages that will help 
you develop this skill.  You will need to work on this once you have mastered a 
number of the patterns.  If you're just starting to learn to finger pick, don't worry 
about all that just right now.  Learning to move your anchor will come
in time.  
At first just get used to the patterns, and as you improve start getting used to moving 
your hand around.

COMMON MISTAKES
Now let me point out some common mistakes in hand position so you won't do them
.

It's important that the right hand be in a relaxed position with the fingers having a 
slight curve.  If you are sitting with the guitar, the wrist should be relaxed with a slight 
bend downward.  Keep the palm of your hand up and away from the bridge or the 
top of the guitar and strings.
.  
Do not flatten the hand and curl the fingers too much.  These tense positions will 
make for fatigue and cramping in the long run, not only in your hands but also in your 
style of music and sound.  You need to be relaxed and let the music flow from your 
hand and your finger picks.

         
Note the fingers are cramped and           Again the hand is cramped and
the palm is too close to the top                the thumb is too cramped too.
of the guitar - NOT GOOD!                  Palm too close to guitar top.


To correct this problem pull the hand away from the guitar top more so that the 
picking hand is in a comfortable and relaxed position.  Imaging a small ball in 
the palm of your hand is helpful.  With a small ball in your hand your fingers 
would have a natural curve around the ball.  That is the basic shape you want 
your hand to be in.  Of course, keep it relaxed.  

  
Note the slight curves in the              Here you can clearly see the
fingers because the palm of               relaxed position of the hand
the hand is up away form the            THIS IS GOOD!
top of the guitar. (Tennis ball)  

                  Wrong Finger Movement
Another common problem that beginners sometimes have.  They may tend to exaggerate 
the finger movement of their picking hand.  Extending the fingers out almost straight 
while picking is not good.  If your fingers go way out and around until they come 
back up onto the string then your technique is not good and needs to be corrected.  
DO NOT PRACTICE IT WRONG! Slow down and correct your technique!  
To correct this problem keep that slight curve in your fingers (like you see in the photos
above) as you play.  Your fingers only need to move enough to pluck the string and that 
is it.  Your fingers should never straighten out but should always have that curve in them 
and only move no more then an inch or so towards the palm of your hand while plucking 
the string.  This is done so that the tip of your fingers make little circles.  How little?  
Well, no bigger than a quarter (25 cent piece).  If your fingers are making bigger circles 
like the size of a half dollar, and your fingers are straightening out while picking, then you 
need to work on your technique.  This exaggerated finger movement will make for 
problems down the road and should be corrected as soon as you can. 
 

WRIST POSITION
Now lets talk a little about the wrist position because this is important too.  The amount 
of curve in your wrist can vary somewhat.  This is in accord with your personnel taste 
and the way you like to hold your guitar while playing.  For example some like to have 
their guitar down by their hips when standing or while using a guitar strap.  They think 
that looks "cool."  If that's what you prefer then your right hand position will be different 
then when sitting down on a stool.  If your guitar is down at your hips you will need to 
bend the wrist slightly upward. 
If you are sitting down or your strap is holding the 
guitar higher up around your chest, then your wrist will need to bend slightly downward.  
So the wrist position is depending on your guitar position.


The Goal With Wrist Position
What you are trying to accomplish with this angle in the wrist is to have your finger 
movement
to be perpendicular (Right angle or at 90 degrees) to the string.  Also the 
picks should come up on to the strings so that the "tongue" of the pick hits flat against 
the string.  Please keep in mind that you will probable never have your fingers coming 
to the strings at exactly "right angles.  "Look at it like this - it's mealy a goal.  The closer 
the better.  If your finger movement is somewhat parallel to the strings then your picks 
will "scrap" the wound strings as you play.  NOT GOOD!  This is what you're trying to 
avoid.  Using plastic finger picks will help "mute" this problem some what.  Twisting the 
pick slightly  on the tip of the finger will help too. (Shown below)  However,  for the 
BEST results, your picking technique needs to be correct.  Your technique needs to 
be such that the finger movement and picks are coming straight up onto the strings.  
To accomplish this your wrist position is the KEY!!!  Twisting of the pick is just 
"fine tuning." (See below)

The reason for for having to bend the wrist is you must compensate for the position of the 
elbow.  The higher the elbow is over the bridge - the greater the need is to bend the wrist 
upward.  The further back the elbow is from the bridge - the need to bend the wrist 
downward.  When the elbow is somewhere in between - the wrist can be straighter.  
With the guitar up by the chest the elbow is bent and it's back behind the bridge - so the 
wrist bends downward.  With the guitar down by your hips or waist the elbow is straighter 
and over the bridge - and so the wrist must bend upward.  With the guitar at your belly 
area the elbow is in between and so the wrist can be straighter.  

Personally, I feel that with the guitar down at my hips my guitar playing is hindered 
because the guitar is too far away from my upper body.  In that position the left hand  
wrist is forced to bend too much.  This doesn't feel comfortable or natural for me.  I like 
the guitar to be closer to my chest.  That way the left hand is "more relaxed" allowing for 
more freedom for left hand guitar work (very important to me).  Of course I've always 
been more concerned about sounding good then looking "cool."  The position you choose 
is a matter of personnel taste but the rule is you must feel comfortable and relaxed, 
otherwise your endurance will suffer and so will  your music.  

Just remember the goal is to have your finger movement at right angles to the strings.   
Below are some photos of what the wrist should be like in different playing positions.  
Note the thumb position in all these photos is with the thumb extended out and the 
thumb pick FLAT against the string.

     
    Here the guitar position is with     Here the guitar neck is down more,
    the neck pointing upwards so        so the need for a slight bend 
    the wrist is almost straight               downwards in the wrist


          
   Here the guitarist is standing            Here the guitarist stands with the
   with the guitar at his waist.               guitar down by his hips.  Note the
   Note the slight bend in the               need to bend the wrist even a little
   wrist going upward.                         more upward.

Just remember what you're trying to accomplish.  You're trying to have your finger 
movement to be at a "right angel" to the strings as you finger pick.  Depending on 
how you hold your guitar, you may need to bend the wrist to make this happen. 
 

      How to Wear Plastic Finger Picks
Remember the purpose of wearing picks is so that you can improve the sound quality 
and gain volume.  So an important thing to remember is that you don't want your fingers 
to actually touch the strings as you play.  If they do touch while you're playing that will 
tend to "mute" the sound and take away from the clarity, and quality of the sound.  So 
avoid this by adjusting the finger picks on the tip of your fingers.  Below are some photos
of how the picks are worn on the fingers and different things you can do to adjust them on 
your finger tips.  

   


Something else to help with the way the picks hit the strings is how you wear
the finger picks on your finger.  Here are a couple of ways you can "adjust"
the way the pick is worn on your finger tip.

                Cock Your Picks
       
      Note the tip of the pick is in middle of the 
      finger tip about 1/4" out from the finger. 
      This is something that can be adjusted 
      according to personal preference.  However, 
      the goal is that you want only your finger pick 
      to touch the strings as you play.  If your finger 
      actually touches the strings as you play then
      you need to adjust this.  You may want to 
      "cock" the pick upwards slightly to get a 
      position you like.  In this photo the "band" 
     
part of the pick is not at a right angle to the 
      finger but it is "cocked" slightly upwards.

                Twist Your Picks
    
     See how the finger pick is twisted
     slightly on the finger so that the pick
     tongue is not on the same plane as
     the finger nail.  This "twisting" of the 
     pick is something else you can do to  
     help the picks to come up flat upon  
     the strings.

     Each Pick Twisted Slightly Different
    
     You can see the slight "twist" on all
      three of the finger picks here.  Note
      that the 3rd finger has more twist
      than the 2nd finger, and the 2nd more
      than the1st.  (This is how I usually 
      wear my picks - it works pretty good for me.)

The amount of twist on each finger may vary from one finger to the next, depending 
on the position you're in with the guitar, just like I explained about the wrist position
in the section above.  If your wrist position is bent slightly downward, you may find
that you should have slightly more "twist" on the 1st finger then on the 2nd and more 
on the 3rd then on the 2nd.  This is because the hand has a natural curve to it (like 
around that tennis ball) and therefore while picking, your fingers are not all coming onto 
the strings at the same angle.  The "twist of the pick" is a way of "fine tuning" in 
compensating for that angle.  Both the "wrist position" and the slight "twist" of the pick, 
are merely done to make sure the pick comes up "straight" and "flat" against the string.

***   If you purchase picks form Paul Smith Music you will receive more
information about how to adjust the picks themselves in the fitting instructions.

         Suggested Steps Before Playing.
1. 
Get in your favorite position you like to be in while playing the guitar.  
2.  Anchor your picking hand and have all the picks lay up against the strings.  
3.  First, adjust the wrist so the your finger movement will be at "right angles"
     to the strings.  (Get as close as possible and still be comfortable)
4.  Look at the way each pick "tongue" lays against each string.
5.
  Fine tune, by twisting the picks so that the pick tongue hits "flat" against the string.

After you have done these steps a few times before playing, you'll find that you won't 
need to do them anymore.  When you put your picks on you will already know how 
you like to wear them and you'll just put them on that way and begin to play.  Of course 
if you change the way you hold your guitar you can always go back and do these steps.
       
        Summary - keep it simple!
Now let's cap off this page about your right hand position, and the way you wear your 
finger picks.  The most important thing to remember is that your hand must remain 
relaxed
.  If it doesn't feel natural or comfortable for you then make whatever changes 
necessary so that it does.  Also make sure that your finger movement comes up as 
close to right angles to the strings as you can and that your picks are "flat" against the 
strings as you play.  Finally you don't want your fingers (or thumb) to touch the strings 
at all, but only the finger (and thumb) picks.  If you can keep these few things foremost 
in mind, the rest will fall into place.

Now that you understand about your finger picking hand position you are 
now ready to start with learning the patterns.  I suggest starting here - Patterns #1-4