Is It Difficult to Learn Fingerstyle Guitar?
This is a question I hear quite a bit, but there’s no easy “yes” or “no” answer. Instead, it depends on many factors: how you develop your technique, the style of music you’re interested in and what you’re hoping to accomplish musically.
It’s important to note that there are many ways to play fingerstyle guitar. Some are more complex, and therefore, are more demanding to learn. Some patterns are simpler, but many students still might not find them “easy” to learn.
Why Play Fingerstyle?
The main reason people play fingerstyle is that they want to play the accompaniment and the melody of a piece of music simultaneously.
Piano players do this all the time. But on the piano, the design and layout of the keyboard allows for complete independence of the right hand and left hand. The left hand can play accompaniment, and the right hand can play melody. In addition, each key on the piano has its own string to sound a note.
In contrast, the design and layout of the guitar fretboard does not allow this same kind of independent mobility of the right and left hands. Plus, the guitar only has six strings. So if you want to play accompaniment and melody simultaneously on the guitar, you have to learn many more matrix finger configurations for the left and right hands—even for some of the more basic tunes like “Red River Valley.”
Now, if your intention is to use fingerstyle playing to back up your singing, then that can be accomplished with simpler finger patterns that require less mind-bending. That’s because you’re using the guitar for accompaniment, but your voice is handling the melody. You’re not using the guitar for both.
A Word About Technique
As I mentioned earlier, there are many fingerstyle techniques out there. In this video interview of the legendary guitarist Doc Watson, filmed at The Smithsonian, Doc was about to play “Deep River Blues” when he spoke about his own fingerstyle technique.
His comment was that he only uses his thumb and first finger to pluck with the right hand. But then he remarked that it would have been more sensible for him to have learned to play using his thumb and the first, second and third fingers of his right hand.
Most fingerstyle players today use this latter method. I agree with Doc that this is a better way to learn because it gives you more options with the right hand. But at first, working up the coordination to play like this can be more difficult. Later on, though, this technique can make it easier to play.
Give It Your Best Shot
Whether you want to play Bach or rock, country or folk, ethnic or world music—all can be adapted to fingerstyle guitar. It’s a constantly evolving art form, with new players putting their stamp on it every day.
So whatever level you seek or music you want to play, don’t be intimidated by the learning curve or the initial hurdles you encounter. Stick with it, practice and give it the best shot you’ve got!