This edition of "Coach's Corner" deals with a guitarist's right-hand philosophy, or more specifically the issue of whether to rely more on the use of a flatpick or your fingers. It's a subject that warrants adequate discussion, because it truly effects your musicianship, at least from the technical side of the coin.

You know, I understandably get asked about this topic fairly often. Sometimes it's just from a student's general curiosity, but it occasionally stems from people being aware of my classical background, and wondering what effect it's had on handling other musical styles. To be perfectly honest, my right-hand technique is something that I sort of take for granted nowadays, but maybe that's because I've logged so much time refining that ability throughout my career. Let's talk about the advantages of each approach, and see if we can draw some conclusions that will help you broaden your own technical horizons.

First, the flatpick (plectrum). If your experience is primarily on the electric guitar, chances are that you began with a pick and still depend mightily on one to express yourself on the six-string. It's very common for acoustic steel-string guitarists to heavily favor a pick as well. The advantages? Well, I find that I can achieve greater speed and a more "percussive" quality on an electric guitar using this technique, especially for single-line improvisation. The latter trait I even find appealing, at times, on an acoustic steel or nylon-string guitar, though the notion of doing so on the classical instrument will definitely raise some eyebrows among the traditionalists. Nevertheless, the bottomline remains the "sound" that the player achieves, no matter what the means. I must confess that, though I've made great strides using my fingers exclusively for improvisation on the electric, it remains a challenge. That fact might be interesting to you, especially in light of the amount of time that I've invested in right-hand finger technique. But there is a substantial trade-off...

For chord-melody work, fingerstyle is clearly a superior way to go. Think about it. You've got four to five times the amount of horsepower compared to a pick, plus you never have to worry about muting strings with your left-hand fingers. And there's just something about the "natural" feel of flesh on strings that defies description. So where does that leave us? Easy answer.

Go both ways. Matter of fact, as you probably know, I still rely on a terrific technique that jazz guitarist Eddie Duran showed me many years ago. I "hide" my pick in the first joint of my right-hand index finger. Takes some getting used to, but eventually you'll be able to flip back and forth between pick and fingers (or use both together) in the blink of an eye. Sure beats accidentally swallowing your pick or trying to find it in the dark on your amp!

In closing, I'd like you to reflect on the subtitle of this article, "Different Strokes..." (for different folks). One thing that you should bear in mind, regarding right- hand guitar technique, is that there's easily more than one "proper" way to get the job done. You can get ten great players in a room and find that they all manage to express themselves quite adequately, yet each will hold a pick or use their fingers in a different manner. If there's some sort of message to be found there, it might be in keeping your approach as broad as possible. Til next time...

"Coach's Corner" is an ongoing addition to Vision Music. The purpose of these brief articles is to share philosophy, offer practical insights, and to enhance your musical studies.

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