Beginning Guitar: Finger Pickin' Pinky Power

Published: 22nd December 2011
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What the roots are to a tree and what the foundation is to a skyscraper, this is what your pinky is to your fingerpicking.

When you use your pinky in the way I am about to show you, your guitar playing sounds tight, powerful, and professional, even on the simplest guitar songs. When you don't use your pinky in this way, chances are you will miss more notes, lose your rhythm, and sound more amateurish.

In this article you are about to get the why, when, and how of using your pinky to improve the performance of all your other fingers while fingerpicking.

======= Not Just Fingerstyle Guitar =======

Even though I'll be focusing on finger style guitar in this article, you can use this technique to improve many other styles of playing including some of those using a pick. But for now, let's stay focused on how to do this when your strumming hand is doing the work finger by finger.

======= Why the Pinky? =======

Why is the pinky so important? I mean, it is probably the weakest, the smallest, and seemingly has the least significant power for plucking the strings. So why a whole article dedicated to its power?

We won't be using the pinky of the strumming hand to strum or pluck or pick or any of that. You can think of the pinky as providing the silent backdrop for the other fingers to make music against. And silence is closely related to stillness. And so the pinky will be silent and still.

In fact it will be so still that it becomes a root for the rest of your hand. It becomes a point of reference and a way of letting your other fingers know (in a language only fingers can understand) exactly where the strings are no matter how animated the song may become.

You see, if your whole hand is flying around with every finger-picking-pluck of the string, you would have to keep looking at your hand and the strings to find the next string to pluck. That will really slow down your playing and can produce great inaccuracy. It also weakens your sound.

But with your pinky rooted, you have a stable frame of reference and your fingers become educated as they start playing lean mean strumming patterns with ease and precision.

Here I must pause to admit that there are those who would adamantly disagree with me. And so it will come down to you to decide what is best for you. But I promise you some of the greatest guitar players use this technique (Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel, Mark Knopfler, and of course Wes Montgomery who planted all his fingers and strummed with his thumb! The list goes onů)

======= When the Pinky? =======

When will you use this technique? Just about anytime you are finger picking. Of course there may be the rare exception but that is exactly what it will be, an exception. As long as your fingers are individually plucking the strings of your guitar, your rooted pinky will most likely advance your picking speed and accuracy more than any other single change you can make in your position. So whether you are learning blues riffs, or trying to read folk guitar tabs, or even practicing the Pachelbel Canon, use this technique (unless you are strictly a classical player and your teacher tells you not to).

======= How to Use the Pinky? =======

Hold your hand as if you are about to start finger picking. Now extend your pinky and rest the outer edge of its fingertip on the pick guard (or just below the sound hole if you don't have a pick guard). And by the way this works for acoustic and electric guitars.

At first this will feel totally weird, uncomfortable, and the thought will run through your head, "Forget it. I'm not doing this." It seems unnecessary and ridiculous. At least it did to me at first. And of course the decision is yours, but I urge you to not only try this but to turn this into a habit.

Once you get used to it, not anchoring your pinky in this way will feel totally weird, uncomfortable, and your playing will feel out of control. With your pinky anchored you feel an instant sense of mastery of the strings.

Use this technique and watch as your fingerstyle guitar playing advances in leaps and bounds (but your pinky stays still).


What is your biggest obstacle to learning to play guitar? Getting started? Time? Where to begin? What to practice? How to play your favorite songs? I'd like to help you. Tell me your biggest obstacle and I'll include the answer in my next ebook. You'll also get instant access to the ebook "Play the Beatles Like a Pro in 7 Minutes 34 Seconds"

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