Your Hand is Your Band
(20 Sep 02)
The Importance of Fingering
Could you imagine how good a band would be if the players weren't sure of who was supposed to play which notes? How good would their performance be if at rehearsals different members played different notes at different times? And yet, when guitarists practice, this is actually what happens for many of us. Very often, we are not really sure of which fingers we are using for each note we must play, and we do different things at different times. Or, we may be using awkward fingering for something, because we never stopped to think, examine, and analyze what we are doing.
As I have gone through many years of teaching the guitar, I have formed a list which now contains many items. The list is called "really basic things that every guitarist should fully understand and put into practice, but apparently, nobody is telling them, or they are just not listening."
I hope eventually to get to every one of the items on this list, but the subject of fingering is one I would like to talk about now. It often happens that I will get a new student, who has played for a while, and had lessons with another teacher. Many times I have been surprised, in fact, shocked, to find them practicing things, especially rather complex things like classical pieces or fast rock licks on electric guitar, and they DO NOT HAVE ANY FINGERING OR PICKING WRITTEN ON THE MUSIC. In other words, the notes or tab are there, but the fingers to use for each hand are not.
Why is this important? Because the fingering is the set of instructions that your brain is supposed to be processing and following when you play in order to bring about the results you want: namely, the right notes at the right time. If you have not figured out the fingering you are going to use (or experiment with), than you are, in effect, making your practicing weak and ineffective because you are not fulfilling the two conditions of practice:
1)Know the right thing to do to achieve what you want,
2) MAKE SURE YOU DO IT!
Here is the fundamental understanding you must have. When you are training your fingers (and realize you are really training your WHOLE body WITH your mind) to perform the actions necessary to get the result you want (the exact right movements at the exact right time) you must be entirely and consciously clear as to what those movements need to be, AND you must know, really know, whether or not you are doing those movements with each repetition during the practice process. If you have not even bothered to figure out and write down the picking to a complex lick, or complex passage in say, a Bach fugue, then you are undoubtedly doing something different with each repetition, and doing something even slightly different just won't cut it when it comes to nailing things securely.
The only time you can get away without being consciously aware of the fingering you are using is when the notes you are playing are parts of patterns that are already well learned, and able to be done automatically. Of course, the more we develop as players, the more patterns we accumulate. But if you want to continue to develop your abilities as a player, you must know how to deal with new and challenging material, and to CONQUER IT! And believe me, there are ways that work, and ways that don't!
Don't be lazy. I used to want to just jump in and start playing the music, and not have to figure out the best right hand fingering for the Bach fugue that I couldn't wait to play. But as I developed, and saw how unreliable and awkward the results of such practicing were, I started to take the time to write in the fingers when I needed to. My practicing became more consistent, and the results more powerful.
It is very important to realize that the fingering you use for a passage can make the difference between being able to play something, and not being able to. There are a few reasons for this:
1) Some fingering is just BAD. Some fingering is just awkward or inefficient by nature for human hands.
2) Some fingering may be bad for YOU. It may be used, and work for someone else, because of individual anatomic differences, or different levels of development. Fingering that wasn't good for me at one point, became usable years later, and vice
Learning the ins and outs of fingering and picking takes experience, and analytical thinking. If you take lessons, ask your teacher about the subject, and always think in this way when you practice.
Whenever you are having trouble with something, a lick or scale run or intricate fingerstyle passage, ask yourself this question: do I know EVERY finger, on both hands, responsible for playing EVERY note (for pickstyle, substitute pick stroke, up or down, for the right hand). Providing an answer to that question (the right answer, YES, of course) may very well solve that problem for you.
Copyright 2000 by Jamie Andreas