View Full Version : Fingerpicking breakthrough

03-20-2012, 01:41 PM
Well, I'm finally getting the hang of fingerpicking after over 2 years and countless hours of trying and practice with no strumming just fingerpicking. I was determined to get it. I'm left handed so I also tried switching from left hand picking to right hand picking several times looking for something that worked but with no success. I also tried 2 fingerpicking and 3 fingerpicking. I finally have settled on left hand picking with 3 fingers.

But, the big breakthrough for me was to not rest any fingers on the top of the uke as I pick with my thumb, index and middle fingers. Initially it felt counter intuitive way too inaccurate and had always thought resting the pinky and or ring finger would provide stability and reference. So that is how I tried to learn for a couple of years. But, i read a bunch recently about how it may also constrict the hand and limit the fingers mobility. Which is why classical guitar players don't rest their fingers on the top.

I know there are awesome fingerpickers that rest fingers on top of their instrument. It just didn't work for me hard as I tried.

Not to be misunderstood I'm not saying one method is better for everyone. I'm just writing to share what has worked better for me in case it helps someone else frustrated trying to learn fingerpicking.

Thanks for listening.


Mainland mahogany baritone
Goldtone baritone ukulele banjo

Kayak Jim
03-20-2012, 01:45 PM
Glad to hear all your hard work paid off! I'll have to try consciously keeping my fingers off the top as I'm just in the early stages of picking.

Scott S.
03-20-2012, 02:56 PM
Way to stick with it. Strumming gives a full sound, but fingerpicking gives you the opportunity to play seperate bass and melody lines, which opens up a whoole new way of interpreting the music. I doubt you'll regret the time you've invested.

03-20-2012, 06:23 PM
Hi Rich, interesting. I found myself adopting both styles. If I am playing Flamenco style with double notes on the A string as I move through the melody notes (Like in Malaguena) I do not have my hand on the top. However on some songs I play where I want a very even rythm and I am not struming, my pinkie rests on the top but I only use P I and M fingers, so three. I too was frustrated but finger style is just so fantastic with all the options plus if you get into a group and everyone is strumming, you can set yourself apart and get in some licks, scales, etc.

In the end whatever works best so long as you are having fun is the most important. Practicing takes time and doing things over and over again until it become muscle memory. If only I had the time to practice as much as I would like (and had the muscles!) ;-)

03-20-2012, 09:25 PM
Another advantage to "floating" your pinky is being able to use it to mute the strings.

Bass players also differ in terms of anchoring their thumbs on a string lower than the one being plucked or floating it above the strings and using it as a mute. Most find that to play fast and accurately the floating method works better.

03-20-2012, 11:18 PM
hey, I use my two little fingers to hold the uke up! If I were to raise them up the uke would crash to the ground.

They fit in the waist just under the upper bout, I usually end up picking over the soundhole.

03-21-2012, 12:22 AM
Thanks for that advice. I sometimes, depending on the song, pick with one finger and strum even with the thumb, to make a more pronounced accompaniment.

If you are looking for a good music book to improve fingerstyle playing, the best book I have found so far is the one by Mark Kailana Nelson (http://amzn.to/GFiOJf). It has progressive songs, advice on style (imitating slack key guitar, Hawaiian vamps, etc) and if you move through each song, by the middle of the book you will be playing really much better. I was astonished at how fast you can get up to speed. Can't recommend this book enough--and it has a CD that you can play along with.

03-21-2012, 11:15 AM
Classical guitarists spend much more time with their fingers on the strings. Not playing them, but ready. And it is normal to fingerpick the string by landing the finger on the next string along. So, for ukulele, pick the A string, and land on the E string. This is called an "apoyando". What your describing (I think) is a "tirando", where the finger floats freely after plucking. I'm not very good at apoyandos, but performed well, they have a lot more power and better fundamental tone.

One of my personal fingerpicking goals would be to focus more on tone. Some string players just get such amazing sounds from their instrument.

03-21-2012, 11:47 AM
As someone new to the uke and just trying to get the hang of fingerpicking it is good to hear that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. I guess I'll just keep trying.

03-21-2012, 12:43 PM
I generally have an anchor finger. Sometimes it's the pinky, sometimes it's the thumb. It all depends on the songs and the style I am playing. The anchor keeps you oriented as to location of your fingers and what string you are going to be plucking next. For me, it's just faster to lift the anchor when it's needed to pluck, than to constantly figure out where my fingers are in relation to the string. I also pretty commonly use the heal of my hand as an anchor when I am using all my fingers for picking. Especially on songs where I use my thumb to mute strings. But, again, no right or wrong, and in some cases, I have not anchored also depending on the song and tempo.

03-21-2012, 01:01 PM
That said, I have been working on a modification to help me control my hand due to trying to re-coup from a stroke. My right arm and hand have suffered allot and lost motor skills, and stability. Here is a short clip of me messing around a couple weeks ago trying to keep my hand stable for picking. I am actually using the heal of my hand, AND my pinky & two other fingers to stablize my hand, and only picking with my index and thumb. This is a train wreck, but I am not playing anything in particular, just trying to gain some motor skills and modified picking to be able to pick again with at least some sort of control. But this kinda creates a stable bridge of sorts and with some more work, I might be able to play more again.


mm stan
03-21-2012, 01:15 PM
finger mobility and dexterity don't come right away...when the pinky finger don't work...manipulate it by using the whole hand until you get better...for timing purposes..

03-22-2012, 12:10 PM
Like Stan says. persistance.. If one way don't work for ya, give it a little time to let yourself settle in with it. If it still doesn't stick, find another techique until ya fine something that works for ya.

03-22-2012, 04:49 PM
I really admire your spunk. Hell, I don't even have an anchor finger. For that matter, I never paid any attention to where my fingers are resting when I finger pick. Maybe that's why I'm not very good at it!

03-25-2012, 11:33 AM
If you are looking for a good music book to improve fingerstyle playing, the best book I have found so far is the one by Mark Kailana Nelson (http://amzn.to/GFiOJf). It has progressive songs, advice on style (imitating slack key guitar, Hawaiian vamps, etc) and if you move through each song, by the middle of the book you will be playing really much better. I was astonished at how fast you can get up to speed. Can't recommend this book enough--and it has a CD that you can play along with.

Thanks for that advice Gwynedd. I ordered this book just now on your recommendation. I am determined to learn to fingerpick ukulele. I also just finished watching Aldrine's fingerpicking vids on UU+. Now it's simply practice practice practice.

03-25-2012, 12:38 PM
You keep at it! That's the kind of practice that can rehabilitate. I smashed my left arm (ironically, visiting the store where I bought my piano. Fell off a ramp while reading some music and walking, that's like texting and walking.) I smashed the ulnar nerve but didn't break the arm (miracle) and it took more than two years to get feeling back in the pinky finger on the LEFT hand yet, which is your power hand in piano. I kept playing and it brought the feeling back to the hand. So I know you're on the right track and oh by the way, you sounded good!

03-25-2012, 12:39 PM
Myrnauke, that book is genius. I started from practically ground zero (can make a few chords) and was playing E Ku'u Morning Dew in about a month or so. I was so happy. It's a brilliant book if you do what he tells you. I stayed on the horrible Twinkle Little Star but his vamped-up version gives you a workout.

03-25-2012, 03:58 PM
I, too, believe that fingerpicking does not come easy. I have been trying to do a lot more scales and modes which then turns into a jamming solo session and it is soooo fun to try and put different timing on the notes - and that has been driving me.

floating for me. I have never got used to anchoring.

I do like the Apoyando sound.

03-25-2012, 04:45 PM
I was a classical guitarist for many years before taking up the uke, so fingerpicking comes pretty natural for me.

I do use apoyando (AKA rest stroke) to emphasize melody notes.

I don't "anchor". My right hand has more freedom of movement when I don't try to tie it down.