Should you aim to hold whole chords when fingerpicking?

miqbri

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One thing I am a little confused about is whether or not one should aim to hold whole chords even when picking a single string (or multiple strings from the chord shape in sequence).

I feel like the argument for it is that you are building muscle memory of transitioning between the shapes.
Instead of focusing on fretting different sequence of notes with single fingers with every new song, you can transform the song into familiar shapes and transitions.

The argument against is that it seems like holding a whole chord (even say 4 finger shape) just to pick a single string is 'a lot more work', especially when you would have to change between chords in succession very quickly as opposed to fretting a single string.
There is also a lot more to think about, like:
  • which chord to pick if multiple fits?
  • which one is easiest to transition into the next?
  • what if I like holding this one but it would mute an open string that I want to ring out?
  • do I lift a single finger for say next open string note or the whole shape? is that really easier at that point than holding single notes?

Would love to hear what others think or what their teachers taught them.
 
The idea is to play cleanly and smoothly. Economy of motion tends to lead to smoother transitions. There's no need to move fingers around that aren't serving a function of the music at the moment. You're playing chord fragments, focusing on the required notes. The brain can store so much that you're not going to run out of room in the chord drawer. After some time, both full chords and chord fragments will be built into your muscle memory and you grab whichever one you need at the moment to serve the composition. At least that's how I've approached it and it works well for me.
 
Economy of motion tends to lead to smoother transitions
key concept here, imo... holding the full chord (then pick-pick-pick) is gonna be more efficient than one fret/note-pick, followed by next note-pick, followed by next note-pick. that may not convey the idea well, so think of efficiency of your movements while fretting.
 
I am a bit dumb but I don't think I understand because it sounds to me like you are saying different things but agree with each other. :)

Maybe an example with serve me better?
1707320210965.png
How exactly would you fret these two bars with PIMA, note by note?
Do I start with Em, so (I4,M3,A2)+pick-E, then lift I4+pick-A...? Or one by one?
When do I fret I4 again? Immediately or just before the 4th note?
And why is the second bar labeled Em?

Another example:
1707321917088.png
Would I fret the three strings at once at once, lifting the fingers one by one after each note and then fret them all three at the same time again after the open C string?
 
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As noted in responses from @badhabits and @KevinFL who are musicians (a label I’ve yet to earn), the primary factor in play is economy of movement. Because there is of course more to it than that, I’m interested in reading others’ responses as well but as to your Em question:
Whether you hold all fingers in place to make the whole chord is driven by the tune’s melody, tempo and mood.
For that very reason, I’ve grown to avoid tablature, preferring to improvise my own string noting choices and even to often pluck the 4th (G) string with my index finger rather than with my thumb, and to use a full chord strum when tempo allows. Maybe my admittedly clumsy rendition of the Peanuts tune “Christmastime Is Here” will explain more clearly than I’m able to write:

Chord progression (as arranged by Gerald Ross):
C6 - A7#5 - C6 - A7#5
Dm - Gsus - Dm - Gsus
Fm - C+ - Fm - C+ - Am
D7 - Gm - C6
Repeat first stanza.
My fretting hand is more visible in this somewhat faster tempo Key of F cover of Mister Bojangles.
 
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I don't think it is especially useful to think of it in abstract terms and to formulate generalized rules. What's more important is the specific performing context that the Em pops up in. For me the only question that matters is what comes after that Em chord. Will playing the individual notes or holding the chord make it easier to transition to what follows? And only you can answer that for yourself based on your current skill set.
 
As far as I know, play either the chords [Em] or the numbers, not both. If the arranger wanted you to play the chord they would have stacked the notes. Tab is a 'how to' play a tune in a specific way. The chords at the top are for chording purposes for those not playing melody.
 
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I am a bit dumb but I don't think I understand because it sounds to me like you are saying different things but agree with each other. :)

Maybe an example with serve me better?
View attachment 165840
How exactly would you fret these two bars with PIMA, note by note?
Do I start with Em, so (I4,M3,A2)+pick-E, then lift I4+pick-A...? Or one by one?
When do I fret I4 again? Immediately or just before the 4th note?
And why is the second bar labeled Em?

Another example:
View attachment 165844
Would I fret the three strings at once at once, lifting the fingers one by one after each note and then fret them all three at the same time again after the open C string?
I hope I understand your question correctly, because if not this obviously won’t be helpful, but here goes…!

I tend to hold / fret the notes for as long as possible, because that gives me the sustain and the smooth transition between notes that I am largely trying to achieve.

In the case of your first example, I would hold the Em shape, use my little finger (pinky) to fret the A on the 5th fret of the E string and then lift it off again to go back to the G on the 3rd fret. Which I would still be holding down as part of that Em chord.

In your second example, I’d hold the Gm chord shape and just lift my finger off the 2nd fret of the C string in order to play the open string.

But I agree with what others have said about doing whatever makes your left hand fingering easiest in any given situation, and particularly KevinFL’s point about economy of motion. And I’m certainly no expert, this is just what I have found works best for me.

Edit: Having just seen Bibs’ reply above, I realise I might have answered the wrong question! Bibs is quite correct, in the case of the tab you have posted you should be playing individual notes and not sounding the whole chord in one go.
 
As far as I know, play either the chords [Em] or the numbers, not both. If the arranger wanted you to play the chord they would have stacked the notes. Tab is a 'how to' play a tune in a specific way.
No I know I wouldn't play the whole chord, I am just confused why is there "Em" if 040 is stacked in the second bar. That's not Em? What information is the Em in the second bar conveying? I could understand it in the first bar, where I could hold Em shape and play the three strings one by one.
In the case of your first example, I would hold the Em shape, use my little finger (pinky) to fret the A on the 5th fret of the E string and then lift it off again to go back to the G on the 3rd fret. Which I would still be holding down as part of that Em chord.
I think I like that sound too but often I need to lift the finger 'early' to be able to fret the next thing.
But that is kind of a different thing. The original question was if I should try to 'fit' the chord shape even if it is not needed. And if so, how soon?
Imagine the first bar looked like this, without the first two notes on the C string:
1707326240739.png
Would you still hold Em right from the beginning? And if so, how far would the first C string 'usage' have to be in order not to hold it from the beginning? A does it depend on if it is a familiar chord shape or a random note that does not 'fit' together with the initial two notes?

Whether you hold all fingers in place to make the whole chord is driven by the tune’s melody, tempo and mood.
This is my fault but honestly, I don't understand what that means :) I can understand holding strings after I pick them affect the sound but if they are not 'ringing' before (because I have muted them by lifting or never touched them before in the song) then I am not sure how 'how soon I fret them' affect melody, tempo or mood.. :(
 
The 4 is the melody E in the Em, leaving it out doesn't work. As long as your using the tab as your pattern, those concerns shouldn't be a problem. The arranger, supposedly, has taken all of that into consideration. Any note will ring until muted/next note played. Tempo is the thing that will most directly affect the tune. This is a hard thing to explain not over think.

edit: I have a better explanation. Ignore the Em and is peers as they have absolutely no bearing on how the tab is played!
 
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No I know I wouldn't play the whole chord, I am just confused why is there "Em" if 040 is stacked in the second bar. That's not Em? What information is the Em in the second bar conveying? I could understand it in the first bar, where I could hold Em shape and play the three strings one by one.

Depending on the source, the chords above the bar usually would be the strumming accompaniment (the harmony) to the melody that is being picked.
 
Depending on the source, the chords above the bar usually would be the strumming accompaniment (the harmony) to the melody that is being picked.
Right. By providing the chord description and the tab, you could use the same music to strum the song or pick it (or devise a chord melody if you’re inclined).
 
Rather than sticking to fixed rules it's best to be flexible and and aim for efficiency. Large proportions of melodies can be played from the underlying chord shapes by simply lifting or moving a finger when needed. So the efficient player sticks to the shapes and moves out of them for individual notes when needed.
 
Generally, I will hold the full chord while picking until it stops me from playing what I want to hear. When holding the chord becomes an impediment, play the notes you need and forget the rest. Chords can be inferred from a few notes, so don't let a few missing notes slow you down. It can also sound cool if you occasionally just play the melody, or a bass run instead of chords all the time.
 
Generally, I will hold the full chord while picking until it stops me from playing what I want to hear. When holding the chord becomes an impediment, play the notes you need and forget the rest. Chords can be inferred from a few notes, so don't let a few missing notes slow you down. It can also sound cool if you occasionally just play the melody, or a bass run instead of chords all the time.
This is what I intended to say but am far less articulate than Mike$.
 
Thanks to everybody.

What I am taking in regards to my first question: I'll hold the whole chords or chord fragments as long as it 'makes sense', e.g. I am not going to hold whole Em just because there is A2E3, but if I see C4 around it, sure.

The second thing about letting the notes ring out longer by holding them as 'long as possible', meaning until they get in the way or I have to play different fret on the string.
I like the legato sound better in general.
I understand it is economic in term of motion - it can only be better if I play the same note again down the line, if not, I would have lifted it anyways but after today's practice sessions am I crazy or is it much harder to play that way?

Now I have extra thing to think about, until (if ever) it becomes automatic - I have to be aware of where my fingers are, rather than approach each 'column' in the tab with clean slate. Meaning if I am going down the neck, I have to be aware that I am still holding say fret 3 on C string from last bar and I have to lift it before being able to play fret 1 on C string. Before I knew I was not holding C string anymore unless I was just fretting that higher note but that was last note, not from 1-2 bars back.

Maybe it's just really hard because I am not used to it or maybe it's even a good thing that I have to be more consciously aware of where my fingers are, but it definitely feels harder. :)
 
My response will be somewhat warped by the fact that I studied violin before ukulele. Part of violin technique is keeping the left hand fingers down until there is a good reason to pick them up. While these sorts of technical studies (Schradieck Book I comes to mind) are often despised, they do build strength, flexibility, and independence of the fingers. As others have mentioned it also makes left hand motions more efficient. I have seen ukulele warmup exercises that are quite similar.

I think you are correct to focus on legato. For me it is a major challenge to get the flow and phrasing that I want on melodic lines. Keeping fingers down more not only helps me sustain notes longer, but it points out where I am inadvertently muting notes with my left hand.

Back to you original question, when I see a melody line that is an arpeggio or close to an arpeggio I think about it as a shape and depending on what is before and after it, I may place and hold that shape for some period. But the emphasis on legato generally overrides that.
 
I've only had my ukulele since Saturday, so don't have a clue about anything yet, but I have watched this really great video by Phil Doleman where he explains why you should use chords when you play fingerstyle (although I'm sure there'll be exceptions). The whole video is great, but if you head to the bit from 4:50 onwards he shows an example of placing a g chord in order to play a melody. I love his videos, he's created a great set of tutorials for beginners, and I find his explanations crystal clear.
 
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Updated response: For the past few days, I’ve worked through Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right”, bass on Jim Carrey’s key of D chord sheet (ozbcoz.com).

I initially found the verse transition from A to Em problematic until I tried starting from the 2nd position (4th fret) A and sliding my middle and index fingers down to only fret the C and A strings at fret 7, rather than making the full 7th fret Em barre, which also made it easy to drop my ring finger to catch the quick C run after that. Of course, making the full barre Em could have served the same purpose but it worked for me.

In fact, not only did it work well within the tempo, the “pinch” of both those Em notes followed the melody perfectly.

I hope this helps, as I was improvising within the chord progression and not following tab.
 
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