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The Anderson Files: Guitar Fingering – a Source for Creative Inspiration

Chuck Anderson

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We think of guitar fingering as a technical subject.

Using a good and efficient fingering makes sense. It should make anything that you play easier and more dependable.

It has value to the reading guitarist because the guitar fingerboard is a treacherous trap of options. The same notes are in too many places. The same C note is on string two, fret one and string three, fret five and string four, fret ten and string five, fret fifteen. Unlike the piano which has one location for each note, the guitar compounds the problem with too many options and then throws in open strings to further confuse the issue. When reading is positional and stays within a four fret region, it’s much easier to read. However, writers and arrangers don’t attempt to stay within a four fret region of the guitar. They typically do not know or care about the guitar’s fingering option issues.

Fingering is organized by a series of motion principles that allow you to connect notes all over the instrument.

These principles are: Basic – a four fret span with one finger per fret. Slide – the same finger used twice in a row on the same string at different frets. Pass – a reset of four fret span generally along the same string. It’s possible to use the reset principle as you change strings as well. Stretch – the lengthening of the four fret span resulting in a shift into a new four fret span. The stretch can also remain in the original four fret span. Contraction – the opposite of stretch. A contraction shortens the four fret span resulting in a new four fret span. Leap – the repositioning of the four fret span after using an open string. The leap can also be a non connected shift of position.

With an awareness of these principles, you can “work out” a good fingering for any reading situation. This is particularly helpful in reading Bebop heads which were not written with guitar fingering in mind. Although it’s a tedious process in the beginning, it does gradually become reflexive.

All these comments and principles apply to improvisation as well. A good guitarist moves smoothly all over the neck. The sound is connective and flowing. Without the application of the six fingering principles, solos are often limited because they suffer from the “box” restriction.

Learn the notes on the neck and don’t rely on tablature to get you through the maze.

If you consistently use the same fingerings for your scales, arpeggios or phrases of any kind, you’ll find yourself playing the same things over and over. One of the most effective ways of breaking into new creativity ground is to change your fingering. Don’t play in the same position or use the same fingering. The reason that this is so effective is that within a fingering, certain note combinations or riffs present themselves. Sooner or later, they become repetitious. When you explore new fingerings, the same old riffs are no longer available. You are forced to play something new!

Remember that fingering affects note distribution and that affects tone color.

Just playing the same notes on different strings changes the timbre and therefore the color of what you play. Thicker strings are “warmer” and darker. Thinner strings are “thinner” sounding and brighter. The fingered note has a different color and sound than the open note which has a characteristic ringing tone. Open strings are more common in some styles. They are often characteristic of particular idioms. Bluegrass and Classical guitar styles rely heavily on open strings. Jazz guitar relies less on open strings. That being said, any style can use open strings but it’s more common in some style than in others.

Beyond tone color and resonance, you have new access to new note combinations.

So remember that fingering is not just a technical principle for practicing. It’s not just a tool for reading. It’s a dynamic and ever changing source for creative inspiration!

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