We’ll assume you’re a right-handed player for these hints; if you’ve a leftie, just assume you’ll be using your left hand to finger pick. First of all is the basic decision: do I let my hand “float” above the strings or keep a finger anchored on the top of the guitar? You will see plenty of fine finger style players who keep their picking hand above the strings and never touch the top but I believe many more keep one of more fingers anchored on the top. There are some good reasons for this and I always encourage my students to do it.
To finger pick with speed and accuracy your hand MUST be almost stationary above the strings. Finger picking is what the name implies – only your fingers are moving, not your whole hand. The problem is, most of our initial strength is in our hands, not in our fingers. This is one of the basic reasons I believe in anchoring a finger (I use just my little finger for this). In the beginning this forces you to keep the hand stationary; someone whose hand floats tends to stiffen their fingers and use more hand movement. This makes accuracy and speed much more difficult, at least in the beginning. When you get used to the feeling of the anchored finger you will find you can rest the weight of your arm and hand on that finger, which allows the fingers to do what they’re supposed to do with minimal movement.
The next issue to deal with is angle of attack on each string. I start my students with specific finger commitment to each string: Thumb controls the bass strings (6,5,4), 1st (index) finger controls only string #3; 2nd (middle) finger controls on string #2; 3rd (ring) finger controls only string #1. This will change as you become more proficient but in the beginning controlling specific strings with specific fingers makes for better accuracy and speed. Some students struggle with this concept initially but soon “muscle memory” comes into play and repetition and accuracy become second nature. The angle of attack should be about 45 degrees (into your hand or “up” with your index, middle and ring finger, and “down” with your thumb). That 45-degree angle means about half way between being perpendicular and horizontal to the strings.
This may and probably should require you to bend your wrist a bit toward the perpendicular with the wrist bent slightly in an upward fashion. One of the biggest mistakes I see when people begin finger picking is keeping the wrist flat as they try to pick toward the bridge of the guitar. There is just no way to finger pick this way and attain clean tone, speed and accuracy. With the wrist slightly bent/arched (don’t forget to keep that little finger anchored!) your finger tips move ACROSS each string, which is what you should try to do. Never get under a string with a finger tip and pick UP.
More soon on picking hand technique!
Peace & good music,