To say that one plays a guitar picking style is like saying one uses a ‘word writing style’. It’s too general a term to lend to any appreciable meaning. Just as in writing, having many various templates to choose from, guitar has many different styles of picking and/or finger combinations. Below are just 10 styles out of many. Keep in mind that there are more out there.
1. Alternate straight strum. For any basic strum, you need to go down up, down up. Here is where guitar-picking styles bespeak of ‘whatever goes down must come up’. That doesn’t mean you will strike the chord each time you come back up or down for that matter. What it means is that you will accent some strokes more than others. You might try going down up, down up and miss the last up on the way up. You would be missing it on purpose and no sound would occur.
The effect would be down up down, down up down. You still have to bring the hand up; it’s just a silent motion. This is why first learning the back and forth alternate strum is necessary.
Various guitar-strumming styles take into account the mathematical possibilities of the binary 1-0 or on off. Let’s say that 1010 is one set. Another set could be 1101. Put the two sets together and you have 1010,1101. By adding two more sets together, we could have this 4 set combination: 1010,1101,0101,1110. This 4 set combination repeats for maybe 16 bars of music and then another combination can replace it.
In the 5 examples below, the upper case D and the upper case U represent an accented down and up strum respectively. The smaller case letters represent an unaccented or virtually silent strum.
1. D-U D-U D-U D-U
2. D-u D-u D-u D-u
3. d-U d-U d-U d-U
4. D-U d-U D-U d-U
5. d-U d-U D-U D-U
Each example can be thought of as a set of four beats. The variations are endless if you group larger combinations of sets together.
2. Power Picking. Power picking is simply a D-u D-u D-u D-u D-u D-u D-u D-u pattern. It is usually done at rapid speeds, purely with a pick and not any finger combinations.
3.Sweeps. This rapid guitar picking style is more than just picking alone. The beginner will only hurt himself. It involves intricate use of the left hand as well. Each finger of the fretting hand must align itself with the corresponding string occurring in the rapid ‘sweep’ of the picking hand. Hammering and pulling off are also employed.
4.Single Note Lead. For this, one needs a good sense of melody and key and more importantly, a great sense of rhythm. Soloing is traditionally the guitarist’s trademark and what makes him stand out beyond the rest of the band. Soloing is a package deal; it comes along with a big ego. Mostly done with the pick alone, there are times when the fingers are added to create various effects. The pick will move somewhat rapidly on faster notes. The fingers can grab and pull on the strings that the pick is not playing on. This is done when there is more time such as in slower passages.
5. Blues Shuffle. It takes a while to get the hang of the Blues sound. Once you achieve that, you need to learn how to swing. It has to be steady as a rock and there’s a lot of rhythmic palming. Various guitar finger combinations can be employed. There are those that use picks and those that make use of the thumb instead. Either way, there is often use of fingers plucking the upper strings. Blues makes full use of the chords but not necessarily all at once..
6. Rock/Folk. Think of Credence Clearwater Revival or The Allman Brothers. There is folk quality to their genre. Granted the Allmans could be considered an amalgamation of Blues and Southern Folk/Rock. You can see that the Down Up Rhythm is held steadily as an undercurrent to all the particular rhythms that are there.
7. Standard Pick and Finger Combination. This is just what it says. The extra fingers are there; why not use them? This is the most versatile way to play chords. The fingers offer a different tone than the pick. Breaking chords into arpeggios as in classical music is another advantage here. Often Used In Jazz, this method can be used to play melody and chords simultaneously.
8. Classical. There is no use of a plastic pick here; just the nails on your fingers. Classical guitar is still alive and well. They have contest all the time. Out of all of them, Classical is the way every one should start, especially if they want to learn how to play notes on guitar.
9. Thumb Pick and Finger Pick Combination. This method makes use of a pick that wraps around the thumb. Country and Blues artists often use this device and method. The thumb pick is used in combination with fingers and sometimes finger pick devices as well. For some it prevents the thumb from getting sore and for others it creates a more percussive performance.
10. Tapping. Tapping is a hammering of the strings upon the guitar neck. Both hands can tap simultaneously or in sequence. There is even a two guitar combination tapping where it’s almost as if the two hands are playing a piano. Van Halen popularized single note tapping, while Stanely Jordan came up with chord tapping.
What ever you do, don’t take this list as a complete catalogue of guitar picking styles. There are many possibilities that have not even been investigated very deeply within the realm of guitar finger picking combinations. Guitar picking styles with or without the use of a plastic or metal pick will always be evolving in order to accommodate every new revolution in music.