Fingerstyle Part I: Malaguena

"Tone is in your fingers" - this idea enters another deeper dimension when it's applied to fingerstyle on a nylon string guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
"Tone is in your fingers"- I'm sure you've heard this idea before, especially when talking about masters of tone such as Van Halen or Billy Gibbons. This idea enters another deeper dimension when it's applied to fingerstyle on a nylon string guitar. Here is our video explaining the basics of fingerstyle technique applied to the song "Malaguena". The example features a melody that is played in the lower strings while alternating open strings in the higher register.
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Most of my guitar students have gone through a phase of being curious about fingerstyle/fingerpicking. As cool as it is to scrape your pick with the amp cranked to 11 - still there is something very organic about producing the sound with only your fingers, shaping your own voice manually. As you learn the basics of fingerstyle from our video, keep in mind that finger - picking is not only a guitar technique but also a different kind of relationship between you and your instrument. The different technique variables, like the position, nails, angle of attack, amount of pressure, distance from your hands to the bridge etc... are going to affect the sound radically, and you will use all of them to channel your voice through the guitar. There are many points of view about each of the variables mentioned earlier. For example, a trained classical guitarist positions the instrument differently than does a strict Flamenco artist. Another difference of technique concerns the use of the finger nail or finger tip to pick the strings. Here's a brief history of the fingernails versus fingers debate which mentions masters such as Fernando Sor, Andres Segovia, and Francisco Tarrega. Though we don't discuss these theories in our video, we do give you a general approach to the techniques by learning a music example that will also help you tap into one of the main roots of guitar playing. The piece is Malaguena in Flamenco style. Malaguena evokes the beautiful Spanish coastal city Malaga, a town rich with traditional dances that became a source of inspiration for classical compositions such as Malaguena by Ernesto Lecuona, Issac Albeniz's Asturias or Francisco Tarrega's Malaguena. Enjoy and check out some more free tips and articles at Jose Hernandez

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Rock Prodigy
    Wow, interesting. I remember my flamenco teacher in Spain, telling me about the way that flamenco players made sure his nails wouldn't break. They add layers of smoking paper and superglue to the nails, filing and polishing right after each layer, until you get a thick and solid, almost unbreakable nail. They do that specially to the thumb nail, since it's the one that gets more of the hits when they play rasgueos. The main brand of smoking paper they use is called OCB and in each page you can read the word "Bollere", which is the slang way of calling this paper. It was so popular that Raimundo Amador made a song called Bollere.
    Rock Prodigy
    Segovia was pretty bold, wasn't he? lol I heard that he said he chose to be self taught because he didn't want to argue with a guitar teacher. I think nowadays everybody uses both, fingertips and nails to get different textures depending on the piece that they are playing, although I'm pretty sure that flamenco players use their nails way more than they use their fingertips.
    Everybody preaches fingertip-nail combo, but that's not what happens. the string touches the fingertip, then quickly departs to the nail without sounding. The string then moves along the nail, where it produces sound upon completion of the stroke.
    Something I discovered way too late: When I studied Classical Guitar at UCSB as an undergrad years ago, I was a vegetarian. And I was constantly fighting to keep my fingernails "in shape" with the optimal rigidness, contour, and length. Only years later, when I picked up my head from the music stand, metronome and staff paper did I hear that not all vegetarian diets are equal. My diet at UCSB was lacking complete proteins and so my nails were often too soft, and broke often. (I guess ramen and beer don't have complete proteins!) Now that I have complete proteins in my diet, my fingernails never break or chip, and they grow much faster. I wish I paid attention to this years ago, but I guess better late than never!
    Do flamenco players use their finger tips? Because no classical guitarist worth his salt plays without nails anymore. Segovia put that issue to bed, calling Tarrega's insistence on fingertips "stupid."
    As far as I know, flamenco (and, as you say, classic guitar) has always been picked with the nails, which guitarists let grow a little bit.
    The use of nails in classical guitar was not widely accepted until the 20th century. Sor used no nails, Tarrega used no nails, etc. Aguado used nails at least at some point in his career; he was ahead of his time though, as he also advocated use of the little finger on the right hand.
    Rock Prodigy
    You are right. We also need to keep in mind that, back then, the instruments were very different. Even the strings were made out of gut instead of nylon, and the tonal environment was different too. Maybe playing with the fingertips was more appealing for their ears than having a heavier attack. I'm sure there are some cool articles written by Musicologists and Organologists about it.