This series is the approach that I use to teach pick-style technique to all of my students. For best results, take these articles to an educated and experienced teacher who is stylistically broad based and who knows this approach, so that (s)he may coach you.
This approach is to attain the maximum possible cleanliness and articulateness in ones tone. Also, it will give, ultimately, the greatest speed with the least health risk. I am careful never to say that it is the correct way to play. There is no such thing, and many people do great things with really sloppy technique. Wherever possible, though, I will indicate the exact benefits of each technique. If you are left handed, please excuse my right-handed bias, and reverse all of the relevant direction and hand indications.
I) Right Hand Fingers.
I recommend that the right hand not be braced against the strings or the surface of the guitar in any way, shape, or form. This is the single worst habit that I have to deal with in the right hands of my students. Most people start by placing one or more fingers on the surface of the guitar, and use that as a tactile guide to where the strings are. Furthermore, many rest their palm on the bridge. These are all bad! The fingers should be loosely curved into the palm, and the right hand should be off the strings and the bridge.
Any tension anywhere in the body will manifest itself in one's tone. It defies description. I cannot say it sounds more staccato or brighter or anything like that. It just sounds tense and less fluid. Bracing against the fingerboard is physically restraining the right hand; it produces a source of tension that one simply cannot remove while the fingers are planted there. Also, it directly interferes with crossing strings. It's like riding a bike with training wheels on. You can get by okay with them, but they really get in the way during a slalom race.
This habit is very difficult not only because removing the training wheels is very awkward for a couple of days, people are more unwilling to give this habit up for some reason. Usually, they use as an example some Rock star that they revere -- that on MtTV (grin) said Rock star is bracing his/her fingers against the guitar. Again, my reply is that disclaimer that I put on each of these technique lessons. I acknowledge that some people have done a lot in the music industry despite what I would consider to be really sucky technique. Nonetheless, Pop guitarists are notoriously untrained. I cannot advise that you take what you see from one of them as the paradigm of technique. Also, what they do might produce appropriate tone for their style, but would sound bad for anything else. They could be completely incapable of producing the clean, pristine tone that I am selling.
In Alt. guitar, there was a thread about this topic some time ago. Someone argued that some classical guitarist advocated bracing with the pinky. The obvious counter from me is that fingerstyle is in no way, shape, or form, anything like pickstyle. When I did try to brace my pinky with some fingerstyle playing, the tone did become tense though.
I hear the question coming from the world:
"But Tim... if you forbid my muting the strings with my right hand, when my Marshall stack is on ten (or eleven), how do I keep my strings from feeding back wildly?"
Obviously, sometimes you have to mute your strings with your right hand.
Since this addition is generally so loathed, and since it is a handful, let it be the only new point for this week. Do the pseudo-chromatic exercise from Lesson II with the following criteria:
A) Guitar Position (see part I)
B)1. Left Hand Thumb Position and range of motion (midline [G string] to edge... see lesson II)
2. Left Hand Thumb Pressure (NONE! PERIOD! again, see lesson II)
C) Left hand wrist. (straight as a ruler, palm away from the neck... again, lesson II)
D) Left hand wrist. (parallel to the underside of the neck... lesson III)
E) Finger placement. (close to the neck... lesson III)
F) Overall position of right forearm. (lesson IV)
G) The pick, angled for the least noise (Lesson IV)
H) Alternate Pick (lesson IV)
I) Do not brace the right hand.
- Tim Fullerton