Beginning Fingerstyle Begins With The Thumb

For years I have been pondering the writing of my own methodology. Every time I begin I always ask the question, "am I adding any value that does not exist already?". Every time I have come back to the same conclusion — no. Now that I have been working more and more with younger beginning students, I have come to the conclusion that a method beginning with the thumb is the best method as opposed to beginning with the fingers.

The Thumb Provides Security

Beginning with the thumb provides security for the student immediately. It allows them to use the most natural movement with their hand to focus on the results of making sound on the guitar. This also aids in the hand position needed to correctly execute the fingers later.

I began my own son using the fingers as is common in methods by Julio Segreras, Emilio Pujol, and even Frederick Noad. I scrapped the idea when I found the frustration was too much for me and my son. He executed it well enough but it was not very efficient.

The Thumb Provides Early Pieces To Play When Introducing The Fingers

After settling in on the thumb, it was then easy to introduce reading the notes of the staff. Using the fingers and introducing the notes was difficult because focusing on the correct technique of the hand took precedence in my mind over getting the notes read. I did not need to do this when I used the thumb because it naturally fell into a good technical motion.

Adding the fingers one at a time alternating with the thumb seems natural for the student. It is the same as opening and closing the hand off the guitar. This allows for early introduction of easy pieces that have some melodic movement without frustrating the student. Though I believe in the Suzuki principles, I think the beginning of the series should rely more on the thumb than the fingers to play the initial pieces.

Which Method Do I Recommend?

The obvious method is the one by Aaron Shearer. I prefer the one published by Mel Bay and not his most recent series of books. Partly this is due to my familiarity and also because of the logical progression the book takes. I like to supplement my own songs wherever necessary for variety. Don't be fooled, I use these books with all of my steel string fingerstyle players as well! It is usually their technique and understanding that keeps them from playing at a top level.

It is interesting that Aaron began by learning the guitar and teaching the guitar using the traditional finger first approach. However, after years of thinking and developing the thumb first approach is where he landed. I cannot write my own method knowing that this approach has already been thoroughly made available by Aaron Shearer. I also can attest to its effectiveness because of the progress my own child of six has made on the guitar.

If you are just beginning to play or you need an overhaul on your technique, then you need to check out all three of the books published by Mel Bay and written by Aaron Shearer. They cover almost every aspect of playing the guitar that would cause anyone to be challenged by. I don't agree with everything in the book but I'd say agreeing with 98% is pretty good.

The Three Books In The Series.

The first one is all about the technique of playing the guitar. The second is the music that puts the technique into action. The second book always refers to the first where clarification or introduction of new technique appears. The final book is all about phrasing. You will benefit from just reading one and three and, of course, playing two.