Voices distinction

One of the things that from the get go drew me towards fingerstyle was the way in which voices seem to be split and individualised. It’s achieved in couple of ways. For example base line can be palm muted to create an illusion of another instrument. On higher levels it’s also possible to gain such independence between two parts of a song that the player can insert changes into rhythm or melody of a song to deepen an illusion of another musician lurking in the shadows.

But all the technical tricks are of little help if they aren’t the result of our imagination and mental image of the song. There is little chance that the musician creates multidimensional panorama of voices in his arrangement if he doesn’t first hear it in his head. That’s where it should all start. To play like two (or more) musicians you should first hear those separate instruments in your head. Of course it’s not some sort of a switch that you can just flip. It’s rather a skill that should be continuously developed. Here are couple of tips on how to approach it.

  1. While listening to songs played by a whole band try to distinguish individual voices. A good place to start is early Beatles stuff for example (back when they didn’t use additional instruments as much). Bare in mind that given voice can be played by more than one instrument and instruments can switch between different voices. Try to listen to some songs you know well and concentrate only on one voice at a time (first listen – base, second – guitar riffs etc.).
  2. Listen to some polyphonic music. Polyphonic music and counterpoint has been mastered in Baroque period and Bach is an obvious place to go. Try Das Wohltemperierte Klavier or Goldberg Variations to see how one man can simultaneously play up to 4 voices on one piano. Once you start to distinguish some of those voices, you are on a good track.
  3. Listen to your favourite fingerstyle stuff and follow the same routine.  First try to distinguish melody and accompaniment. Then search for different voices in accompaniment (though maybe there is just one).
  4. Take some song that you can play well and that has clear cut voices (some boom-chick or moving base song for example). Listen to the original and repeat previous point. You can try to sing the separate voices. Also try to imagine that the song is played by two or more instruments.
  5. Then try to play it concentrating on just one of the voices. At this point try to bring each voice (one at a time) forward as much as possible. Continue working with your imagination. Really put some effort into imagining two or more instruments. While concentrating on a melody try to imagine that the base is played by another musician. Repeat for base.

Try to implement the initial points into your normal music listening. Try to de-construct the wall of sound into voices. It will influence your playing.

After you do all this there is a question of how to approach the performance of a song containing multiple voices. But it’s a topic for another article.

Tommy’s roll

One of the licks that Tommy uses very often and in variety of situations is a roll that consists of four groups – three 8ht notes each, followed by one or two notes completing the second bar of the lick. Here is an example from a song The Bug:

bug rollIt occurs in the middle of a bridge. Have a listen:


Each group is executed by thumb, 1st and 2nd finger. The notes are usually played so quickly that they blend into one another. At the end there are two (sometimes one) longer notes completing the bar. In some variations the lick starts over at this point (possibly with the change of left hand shape.

There are couple of things that I’d like to point out in this lick. If this pattern is totally new for you start slow on any three strings (for example first group of above lick) and loop it. Search for position of your hand where all three digits are comfortable. Once you can play it slowly you’ll have to change your thinking a little bit. Instead of thinking of every particular note, think about all three notes as one impulse. This shift in thinking is required if you want to play it at full speed. At some point you just have to forget about individual notes, you have to think about whole groups. That way for example, even if during performing one finger slips you still can finish current group and continue with the next. Last thing about the left hand. If it’s possible try to get whole the shape in one go. Try to avoid switching fingers between two positions one by one.

Now think: what other uses can it have? If you’re familiar with Tommy Emmanuel’s compositions, you have surely heard some of this lick versions a few times. Let me give you couple of examples:


roll fingerlakesStunning harmonic intro of Fingerlakes is based on our lick.


roll son of a gunHalf of the lick of Son of a gun. Try to guess the other half ;). In this case we don’t have two bar loops. Instead the lick repeats itself with some alterations (one or two ending notes) each bar.

These aren’t all the instances that Tommy uses this lick. You can hunt for other cases and share them here. I could give you at least two other examples off the top of my head¬†(one played with a flat pick) so there must be more than that. And that’s what’s amazing about those things. Such a basic vehicle can give you so many different effects depending on harmony, tempo and licks surroundings. Who knows, maybe you’ll use the idea in one of your compositions?

Silent night in 2 arrangements

Closer and closer, Christmas is coming. I guess it’s a good time to refresh my two takes on Silent night as it’s not to late to learn one of them.

First one is an absolute basic. It could easily be your first fingerstyle song. It consists of melody line and some bass notes. No chords, very straightforward. Alternatively it can be a last resort carol if you wake up on Christmas Eve with nothing to play ;).


Second arrangement is in the same key (Amaj) but it utilises full chords (basic though). If you have barre in your arsenal it should be pretty straightforward.

I wish you all Merry Christmas with your family, friends and guitar.