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Keeping time with finger-picking

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Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  


I've only been playing the guitar for a few months, and since I'm completely terrible at strumming, all my attention has gone into finger-picking, which I think I'm doing quite decent with. However the problem I'm having is how to keep time or 'count' with finger-picking songs. Does anyone have any suggestions. I'm not even aware of the entire quarter notes, eigth notes and so on, so any explanation on those would be very much appreciated.

Most songs I know, or at least try to learn are all from Nick Drake, I don't really care for any other artists sound, so I've pretty much stuck with him, but I do find it extremely hard to keep time with the majority of his songs. Some songs I'm wondering about, for example, are 'Hazey Jane I', 'Road', 'Man in a Shed' and the like.

So if anyone can help, thank you! Also, how would hammer-ons be counted? I'm not sure of that either.

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 103

metronome and practice.

simple but effective

Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  

Yes, well, as much as I appreciate your help, I was hoping for someone to elaborate a little more exactly on what to practice.

How does one actually keep time? What should my count be for finger-picking songs, any different from strumming? Should I attempt to be splitting songs up into eight and sixteenth notes? If so, how? Or do you have links to any articles that may help. I'm aware of metronomes, I'm just unaware of how to use them for finger-picking, if it is even any different than usual.

So while I do appreciate your reply, that wasn't quite what I was looking for, but thank you all the same.

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 973

Assuming that you're keeping to a repeating fingerstyle pattern then it's a case of making your main notes coincide with the beats and the other notes come between the beats.

Here's a common Travis style pattern on G major in 4 beats per measure


The bold notes are bass notes played by your thumb ON the beat.
The other notes are between the beats played by the appropriate fingers and counted as "and". So the whole rhythm is played as

1 - 2 and 3 and 4 - etc

And here's a common three beat pattern on A minor


Again the notes on the beat are bold. This time only the first note is played by your thumb and the whole measure is counted as 1 and 2 and 3 and...etc

If you use a metronome the bold notes will coincide with the click and the other notes come between the clicks.

Reputable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 452

I don't know if you've had any experience with theory, but if not, you might want to check out the Guitar and Music Theory forum in the Index . The page by Nick has a link for "Noteboat's" theory book. It explains beats, count etc. It's a nice, easy to understand book.

Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3
Topic starter  

I'll check that out.

Thank you very much for the help guys, I think I'm starting to get a grip on it, I was reading up on a few more things and of course what Fretsource posted.

Noble Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 1468

you're stuck on that little thing called rhythm. when you're reading tab you can't know the rhythmn because it doesn't show it. you can try to pick it up from listening to a CD or you can try to get the actual sheet music, look at the notes as written and figure it out from there. you may need some help in the form of a teacher.

there used to be discussions on these boards all the time about the reasons to learn to read music and this is a good example of why. you don't need to know all that much about reading music in your case, but you should learn a little.

Honorable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 557

hi jarhiure

there's one ting you can take for granted: rhythm is rhythm wether you strum or you finger-pick! Finger-picking is just a fine, different way to play the song: since I can play only some basic finger-picking patterns, sometimes I play a finger-picked song in a strummy way, then when I feel confident I try to play it with arpeggios etc.

The best thing you can do is to learn a few finger-picking patterns for teh most common time-signatures and then start to apply them to the songs you know. When you will be confident enough you could try to nail every single detail of the song.

To explain it better: if you check David Hodge "House of the rising sun" lesson, he teaches us a few pattern which could be played with each song in 6/8 signature, so I used his patterns to play i.e. Iron Maiden's "Journeyman" and "Starnge world", Metallica's "Nothing else matters", Elp "Lucky Man", Rem "everybody hurts" and Robert johnson "Love in vain" whihc are all 6/8 signature songs

the same goes for other 4/4 patterns like the ones fretsource suggested which by the way works well for country songs...and so on

An excellent 4/4 pattern, all eight notes, that I use a lot is:


or its twin


at the beginning you can simplify with


It works well with i.e. Redemption song, no woman, no cry, Imagine, U2's One etc.



Reputable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 343

Hmm... Well, someone mention 4/4, that is a time signature but that I won't go into that. Find the beat to the song, easy way how, it is the place where you tap your foot. Now that we have a beat, get the rhythm of what the guitar is playing. Clap the rhythm or sing it but not the notes just monotonous 'ba ba's' to the guitar rhythm. Do this while still tapping your foot. Sure requires some coordination. Now slow the beat way down so the clapping (or singing) still correspond to the beat the same way but the whole thing is slower. Get a good feel for the rhythm. Now, start playing the song but keeping at this very slow pace and keep tapping your foot on the beat and if need be in the beginning still keep singing the ba ba's. Keep it going at this slow pace until you are fully comfortable with it. Then slowly step up the speed. If you mess up as you speed it up, slow it back down. Hope that helps, slowing things down is the best way to correct problems and the easiest way to learn new songs or challenging rhythms.

Edit: If you have the tab for a song, mark with a pencil which notes the down beat occurs on. This will help with learning songs.

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.