Questions & Answers
Click on any of the questions below to see Mark's response.
The upper and lower case letters, and the primes (') after them, indicate what octave the note is in.
Lower case letters with a prime (the treble string e' in standard tuning, for example) indicate notes that are above middle C in pitch. "Middle C" is the dividing point on the piano between low and high notes. The true Middle C pitch on the guitar is located on the second string, first fret, in standard tuning.
Lower case letters with no prime indicate notes in the octave directly below Middle C. In standard tuning the fourth, third and second strings (d, g, and b) are in this octave.
Upper case letters indicate notes that are one to two octaves below Middle C. In standard tuning the fifth and sixth strings, E and A (the two bass strings), are in this octave.
If the bass string is tuned below the low C (two whole steps below your normal bass-string pitch of E), a prime is added to the note: B', for instance.
Many guitar publications ignore this convention and use all upper case letters: D G D G B D for Open-G tuning, for example. Reading from left to right gives you the bass strings to the treble. Using upper and lower case letters would look like this: D G d g b d' for Open-G tuning.
There are many opinions on this. Many great fingerstyle players are playing OM style guitars with a 1-3/4" neck width. My main 6-string guitars, a Collings SJ and a Martin D-28, both have standard neck widths of 1-11/16".
For many years I performed with three guitars: the D-28, a classical, and a Gibson 12-string. The neck widths were radically different one guitar to the next. Getting accustomed to the classical after many years on the steel-string was a challenge for me. However, after some experimentation, I realized that if I learned a piece on a particular guitar my hands became accustomed to that spacing for that tune. If I switched the tune to a different guitar, the subtleties could be lost--things like neighboring-string muting and the like. So I simply decided early on which guitar I wanted to use for a tune, and stuck with it.
What you need to do is find out what is comfortable for you. Many fingerstyle players fret the sixth string with their thumb up over the top of the neck. If you want to do this, you might need to have a slightly narrower neck if you don't have large hands. If your fingertips are large, you may need a neck with wider spacing to accommodate them.
As long as your hands are relaxed and you have good technique and hand position, you can probably get used to most any reasonable neck width. With experimentation, you likely will find a width that is most comfortable, one that allows you to play the way you want to.
Remember above all, the secret to really good playing is having relaxed hands and a relaxed, tuned-in brain. Lots of practice doesn't hurt either!
Hope this helps.
As a devoted user of your products, I'm looking for some assistance on a curriculum path for continuing my development of fingerstyle playing. I have completed "The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking" and one-half of "The Art of Solo Fingerpicking" (I intend to complete the second half shortly). I would like to continue learning via your blend of instructional lessons backed by compositional examples. Is there a learning path of products that you could recommend, or have I reached my limit? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, J. K.
First let me say that I am pleased that you find our products helpful. That's their purpose!
Secondly, I don't think that any of us has reached his/her limit. As Segovia once said (to paraphrase): mastering the guitar is a life-long pursuit.
There are several titles from our catalog that I can suggest as follow-ups to the two volumes you have worked through. First I would suggest my Fingerstyle Guitar DVD (DVD-404) and Fingerstyle Guitar book/CD (WB-833).
Both titles contain more alternating-bass instruction, but I made sure that this material augments the information in the books you have, rather than duplicates it. The titles contain non-Travis Picking patterns as well, and contain quite a number of original guitar solos that I composed specifically for folks at your level. They are nice tunes. Some are YouTube hits, and some I even use in my solo performances.
For higher-level playing, consider working through my jazz standards fingerstyle solo book/CD, Great American Songbook for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar (DHL-1001). These are my most challenging arrangements, including standards like "Take the 'A' Train," "In the Mood," "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" and "Angel Eyes." This title will keep you busy for months, if not years!
My 2015 book/CD, "Travis Pick the Hits!", contains 12 fun, well-known tunes that I arranged for solo alternating-bass fingerpicking. Titles include "Fields of Gold" from Sting, "House at Pooh Corner" from Kenny Loggins, "She Will Be Loved" by Maroon 5, and "Clocks" from Coldplay. Intermediates can play some of these. Some are more advanced.
Another title that might interest you is "The Music of Mark Hanson" (T-201). This book/CD contains four original pieces of mine that use fingerpicking patterns other than alternating-bass. One of the pieces, "Sweet Rotunda," has played on Martha Stewart Living for years, along with various other TV shows, including Sunday afternoon fishing programs! I've even been told that it played on "Saturday Night Live" when they spoofed Martha Stewart! "Sweet Rotunda" is recorded as a duet (both parts are printed), but the first guitar part stands alone as a solo. The recording features each tune played at half- and full-speed.
We also have a "Free Tablature" page, with dozens of my arrangements in downloadable PDF format. Our Paul Simon book, Christmas books, and Blues and Arranging DVDs all contain substantial material for folks like you.
Thanks, again, J.K., and let us know how you are progressing!
Some folks tell me I should "anchor" my right-hand little finger on the soundboard close to the bridge while fingerpicking. I've usually avoided this because I felt locked into one spot when I might want to move my hand up towards the neck or back towards the bridge to change my tone. Which is technically correct (or should I say "technically")? Or is it a matter of preference where neither is really "correct"?
Many great players rest a finger or two on the top, so I won't argue with it. But many other players avoid resting on the top of the guitar. My right-hand position is more like a classical player's: a free-floating position with nothing touching the top.
Through experimentation, I have found that I have more tension in my hand if my little finger extends out to contact the top. I want my fingers and hand to be as relaxed as possible. Relaxation--along with lots of practice--is the key to good tone, accuracy, volume, and endurance. Keeping my little finger in a natural, slightly curved position, instead of extended out, allows my hand to stay relaxed.
Although I don't rest any fingers on the top of the guitar, I often momentarily rest a fingertip or two (or three or four) of my right hand on the strings themselves. I do this for a variety of reasons, but mostly to stop specific strings from ringing longer than I want them to.
You need to experiment to find what works the best for you. Hope that helps!
I have worked through your Travis Picking book and am currently working on your Solo Fingerstyle book. They have both been really helpful and I feel like I have made a lot of progress. I have just one question - I would like to practice scales and arpeggios, and would like to do this in a way that would be useful for a fingerstyle player. Do you have any suggestions for right hand fingering.
Thanks, Melanie. For scales and arpeggios I would suggest a couple of things for the right hand: 1) Practice alternating the index and middle fingers, as classical guitarists do; 2) practice alternating the thumb and index finger. Largely I play with technique #2. I watched John Renbourn up close and realized that he alternated thumb/index. He could switch from a fancy fingerpicking piece to lead blues guitar in an instant without changing his picking approach. What a great idea. It works well for me. It really is just the Travis Pick (aternating thumb-finger-thumb-finger), but miniaturized so that the thumb and finger often pick the same string consecutively.
Some really fast jazz fingerstyle players prefer to alternate the thumb and middle finger on scales. They feel the tone produced by those two fingers is more homogenous than the thumb and index alternating.