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Yankee Doodle - A Basic Look at Fingerstyle Guitar.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate

Brass guitar slides
Here is a basic look at 'fingerstyle' guitar for those who are just getting into it. I've used a very simple tune, Yankee Doodle Dandy, for a few reasons: we all know it, it's a very simple 'in key' piece and it's Public Domain, so the copyright police won't be banging down my door.

I've mentioned it before and I will again: 'Finger style' (to me, anyway) is more of a piano approach to playing guitar: there's a bass line on the bottom, a melody line on top and sandwiched between, chord tones. 'Finger picking' is a repeating pattern style of playing that is more of an accompaniment than instrumental.

In this lesson, I start out just playing the melody line and bass line. We all know the melody, so there's no mystery there, but how do I know what bass line to play? Well, there are always many possibilities and choosing one or the other is what's known as 'arranging'. Once you know some of the rules of music, you can pick and choose according to taste. This tune can be stripped right back to the three primary chords (I-IV and V) but I chose to thrown a couple more in there, just to make it more interesting a challenging. The simplest of all bass lines is to play the roots of each chord on the first beats of each bar and play the melody above. Without going into too much theory here, I don't always do that in this arrangement. Chords are made up of a root, a third and a fifth ... I use a few 'thirds' as bass notes, but there's no real need to get into all that for this lesson. The main thing for me is for the bass line to sound musical and make sense on its own, which this one does to my ear.

Right hand: the thumb plays the bass line; the index, middle and ring play the melody line, you can see which in the movie.

You'll see in the movie that it looks like I'm holding down some chord shapes in the first pass through, even though you just hear two notes, the bass note and melody note. I am in fact holding down chord shapes... I'm just not plucking more than two notes. This is because those two notes always do come from the underlying chords. I find it easier and safer to grab the whole shape rather than just two notes. Toward the end the bass line moves down chromatically (semitone by semitone) from C to A ... that's the trickiest part.

The 'chorus' part of the tune has a couple of 'hammer-ons' and 'pull-offs' that are always interesting to the ear and good to practice. The two chords, C and F, lend themselves to these hammer-ons, both going from an open string to the 2nd fret (from the 2 to the 3 of each chord if you're into scale degrees). The pull-offs are the opposite, going from the second fret to the open string. You don't have to play these notes as h-o/p-o ... you can simply pluck each note.

In the second pass through the verse section, I flesh the part out with chords wherever possible. Now you can really hear what the tune is all about and how those two 'non-primary' chords (D7 and Am7) work in context. I play all the chords as a sort of fast arpeggio, where I roll my finger tips off each chord like a harpist might, but it's not necessary. Just pluck all strings at once if you prefer.

I suggest you work on the first bit until you feel confident with just the melody/bass lines; only when you've got it down, move on to the chords.

Have fun!


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange