If you decide to play guitar with not only a thumbpick, but fingerpicks as well, you’ll need to rethink your entire approach. But why is it worth the hassle? We’ll look into this now. Historically, it has been usually musicians of horizontally played string instruments who used some kind of fingerpicks, even though that was not always the case. One thing’s for sure: even if you are coming from fingerstyle playing with bare fingers or fingernails, the sensations and cues with fingerpicks will immediately be different and definitely strange for the first time, and it’ll remain so for a while. Your picking technique will suddenly become more or less equal to that of pedal steel, lap steel and dobro players. At least when you get into the groove of it, so to say. And getting into the groove of playing with fingerpicks may take a while, even if you’re persistent. So why would you go with this little devices on your fingers? There are three main reasons to do so.
If your main guitar is acoustic, fingerpicks will enable you to have the same volume and attack regular pick players have. It comes really handy when you play a steel string guitar, but if you’re not a tradtionalist, it works just as great with nylong string guitars as well. Suddenly your muddy bass notes will have definition, and your melodies and solos will stand out like they do when played with a flatpick. It’s really the best of both worlds, and you can even attempt to play bluegrass solos this way, without getting drowned out by the banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still get drowned out just like any decent flatpicker does, but you at least have a chance with fingerpicks. Fun, hey? If you play electric guitar, you can of course turn up the volume on the amp (or manipulate the volume control on your guitar, have a volume pedal, use boosters and so on). Still, with the same picking strength, you will get a louder, cleaner note, more harmonics and a more defined attack if you play with fingerpicks.
While playing with bare fingers has its advantages when it comes to tactile control, there are certain aspects of fingerpick playing that clearly have the edge over regular fingerstyle. One of such things is when you try to play tremolo on inner strings. It’s a fact that the fingerpicks create a pointier, narrower picking edge compared to your rounded fingertips, whether it’s just the flesh of your fingers or the combination of them and your natural or artificial fingernails. It’s true that muting with fingerpicks does require a learning phase with a rather steep learning curve, but once you’re past that point, the gained accuracy and the control over your own motor dexterity is clearly apparent.
If you thought you were fast enough with the flesh of your fingers, you’ll feel that you reached light speed once you get the hang of fingerpicks. While even plastic fingerpicks give you an obvious speed boost, the smooth yet slippery quick sensation of metal picks will double even on that. It’s like you slipped into a supercar from your old pickup truck. You can say you have enough speed and you don’t need anymore than that. But the picks can enable you to play even arpeggios, so called forward and backward rolls faster and more consistently. There’s a reason why Scruggs-style banjo players got into the habit of using fingerpicks; it’s now a well known tradition. Suddenly both the banjo style rolls and the pedal steel style speed licks will be available to you on guitar. Not only that, but if you give it a serious attempt and enough patience, you can even learn guitar playing tricks like sweep picking. All you need is persistence and paying close attention to how your fingers respond, and make corrections accordingly.