fingerstyle guitarists of all persuasions, but classical players
A revolution in right-hand guitar technique is underway, and you
can either be left behind on the ash pile of the past or be at
the forefront of this development and enhance your capability
by at least 20%.
The movement of which I speak is the use of the right-hand little
finger (c), the leading force of which is retired University
of Texas professor Charles "Chuck" Postlewate, who has
spent more than two decades developing c, a process that
to date has resulted in a right-hand technique book, three collections
of repertoire pieces, and a number of articles.
My own interest and involvement in using c dates back to
1981, when I first met Lenny Breau and came to ghost write his
Guitar Player Magazine instructional columns, which ran
from 1981 until his death in 1984. During our first official column
development and information gathering session, Lenny demonstrated
how he used the little finger for chords and a tremolo-like exercise
he had devised. I immediately saw the value of using c,
and began using it in my own playing, albeit initially only for
After learning that Chuck Postlewate used c, in 1984 I
asked him to write an article for Guitar Player detailing
its use in classical playing. Chuck credits our initial conversation
as being instrumental in encouraging him to continue and expand
his work regarding the right-hand little finger.
In 2005, Chuck asked me to contribute to Mel Bay's Contemporary
Anthology Of Solo Guitar Music For Five Fingers for which
he served as both editor and contributing composer. This collection,
released in late 2009, features works by a number of well-known
composers and is ground breaking in that it is the first anthology
of music requiring a complete right-hand technique.
Since composing the six pieces I contributed to Contemporary
Anthology, c has played an increased role in my own
technique and compositions. In March of 2010, I conducted my first
clinic on the use of c (at the South Bay Guitar Society's
6th Annual Guitar Festival), which focused on "Ferguson's
Concentrated Right-Hand Workout" and "Chords And Arpeggios
For Balance And Articulation," comprising a total of 18 powerful
exercises designed to give players a firm foundation upon which
to base further technical development as well as enable them to
utilize c almost immediately.
Along with Chuck and other players who realize the power of the
right-hand little finger, I believe its use to be the single most
important technical development in recent classical guitar history,
one that will in all likelihood permanently change how the instrument
is played and taught.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Why should I use c, when most
music is written for four-finger technique?
Because you are distributing the workload, thereby increasing
your efficiency. Using only four fingers is akin to fielding
a basketball team with only four players. Take that short but
strong and fast player off the bench and put him/her into the
game! Once endowed with this awareness, you will begin to realize
the absurdity of having c hang there unused, even when
you witness the playing of an otherwise fine guitarist. Once
you develop a modicum of facility with c, you will begin
to see ways to use it. In addition, more and more music is being
written for five-finger technique. Historically, it has been
composers who have placed new demands on performers and thus
raised the technical level of a given instrument.
The music of Villa-Lobos has many
five-note chords. Did he play with five-finger technique?
Heitor Villa-Lobos used and composed for five fingers, which,
in my opinion, makes him both a musical and technical visionary.
If you already play pieces by Villa-Lobos, using five-finger
technique will lead you to rethink how his music should be played,
and also question the propriety of certain passages in existing
Doesn't c's shortness and weakness
restrict its use?
For a partial answer, see the first reply. To see for yourself,
curve your fingers in playing position and observe that c
is equal or near-equal in length to the other fingers. If you
use a straight-wrist position, as do most contemporary players,
you will need to modify your hand position very little if at
all to accommodate c. And c is not weak, but in
fact one of the strongest fingers. To verify this, grip your
left index finger with the fingers of your right hand, and squeeze
as hard as practical while relaxing c. Now squeeze again,
but include c. The difference is remarkable. Most important,
c is one of the most independent fingers. One simple
confirmation of this is to place your hand palm down on a flat
surface, and raise each finger one at a time as high as possible.
Should I keep my c nail longer
In most cases, this is not necessary. When I was using c
to play only chords, I kept the nail quite long, but have since
shortened it in proportion to my other nails. An overly long
nail will prevent you from allowing the nail/fingertip junction
to seat properly against the string.
My little finger is a bit crooked.
Is that a problem?
Having taught guitar for over three decades, I have observed
that c is the most irregular of the five fingers. In
many cases, the nail-proximate joint leans a bit toward the
ring finger (a). This is not a problem and may even be
an advantage, because it lessens the span between i and
Because of the distance between i
and c, won't c be closer to the bridge and create
a brighter sound in relation to the other fingers?
This can be overcome through both awareness and slight repositioning
of the hand along the string length.
Can you summarize the advantages of
The most important advantage is that it is much more independent
than a, which makes it a superior choice in many situations--from
arpeggios to right-hand harmonics. In addition to providing
more fingering options, it also reduces the distance the right-hand
is required to move across the strings. Moreover, it eliminates
the need to arpeggiate five-note chords, excessive repetitions
of the right-hand thumb, and fanciful fingerings that avoid
its use (as in the 89th of Guiliani's 120 Right-Hand Studies
and as is often recommended in treating the middle section of
Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 2).
Do you give lessons in its use?
Yes. It is a fundamental part of my teaching. See Lessons
for more information.
Do you use fingerstyle technique on
the CDs to your jazz instruction books?
It varies. I use a pick for some examples and fingers for others.
I officially discarded the pick in about 1994, and have used
it since only for demonstration purposes.