Fingerpicking, flatpicking and in-between

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I'm a relative newcomer to Dobro. I played lead guitar, and fingerpicked and played acoustic slide for many years.

I play left-handed, and when I was starting out, they didn't make left-handed thumbpicks (that I knew of anyway).

So I learned to fingerpick in a 'hybrid' style: I use a flatpick and pick with my other fingers. For Dobro, bottleneck and some other playing, I use fingerpicks on my middle and ring fingers. Other times, I use the bare meat of my middle ring and pinky.

There are some advantages to this -- it's nice to be able to do flatpicked runs and throw in fingerpicking right alongside.

But there are problems too -- in this thread, Ivan points out that fast forward rolls are likely to be hard when playing with a flatpick.

So, I'm debating finally learning to play with a thumbpick. I tried playing with one over the weekend, and it feels very uncomfortable, as you'd expect.

But I can already feel how much more facility it would give me if I got fluent with it. E.g., it would be nice to finally anchor my pinky. It's also worth noting that a thumbpick would help with my standard guitar playing too: country blues fingerpicking would be more authentic.

I know I will have to decide whether it's worth pursuing, and I guess I'm looking here for opinions pro and con. Thanks in advance, and sorry for writing so much.

On a related topic, does Tut Taylor have any teaching materials on his flatpicked Dobro style? Does anyone else teach it?




Hi, John,

I agree with Slider. It pays to get used to the thumb pick for dobro. I have played flat top for a long time, both flat picking and fingerstyle. Each has a definite place. However, with all deference to the great Tut Taylor, I would suggest that fingerstyle with a thumb pick is the most versitile method for dobro. I can't imagine being with out that flexibility that the attached thumb pick provides.

Give it a try. I'll bet a dollar that you'll be used to it in a week or so. :D

ST in VT

JohnPappaJohn: I am so very sorry that you are wired so discombobulated...However, do not to give up hope... KELLY JOE PHELPS playes fingerstyle without any picks and is mighty well damn impressive... Of course, you would have to addapt to a left hand technique...check him out...a new opportunity re your reso technique/ability may be right in front of your eyes/ears...

Yes, but you have to remember that KJP plays a regular flat-top guitar with a raised action, and that he's amplified too, so that allows him the freedom to play without putting a lot of effort into his picking.

Having started playing dobro without picks of any kind (I came to it having already played fingerstyle folk & rock for years, so it seemed easier at the time) I can say that I'm very glad that after about 3 years I moved to using picks in the conventional way. There's far better control over the dynamics of the instrument, and it's also a plain fact that some dobros just respond better to being picked hard with finger & thumb picks.

Actually, the thumbpick was the one I started using first, because I found that sometimes I just needed to dig in with the thumb and I couldn't do it the same with a bare nail. The fingerpicks followed on because it sounded unbalanced without them.


Pete Woodman Guitars

I am blind and when I first started playing, I could not feel the strings through the picks. I also have very small hands, and the picks did not fit very well. You would probably all laugh if you knew the things I used and did to make them darn picks fit. How I placed them on my fingers in order to feel the strings is another story. Those days are over now. I wear the same picks everyone else wears, and I wear them the same way everyone else wears them. It just took some time to get used to them.

P.S. The thumb pick was the hardest to get used to.

Thanks to all for your advice and encouragement. I have started practicing with a thumbpick, and am really looking forward to the results.

I agree with Jlintx that it will take some getting used to. Having flatpicked for so long, one thing I think is important is to find a pick that closely matches the profile your flatpick had. And having done that, make sure and get it to fit perfectly (I used the old 'dipping in hot water' method to reshape it).

I went through a similar thing when I decided to start using fingerpicks. It took a while, but I'm really glad I did it. One thing that may have been easier about that: when you learn to play with fingerpicks, you don't 'unlearn' bare-meat playing, so it's like an added ability. I hope the same thing is true about thumbpicking, i.e., that I will still be able to play with a flatpick and different fingers. But it's going to be interesting.

The hardest part so far is getting the index finger to pick on its own -- (it's like a recently divorced spouse who now has to work outside the home for the first time!)

Thanks again, and stoney, I look forward to owing you that dollar!

Update after a couple of weeks:

I am really glad I came here and asked you guys for advice. It will be a while before I'm completely up to speed, but I didn't think it would be nearly this comfortable at this point.

The main thing in the short term was getting used to the thumbpick. What will probably be the bigger task in the long run will be getting the index finger to work in tandem with the thumb -- the poor old thing just doesn't have the timing yet.

One thing I'm doing now is practicing half of the alotted practice time with only the thumbpick and index fingerpick, playing Brother Oswald stuff -- that way, I force the index finger to work (there's a vision affliction called 'lazy eye' -- I guess you could say I have a lazy index finger (or lazy "I"). Then I put on the middle finger pick and practice rolls, which I can already do faster than I could with a flatpick.

stoney, looks like I owe you a dollar!

Ok, JPj! I'll collect it next time I see you. How about GreyFox?

Congratulations on the new skills. And, you are right about not losing a style when you learn a new one. I can still pick up a flatpick and hammer out a few fiddlel tunes on the flattop, and I played fingerstyle guitar almost exclusively for many, many years.

Pick it like ya' mean it!


Congratulations on taking the time to learn something new! We are all proud of you and hope you will be a super picker with the new skills.



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