Fingerpicking For the Mandolin

bob dylan don't think twice fingerpicking fingerstyle fleetwood mac mississippi john hurt right hand technique Mar 30, 2021

You are probably familiar with "fingerstyle" guitar playing or "fingerpicking."  A famous example from pop music is Kansas' "Dust in the Wind."  For the roots music aficionado, just think of Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten or Chet Atkins.

In fingerstyle guitar playing, instead of using a pick, you play the bass strings with your thumb and the higher strings with your index and middle fingers, usually in a repeated pattern. 

The basic fingerstyle pattern also features "alternating bass." That is, your thumb will switch back and forth between two bass strings as it plays all of the downbeats.

As far as I know, there is no tradition of fingerpicking for the mandolin (please correct me if I'm wrong.)

I spent several years learning Mississippi John Hurt's songs on the guitar, and I've modified the technique to work on the mandolin.

In the video demonstration, I use fingerpicking patterns to improvise over the chord progression of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" by Bob Dylan.

This sample includes all of the whistles and bells you can add to a basic fingerstyle groove in the style of Atkins, Cotten or Hurt, just to give you an idea of the possibilities of the technique.

But first let's take a look at that "basic groove" pattern so that you'll have a good foundation on which to add all of the extras.  In the video I'll walk you through four steps to learn the basic fingerpicking pattern.

Once you learn that right-hand pattern, you can apply it to the Fleetwood Mac hit "Landslide".

First, the thumb is responsible for playing beats 1 and 3 on the G string:


You'll also play the D-String on every 2nd and 4th beat, also with your thumb.


With the middle finger, you will add up-beats between each of the four beats on the E-String. 

And, finally, in step four you can take the "ands" from beats 2 and 4 and play them on the A-String with your index finger (instead of on the E-String with your middle finger, as you did in Step 3).


Once your right hand can execute this pattern unconsciously, you are ready to try it out on a chord progression.  Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" is a simple way to start:

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