Watch the Triplet With Thumb online guitar lesson by Tony McManus from The Celtic Journeyman

The reason I separated out the triplet on the top two strings is because the top two strings are different- they’re plain. The technique I showed for strings one and two doesn’t work because when you get to the wound strings “the mice come out to play”. You get all the rasping sound from the winding of the string just because of the angle of the fingers. So I came up with a solution and I don’t remember when or the first tune it involved but I can safely say I didn’t get this from anyone because I don’t know many people who do this. I use my thumb in both directions! This is an interesting concept for most guitar players. In flamenco it’s not that uncommon to use the thumb on the way up but in acoustic guitar it’s just weird.

Many people use a thumbpick and they are designed to work only on the way down. They just don’t function on the way up. I’ve never used a thumbpick, never found them comfortable or useful but that’s just a personal thing. A lot of my favourite players use them all the time- Martin Simpson, Soïg Sibéril, Pierre Bensusan, Brent Mason....lots of players. It just doesn’t work for me and it’s not a judgement thing it’s just a purely personal thing. I use my thumbnail you’ll notice. I have this nuclear thumbnail and I also flatpick. I mentioned that I played mandolin where you attack the strings with a plectrum so i was used to using a pick in both directions. That’s just what the pick does. So it occurred to me that the thumbnail is kind of like a flatpick growing out of your thumb so why not use that in both directions? We have evolved this incredibly dextrous digit here.

That’s not particularly innovative- it’s bog basic flamenco. What I do that is unusual is that kind of thing. I developed fluency in using my thumb in both directions and then thought- well, if you use a pick rapidly in both directions you get a tremolo so you can do the same with your thumb. Then if you narrow the focus on that you get a triplet!

Basically I use my thumbnail just like a flatpicking player would use a pick. So that allows me to play triplets on all the strings; ring, middle, index on the top two strings and on the wound strings, the thumb.