Watch the Right Hand Techniques online guitar lesson by Robben Ford from Rhythm Revolution
I'm going to talk a little bit about the way I use my fingers and the way I use my pick. I find that I do a lot of things with my hands. My approach to the instrument is constantly changing. The pick is going away, it's coming back, I'm playing with the tip of it, I'm playing with the round end of it. I'm playing single notes, I'm playing chords. It's not something that I did by thinking about it. I just found myself constantly exploring the possibilites of the instrument. A lot of double stops in my playing. A lot of thirds and sixths in my playing. So it's not just chords. I do want you to learn a lot of chords. Once you learn those chords there are a lot of different things you can do with them. That's kind of like a harmonic device, talking about thirds and sixths. Kind of left hand technique, but that's more of a harmonic thing. As far as my actual technique goes, almost the first thing that I do is to start playing with my fingers. I went through a lot of changes with how I held the pick and how much I used my fingers. There was a period when I used to play with my fingers fanned open. It was a long time ago. I don't play the same way anymore and to do that right now feels very uncomfortable. I play pretty much with my fingers tucked in. They go out and come back in. I like to have more possibilities available to me than if I had a strict technique of back and forth picking. If I really worked out my fingerings to play, I'm going to play it the same way every time. That's what happens when you really practice things very deliberately, you're developing a very specific technique and you can get really good at it and some people have. I have a little bit of all kinds of things going on. It just seems to suit me. I like the ability to be playing with my fingers and then switching to the pick, and then doing pull-offs and maybe I've never even done that before. But I've given myself the room to do that. Anything could happen and I like that openness. It's actually harder for me to play the same thing twice than it is to play it the first time. The first time just happens, then if I have to duplicate myself then I am thinking about it. I just taught myself to play a different way, by keeping a big open field. I think that anyone can do this. Don't take it too seriously. What I mean by that is you don't have to be a master of picking back and forth, or a master of playing with your fingers, just do it. You'll figure something out. Play with back and forth picking technique, maybe you'll develop some speed, you might really take off with that and find yourself. You might never pick up a pick again. So allow yourself a lot of room on the technique thing. You don't have to have somebody show you how to do it. You can do it. Have a little faith. I've described my playing technique. We are talking about physical techniques here. My playing technique fits into the same concept - I've spoken about this particular image before, about fingerpainting. My left hand is just fingerpainting the guitar, that's how I look at it. I'm pushing notes along the neck of the guitar. I know where all the notes are that I want to play and I just fool around with them. A very open approach, you don't have to get all locked into any one thing. That having been said, you can, many people have, and produced incredible results. This is just the way that I have learned, the sensibility that I have developed over the years of how I approach the instrument, of how I approach music. It's kind of an open approach as to what might happen. It suits me and it also keeps my music pretty simple because you can't do that playing giant steps. You have to be more zeroed in. I moved away from playing a lot of chords so that I could have more room, more freedom. Actually Miles Davis, that's very much who he was as a musician. He was able to play it all at one time pretty damn well, but he really found himself playing modal music and playing melodically, playing slow, playing ballads, and going for tone and nuance. For me technique is the same way. I'm looking for nuance and tones. If I was locked into any one technique I wouldn't be as good at what I play. I'm playing the pentatonic scale but you hear it in a different way, it's not just the pentatonic scale. I can approach these things several different ways and the reason I like that is because each way sounds different, each way has its own little thing on it. I'm working with colors. By messing with my technique, I'm working with colors and nuance and emotional things. Many years ago when I first starting getting some recognition living in Los Angeles, I'd been playing with Jimmy Witherspoon and living there for a couple of years and people were hearing me with him. I eventually got the gig with Joni Mitchell and the L.A.Express going on tour. Larry Carlton had been the guitar player on the records. When I hooked up with them to start learning the music, Larry came along and I met him for the first time. I was not aware of who he was. I didn't know anything about anyone other then B.B. King and Wes Mongomery. L.A. was a new thing for me. So he and I connected and got together at his house to jam a little bit. I didn't have a clue as to what it was to be a rhythm guitar player. At that time in my life, up until joining that group, I basically took solos and then laid out with my bands. I kind of viewed myself as a tenor saxophone player on the electric guitar. My rhythm playing was almost zero. I get together with Larry and we start to play something and I'm really not knowing how to accompany him. He says "Where is it, man?". I told him "I'm not sure". And he told me to just keep going. So I just kept my right hand moving. People always ask how to keeps the strings from ringing and the only answer is that you just do it. You don't let them ring. You just find a way to do it. Once again. we're talking about rhythm guitar playing, it's included in the chords that your are hearing. A piano doesn't have that. I'll play with my fingers or I'll play with my thumb. I was playing basically the same as I would have before, whatever the chords were to whatever the piece of music that we were doing, or whatever the jam was. I was attuned to more of a jazz approach of playing the guitar and chordally what I was hearing piano players do. Thirteenth chords and flat nine chords in a more deliberate way - jazz guitar plays like that. This rhythm thing was a revelation for me and I've spent all the years since reveling in rhythm playing. I love playing rhythm guitar. It's one of those leaps that you have to take, just dive into it. Even with shuffles, like a B flat shuffle, keeps going and going. It never stops. It opened the whole thing up to me. This static, almost pianistic approach to comping behind an instrumentalist comping. Rhythm guitar is certainly comping but that was just a different way. It was about chord voicings, you don't play and then you do play. This is a combination of all of those things.