From Dale Turner's Power Plucking

This lesson covers different ways your plucking-hand fingers can add percussive effects— sounds that elevate a passage’s rhythmic intensity—to your acoustic playing. In some ways, you want to think like a drummer: Hits from a snare could be “popping” sounds plucked on middle strings, kick-drum thumps could be reproduced via aggressively thumbed bass notes, and the textural wash or syncopation from cymbals and hi-hats might be mimicked with repeated droning of the upper strings. For example, a basic drum-set groove, as it translates to guitar, could be the combinations of thumbed bass notes (the kick/bass drum), E notes on beats 2 and 4 (à la the snare), and steady eighth or sixteenth notes plucked on high strings (the hi-hat), like Figs. 1A–B. (Note: In Fig. 1B, use an alternating open-hand strum with your i, m, and a fingers for the sixteenth notes, and an upstroke from the thumb in the indicated spots. Tricky!)

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Fig. 1A

Fig. 1B

The preceding figures are merely highlighting rhythms that are played in a basic rock drumbeat, primarily to get you thinking like a drummer—a fun approach to try while composing your own fingerstyle figures! It’s no coincidence that some of rock’s greatest riff writers, from Edward Van Halen to Dave Grohl, played drums before they ever learned guitar. While we won’t devote this entire lesson to mimicking drum-kit sounds, you’ll find this section contains all sorts of interesting ways to coax “percussion” out of six strings, many of which accentuate the backbeat— rhythmic and repetitive moves you can use to get a groove going. (Note: For many of these figures, consider using the “heel down” or “heel planting” position; you may find it yields more stability—and hence, accuracy—as well as overall comfort.)

Accentuating the Backbeat
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Some rockers inject percussive effects into their fingerstyle chording with aggressive replanting (indicated with X’s in notation and tab staves) of the thumb (p), index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers, copping rock’s ubiquitous backbeat (snare hits on beats 2 and 4). For this “replant” sound, you’re basically putting your plucking fingers back in alignment to pluck again (i.e., the preparation posture this book has discussed in numerous spots); you’re slamming them onto the strings just hard enough to create a percussive “smack.” Fig. 2, modeled after Nuno Bettencourt’s plucking in Extreme’s “More Than Words,” presents one application of this “backbeat/replant” sound.

Backbeat Bonanza with Voicing Variations
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In Fig. 3A, the “backbeat” effect is applied to fully fretted shapes, the percussiveness stemming from louder open-hand strums on beats 2 and 4. Note that each open-hand strum is followed by a combination of audible replants (again, notated with X’s) and traditional plucking (i–m–a) of three-note chords. (For the quick exchange between these elements, try a “bouncing” movement with your plucking hand.) Also, notice how the thumbed bass notes on strings 5–6 mimic a kick drum. You can hear this sound in the work of pluckers like Ani DiFranco (achieved with open tunings) and several others cited within this chapter.

Fig. 3B is the exact plucking combination of the previous figure, only plugged into more interesting open voicings, not unlike those Dave Matthews uses in “Crash Into Me.” Basically, these voicings (Cma7–G6–Asus2–E5/F) are the result of sustaining an E5 shape (E–B) over a C–G–A–F bass line.

Fig. 3C maintains this same percussive plucking pattern, only this time with voicings Jeff Buckley uses in songs like “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”—three-note 6th- or 7th-chord shapes, played in conjunction with open strings. For instance, the actual fretted notes of this figure’s Cma13 and Fma13#11 voicings are really just trimmed down C6 (C–E–G–A) and F6 (F–A–C–D) shapes, blended with the open E and B strings. Similarly, the G13 and Am9 chords are shell voicings (the root, 3rd, and 7th) of G7 and Am7, with higher open strings. These types of moves definitely evoke the vibe of an open tuning.