Learn to craft workable arrangements on the fly with these simple patterns.



  • Understand the elements that go into a fingerstyle arrangement.
  • Develop your forward and backward banjo rolls.
  • Create space for vocalists as well as other instrumentalists.
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It's great to have polished songs memorized note-for-note and stored neatly in your gigging repertoire, but there's probably just as much value to being able to fly by the seat of your pants and pull an arrangement out of thin air. Knowing the building blocks of fingerstyle guitar is a great way to accomplish this.

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Investigating the style of one of ragtime’s biggest names will undoubtedly improve your fingerstyle technique.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
Understand how to improve your fingerstyle technique.
• Learn how syncopations work in ragtime music.
• Develop a deeper understanding of Joplin’s masterpiece, “The Entertainer.” Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

One of my first galvanizing experiences as a beginner guitarist was when I found a YouTube video of Tommy Emmanuel, C.G.P, playing his Beatles medley. The mix included “Here Comes the Sun,” “When I’m 64,” “Day Tripper,” and “Lady Madonna,” all of which clearly utilized Scott Joplin-style syncopations. While half the comment section under the video seemed to use this face-melting performance as an excuse to burn their guitars in desperation, it looked like an opportunity to me. Even though I was almost totally ignorant as a guitarist at the time, I’d had a couple of years of piano lessons, and Joplin’s “The Entertainer” was my first ever recital piece. That simplified version of “The Entertainer” didn’t have the handfuls of octaves and parallel 10ths that Joplin wrote in the original score, but all the syncopations were exactly the same, and the central concept was understandable. That basic piano foundation meant that once I had a few chords under my belt as a guitarist, I took to fingerstyle guitar like a duck to water. Maybe I can help replicate that learning process in you.

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Take a behind-the-scenes tour of how one of the most wildly inventive guitarists of his generation combined taste, technique, and an overwhelming sense of melody into a jaw-dropping package.

Chops: Advanced
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn the principles of Lenny Breau’s playing style.
• Understand common movements that Breau used in his arrangements.
• Learn to play and apply advanced “harp” harmonics. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

The late guitar giant Lenny Breau was known for incorporating the intricate sounds of Bill Evans-style piano jazz, flamenco, country, and classical music (both Western and Indian) into a fingerstyle technique that became a sound all his own. Breau astounded other players with his mastery of hyper-efficient techniques to create deep and expansive listening experiences. In so many words, Chet Atkins, his longtime mentor and a surrogate father figure, referred to Breau as a comet just passing through our atmosphere.

After mastering the harp-harmonic technique developed by Atkins, Breau took it to previously unimagined levels. He used sheets of cascading harmonics to create complex harmonies and melodies, and seamlessly wove their shimmering sounds into his arrangements and compositions. In this lesson, we’ll explore some of Breau’s fundamental techniques with the goal of helping any daring souls adopt what they can from his music and—at the very least—help listeners approach his repertoire with a better understanding of how he expressed his thoughts and emotions on the fretboard.

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It’s easier than you might think to create mysterious, ethereal notes that seem to float through the air.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to coax both natural and fretted harmonics out of your instrument.
• Combine fretted notes with harmonics in the style of Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins.
• Improve your picking technique with some challenging sleight-of-hand. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Cascading harmonics, also known as “harp” harmonics, are often used in fingerstyle guitar. With this technique, you play harmonics in seamless combination with normally picked notes in a way that makes a guitar ring like, well, a harp. Chet Atkins, Lenny Breau, and Tommy Emmanuel are among those who have pioneered cascading harmonics, and you can hear examples of this technique in their recordings. You need significant hand strength and control (as well as some basic math skills) to play these shimmering sounds, but with practice and determination, you can learn this technique. Cascading harmonics will increase the depth, emotionality, and compositional range of your playing. In this lesson, I’ll break down how to create both open and fretted harmonics, explain how to play them cleanly, and provide tips on how to get the best tone from them.

These exercises are intended to be played with a thumbpick for clarity, dexterity, and volume. You can use nails, a normal pick, or your fingertip for picking harmonics, but these methods may make it more difficult to play smoothly and get a clear sound. I use either Dunlop Medium thumbpicks or Fred Kelly Bumblebee Jazz Heavy picks for harmonics. The materials and edges of these picks are most comfortable for me, and I like the swivel feature on the Bumblebee pick because it reduces the range of motion necessary for picking fretted harmonics.

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