“Fingerpicking” with a pick 101: Green Day unplugged.
This song had a profound effect on me as a young guitarist. I consider this to be one of those great “picking” songs. It has a fingerpicking sound to it, but it is executed with a pick only. So it offers an interesting alternative to strumming, but can offer the same amount of rhythmic drive and dynamics. And of course, going from picking arpeggios to strumming is an easy transition since you don’t have to put the pick down or pick it up. Granted, using a pick for arpeggios has its limitations. You cannot pick two strings at the same time that aren’t adjacent to each other without having to mute the string in between. However, some very interesting, unique, and even complex arpeggios and melodies are possible with just a a pick.
On the sheet music I labeled the (single-note) picking similarly to how I notate strumming by using down arrows for down strums (down towards the ground), and up arrows for up strums. You will also see arrows with parentheses around them signifying to bring the pick up (or down) without hitting the strings. Once again, subdividing is vital here, particularly when you get it up to speed. For more on the concept of subdividing, click here.
If this kind of picking is new to you, I suggest that you do two things in preparation to learning this song.
- Start by just strumming the chord progression using the rhythm below. This rhythm is identical to the one used for the arpeggio in this song. By strumming the chords, this will allow you to get used to the feel of the rhythm without having to try and pick out one string at a time. If you can’t strum this chord progression and rhythm with the proper subdivision, than trying to pick out a single note arpeggio will be impossible.
- Try picking out the arpeggio at first using only down strums at a slow tempo (this will not work when the song is up to speed). Once you have memorized the notes utilized in each chord, go ahead and try playing it as written with a constant down/up motion, or what I call “subdividing.” If you still struggle with this, repeat step 1 (above) and strum the full chords till the rhythm feels natural. Also, I recommend at first just playing the arpeggio of one chord at a time and looping it over and over again until you build some muscle memory*. Then move on to the next chord and repeat. Finally, try and put all the chords together to play the song.
*Muscle memory is only a good thing if you practice repeatedly without making mistakes. Muscle memory will not discern between mistakes and perfection. It will merely build on whichever one you practice more. So practice slowly so that you can practice perfection and not the alternative.
Regarding the chord voicings that Billie uses here, take note of the G5 chord. In the context of this song, the “G5” functions as a G Major chord. However, the B-natural, or the 3rd of the chord is left out. Therefore all that remains of the chord is the root (or 1) and the 5th. The scale tones in this particular voicing are from lowest to highest: 1,5,1,5,1 (or the notes G,D,G,D,G). Because the only chord tones being utilized are the 1 and 5, this chord is often called a G5 [aka G5(no3)].
Playing the G5 isn’t much different than playing a normal G Major chord. You will just remove your first finger from the A-string and allow your 2nd finger to lean over just enough to lightly touch the A-string and mute it while also fretting the E-string at the 3rd fret. This is much easier than it sounds. Actually, it’s probably harder to avoid muting the A-string with your 2nd finger than it is to mute it. Also, I should mention that I often see students using their first finger to play the low E-string. The fingering listed above works much better.
For the Csus2 (C suspended 2), do the same thing more or less. The only thing that makes the Csus2 slightly harder than the G5 is now you also need to mute the low E-string. While this may seem unnecessary if you are very accurate with a pick, it is an important precaution that I believe is vital to getting a clean sound. Of course, playing that low E-string won’t sound too bad, since it fits right in with a C Major chord. However, it will make the chord sound somewhat muddy and will obscure the true bass note of the chord.
Here are some other great picking songs (to name a few):
- “Here Comes the Sun,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Ticket To Ride” – The Beatles
- “More Than a Feeling,” “Hitch A Ride” – Boston
- “Til I Hear It From You” – Gin Blossoms
- “Over The Hills And Far Away” – Led Zeppelin
- “Drive,” “Radio Free Europe” – R.E.M.