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I understand that fingerstyle guitar is something that is very opinion based (some artists love to accentuate the bass line of the song, while others prefer to highlight the melody)

How does one go about doing it?

  • Are you asking about how to convert existing conventionally-notated music to TAB, about how to transcribe music from a recording as TAB, or how to create TABs for your own finger-style guitar music? If you're asking about how to compose your own finger-style guitar patterns and pieces, this has nothing specifically to do with TAB. TAB is just one way of notating the music. – Bob Broadley Sep 10 '14 at 7:44
  • I've edited the question – Nick Sep 10 '14 at 8:30
  • Good edit! That is a lot clearer. – Bob Broadley Sep 10 '14 at 8:43
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@Slim's answer is great. A couple of things to add.

After you learn some rolls (picking patterns), you'll be able to arpeggiate chords and play chord melody solos.

Now learn to play the melody fingerstyle, concentrating on your picking hand.

First learn to play the melody and/or bassline with just your thumb and index finger. Rev. Gary Davis was an expert at this. Then add the remaining fingers on your picking hand to play chords while you play the melody with your thumb and forefinger. Now you're playing the guitar like a piano--it sounds much less "guitaristic".

Finish off by learning to play the single-note melody line with all of your picking fingers.

By mixing all of these techniques, you will have a rich palette to paint your musical pictures with.

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This is very broad, but I think I can break down some introductory steps:

  • Step 1: Play chords with the fretting hand, as if strumming. Learn some rolls - that is, right-hand picking sequences. There are plenty of rolls in books and on the internet.
  • Step 2: Learn to adapt the rolls depending on the chord, so that root notes are played when you want them, etc.
  • Step 3: Elaborate the rolls by making more left-hand movements, for example pull-off or hammer-on to add a seventh.
  • Step 4: Extend how melodic you can be, by making chord shapes only on a few strings, picking only those, and moving up and down the fretboard.
  • Step 5: Learn the fretboard, scales and chords well enough that you can play what you hear in your head!

Trying out tabs of other people's songs -- or trying to copy them without the aid of a tab -- or trying to transcribe a tab yourself -- will teach you a lot of this. When following a tab, don't just play the notes without thinking how they relate to chord shapes and scales.

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