Learning to play guitar can be a very challenging experience. You're told to bend your hand into all manners of uncomfortable and difficult positions, and then left to deal with it if you have difficulty. Many people's little fingers, for example, will not be strong enough to push down the frets at first. This can lead you to want an easier technique, and there are actually a few things you can do with just one finger and your strumming hand.
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Things you need
- Acoustic guitar
Tune your guitar down to "Drop D" tuning. The six strings on guitars are tuned (from the thickest to the thinnest string) to the notes E, A, D, G, B and, at a higher pitch, E. Tuning the thickest string, the E string, down to D gives you a lot more options with a single finger, because power chords (used heavily in rock music) can now be played with a single finger. To do this, ensure your guitar is correctly tuned, and then lower the pitch of the E string by turning the tuning head in the relevant direction to slacken the string. It will require a 45 degree turn to change the note to D. You can test that this is done by fretting the seventh fret on the E string and seeing if the note is the same as the A string beneath it.
Hold the thickest three strings down with your finger. This can be done on any fret (as long you keep your finger vertical so it covers the same fret on each of the strings), and is called a power chord (this requires multiple fingers in standard tuning). You can now play versions of songs like "Smoke on the Water" with one finger. Play the fifth fret power chord, then an eighth fret, and then a tenth. Continue by playing the fifth, eighth, eleventh and tenth (the last two in a quicker succession). Finally, play the fifth, eighth, tenth, eighth and the fifth again. That is the legendary riff from "Smoke on the Water" with one finger. If you don't have a hand to strum with, hammer your finger onto the relevant frets and the note should sound out (hold the fret down to sustain the note).
Simplify songs. If you want to play a song with complex acoustic picking with one finger, you will not be able to achieve the same precision, but you can play the song in some way. The overall sound of a song is dictated by the chords used, not the flourishes thrown in by experts. Using one-finger power chords, you can simulate many songs by finding out which chords are used and playing the relevant power chords. For example, a C chord can be simulated with one finger by fretting the tenth fret on the thickest three strings.
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