Exploring the Fingerstyle Guitar Techniques of Tommy Emmanuel in Country Music

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Picture yourself sitting in a cozy cabin porch, listening to the sweet melodies of a country song being played on a guitar. The sound is not from an ordinary guitar play but from the mastery of fingerstyle guitar technique of Tommy Emmanuel, one of the most prominent guitarists in country music. His ability to effortlessly blend percussive, harmonic, and chord melody techniques has won him numerous awards and recognition over the years. In this article, we’ll dive deep into Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle guitar techniques and explore how he has created his signature sound. Whether you’re an aspiring musician or just a music enthusiast, you’ll find valuable insights and tips to help you understand and master the fingerstyle guitar techniques used by Tommy Emmanuel in country music. So grab your guitar, get comfortable, and let’s embark on this musical journey together.

The Basics of Fingerstyle Guitar: The Right Hand

The Basics Of Fingerstyle Guitar: The Right Hand
Learning fingerstyle guitar can be intimidating for beginners, but it’s an essential skill for anyone who wants to play country music. The right hand is a critical component of fingerstyle guitar, and understanding the fundamental techniques is the starting point. Many country guitarists have developed their signature fingerstyle methods over the years, including Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Chet Atkins, and Keb Mo. In this section, we’ll explore the basics of fingerstyle guitar and examine the techniques that Tommy Emmanuel employs to create his unique sound.

Finger Picking vs. Flat Picking

When it comes to country music guitar playing, there are two main techniques known as fingerpicking and flatpicking.

Fingerpicking is a technique in which the strings of the guitar are plucked using the fingertips or fingernails, rather than using a pick. This technique is also commonly referred to as “fingerstyle” playing. In fingerpicking, the thumb is typically used to pluck the lowest three strings of the guitar, while the index, middle, and ring fingers are used to pluck the higher strings, producing a layered and intricate sound.

On the other hand, flatpicking is a technique where a guitar pick is used to strum or pick the strings of the guitar. This technique produces a bright and even sound with a clearly defined attack. Flatpicking is often used for playing lead guitar parts in country music songs.

Tommy Emmanuel is well known for his fingerstyle guitar playing in country music. While many contemporary country guitarists like Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, and Vince Gill incorporate both techniques into their playing, Tommy Emmanuel solely relies on fingerstyle guitar playing. Keb Mo is another artist known for his fingerstyle guitar playing, although he blends blues with country music influences in his playing style.

Whether you choose to use fingerpicking or flatpicking, remember to practice and find what works for you. Ultimately, the goal is to play the music you enjoy, and to do it in a way that feels comfortable and organic.

Tommy Emmanuel’s Right Hand Technique

Tommy Emmanuel’s right hand technique is one of the most recognizable and sought-after styles in the world of fingerstyle guitar. His unique approach to fingerstyle allows him to create complex arrangements that sound like they were played by multiple instruments. In this section, we will dive deeper into the specifics of Emmanuel’s right hand technique.

Thumb as Bass and Rhythm

One of the key factors that sets Emmanuel apart from other fingerstyle guitarists is the way he uses his thumb. Instead of playing a constant bass line, like many fingerstyle players, he uses his thumb to create both bass and rhythm simultaneously.

Thumb Technique Description
Alternating Bass Emmanuel uses his thumb to alternate between the bass notes and create a consistent rhythm.
Bass and Rhythm Together Emmanuel uses a combination of thumb techniques to create the illusion of multiple instruments playing at once.
Chord and Melody Emmanuel often plays melody and chords simultaneously using his thumb and other fingers.

Use of Other Fingers

Emmanuel’s other fingers are just as important as his thumb in creating his signature sound. He uses a combination of pinch harmonics, percussive hits, and chord voicings to create a full sound that goes beyond just playing the notes.

Other Fingers Techniques Description
Pinch Harmonics Emmanuel uses his index and middle fingers to create pinch harmonics, adding a unique high-pitched sound to his playing.
Percussive Hits Emmanuel frequently taps and slaps the body of his guitar to add percussive elements to his playing.
Chord Voicings Emmanuel often creates unique chord voicings with his other fingers, allowing him to play complex arrangements with just one guitar.

Tommy Emmanuel’s right hand technique has influenced many contemporary country guitarists, including Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. Although his style may seem daunting, with practice and dedication, it is possible to achieve a similar sound. For further exploration of fingerstyle techniques in country music, check out Vince Gill and Chet Atkins’ acoustic guitar styles, as well as Keb Mo’s blend of blues and country music.

Tommy Emmanuel’s Signature Fingerstyle Techniques

Tommy Emmanuel'S Signature Fingerstyle Techniques
When discussing the world of fingerstyle guitar in country music, there’s no denying the impact and influence of Tommy Emmanuel. From his dynamic and intricate picking patterns to his use of percussive techniques and exquisite harmonic playing, Tommy Emmanuel has etched out a unique sound and style that sets him apart from other contemporary country guitarists. As we delve deeper into his signature fingerstyle techniques, we’ll explore some of the elements that make his playing so distinctive and how he’s carved out his own niche in the world of acoustic guitar. So, without further ado, let’s dive into what makes Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique so captivating and unique.

Harmonic Techniques

One of the most iconic aspects of Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle guitar technique is his use of harmonic techniques. By employing harmonics, Tommy is able to create rich and complex sounds without the use of a lot of chordal accompaniment or extraneous notes. Here are some techniques that he uses to achieve these sounds:

  • Natural Harmonics:
  • First, it is important to understand what exactly a natural harmonic is. A natural harmonic is basically a bell-like tone that can be produced by lightly touching a string directly over a fret wire while plucking the string. With practice, guitarists can find the sweet spot for harmonics all over the fretboard, and Tommy Emmanuel incorporates this technique regularly. He often uses natural harmonics to create ringing passages that sound almost like church bells, as in his tune “Stevie’s Blues”.

  • Percussive Harmonics:
  • Another fantastic harmonic technique that Tommy uses is the percussive harmonic. This technique is created by striking the fretboard with the side of the thumb or fingers, making the string vibrate and sound a harmonic note simultaneously. By incorporating percussive harmonics, Tommy is able to imitate drums or other percussion instruments, allowing him to create a full band sound by himself on his guitar. One notable use of the percussive harmonic technique is in “Classical Gas”, where he opens the song with a percussive harmonic rhythm that sets the tone for the entire piece, guiding the listener through the twists and turns of the song.

  • Artificial Harmonics:
  • Yet another incredible harmonic technique that Tommy uses is the artificial harmonic. Unlike natural harmonics, artificial harmonics are produced by using a finger as a saddle to create the harmonic while simultaneously fretting a note. This creates a higher-pitched and more distinctively bell-like sound than natural harmonics. Tommy Emmanuel is a master of artificial harmonics and is able to create these sounds across multiple octaves of the fretboard. One example of his use of artificial harmonics can be heard in “The Mystery”, where he integrates a moving harmonic melody line into his playing that sets up a palpable sense of anticipation for the listener.

By incorporating these harmonic techniques into his playing, Tommy Emmanuel has unlocked a whole new world of possibilities on the guitar. He has inspired countless other fingerstyle guitarists to experiment with harmonics, helping make this technique a staple of contemporary country guitarists. If you’re interested in other country guitarists and their playing styles, you might want to check out Brad Paisley‘s playing style, Vince Gill and Chet Atkins‘s innovative acoustic guitar styles, or how other contemporary country guitarists like Keith Urban and Keb’ Mo’ incorporate fingerstyle techniques into their unique signature sounds.

Percussive Techniques

Percussive Techniques

In addition to his harmonic techniques, Tommy Emmanuel is known for his percussive fingerstyle guitar techniques. This involves using the guitar itself as a percussive instrument, creating rhythms and beats in conjunction with the melody.

Here are some of the percussive techniques used by Tommy Emmanuel:

Technique Description
Body Percussion Using the body of the guitar as a drum, tapping or hitting the guitar with the palm of the hand or fingers to create a percussive sound.
Slap Harmonics Combining harmonics with slapping the strings against the frets, creating a unique percussive sound.
Thumb Percussion Using the thumb to create a drumming effect on the bass strings of the guitar, often in coordination with the melody.
Tap Harmonics Combining harmonics with tapping the strings against the frets, creating a staccato percussive sound.

These percussive techniques are often used in conjunction with Emmanuel’s signature chord melody and harmonic techniques, adding a rhythmic dimension to his arrangements.

Tips for incorporating percussive techniques:

– Start slow and work on incorporating one technique at a time into your playing.
– Experiment with different parts of the guitar to find the best sound.
– Use these techniques sparingly and purposefully, as they can easily become overpowering in a song.
– Watch videos of Tommy Emmanuel and other fingerstyle guitarists to see how they use percussion in their playing.

By incorporating these percussive techniques into your fingerstyle guitar playing, you can add a new dimension to your sound and pay tribute to the innovative playing of guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel.

Learn more about Keith Urban’s signature sound here.

Chord Melody Techniques

One of the most distinctive aspects of Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique is his use of chord melody. This technique involves playing the melody of a song and the accompanying chords simultaneously. It creates a rich, full sound that captures the essence of the song.

Here are some chord melody techniques used by Tommy Emmanuel:

1. Partial Chords: Emmanuel often uses partial chords to create a more complex and interesting sound. These are chords that only include a few of the notes in the full chord. By omitting certain notes, he creates a more open, spacious sound that still maintains the essence of the chord.

2. Arpeggios: Arpeggios involve playing the notes of a chord individually, rather than strumming them all at once. Tommy Emmanuel often uses arpeggios to create a flowing, melodic sound. He’ll pick out the individual notes of the chord in a particular pattern, and combine it with the melody to create a rich, harmonic sound.

3. Bass Notes: Another chord melody technique involves playing the bass note of each chord along with the melody. This technique helps to establish the underlying harmony of the song, while also adding depth and complexity to the melody.

4. Harmonics: Harmonics are a technique where you lightly touch the string at a certain point to produce a high-pitched, bell-like sound. Tommy Emmanuel often uses harmonics in his chord melodies to create a bright, shimmering effect. He’ll use harmonics to highlight certain notes in the melody, or to create a unique sound that adds interest to the song.

Mastering Tommy Emmanuel’s chord melody techniques requires a lot of practice and patience. You’ll need to work on getting your right-hand technique just right, while also learning to play complex chord shapes and arpeggios. But with dedication and practice, you can achieve a sound that is both complex and beautiful, just like Tommy Emmanuel.

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Tips for Mastering Tommy Emmanuel’s Fingerstyle Technique

Mastering Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique can seem like a daunting task, but with dedication and practice, anyone can achieve it. In this section, we will explore some helpful tips that will take your fingerstyle guitar playing to the next level. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist, these tips will guide you on your journey to developing the speed, accuracy, and tone needed to play like Tommy Emmanuel. So grab your guitar and let’s begin!

Start Slow and Build Muscle Memory

Mastering the fingerstyle techniques used by Tommy Emmanuel in country music may seem daunting, but with persistence and practice, it’s possible to achieve. One of the most important tips for mastering these techniques is to start slow and build muscle memory. Here are some tips for doing so:

  • Break down the technique: Before jumping into practicing the entire song or technique, try breaking it down into smaller parts. This will allow you to focus on mastering each individual component before putting it all together.
  • Practice with a metronome: Practicing with a metronome can help you maintain a consistent rhythm and tempo. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable with the technique.
  • Incorporate repetition: Repetition is key to building muscle memory. Play the technique or section repeatedly until it feels natural and effortless.
  • Prioritize accuracy over speed: It’s important to prioritize accuracy and proper technique over speed. Once you’ve mastered the technique accurately, speed will naturally follow as you build more muscle memory.
  • Take breaks: Taking regular breaks during practice sessions will give your muscles time to rest and recover, preventing injury or strain.

Remember, learning any new technique takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. Incorporating these tips and starting slow will set you on the path towards mastering Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle techniques in country music.

Focus on Accuracy and Tone

As you work to master Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle techniques, it’s important to focus on both accuracy and tone. Improving your accuracy will help you effectively execute each technique, while focusing on tone will help you achieve the desired sound.

One way to improve accuracy is to use a metronome during practice. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase it as you become more comfortable with the technique. You can also break down the technique into smaller parts and practice them individually before putting them together.

In terms of tone, experimenting with different finger picks can help you achieve the desired sound. Tommy Emmanuel often uses a combination of finger picks and thumb picks for his unique sound. You can also try adjusting your finger placement on the strings to achieve different tones.

To further illustrate the importance of accuracy and tone, take a look at the table below:

Accuracy Tone
Technique: Harmonics Make sure to press down on the string at the exact right spot to produce the desired harmonic Experiment with picking closer to the bridge or closer to the neck to achieve the desired tone
Technique: Percussive Slaps Make sure to hit the guitar in the right spot and at the right intensity to produce the desired sound Experiment with hitting different parts of the guitar to achieve different percussive tones
Technique: Chord Melodies Make sure to accurately finger each chord and smoothly transition between chords Experiment with using different finger picks and finger placement to achieve different tonal qualities in each chord

By focusing on both accuracy and tone, you’ll be able to effectively execute Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle techniques for a truly impressive country sound.

Utilize Different Types of Finger Picks

One crucial aspect of mastering Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique is the proper selection and use of finger picks. Since fingerpicking requires the use of individual fingers, various picks can enhance the sound that each finger produces. Different types of fingerpicks can produce varying tones and sounds, so it is vital to experiment with various options to achieve the desired sound.

Different Types of Finger Picks You Can Use:

  • Metal Finger Picks: These picks are made out of metal, and they tend to produce a sharp and bright sound. They are ideal for playing fast passages and picking out intricate melodies.
  • Plastic Finger Picks: These fingerpicks are economical and come in various shapes and sizes, producing a more mellow and smooth sound. They are great for playing slow and melodic pieces.
  • Tone Specific Picks: Some fingerpicks are created specifically to enhance sound quality. For example, fingerpicks with a narrow blade are perfect for individual string picking, while wider blade fingerpicks produce a broader sound.

Using the right finger pick can drastically improve your fingerstyle guitar technique, and this is especially true when working to replicate Tommy Emmanuel’s unique sound. It’s essential to try different types of fingerpicks and experiment with them to see which ones produce the sound you want. Additionally, it’s important not to limit yourself to only one type of fingerpick because mastering multiple options can provide you with more flexibility and creativity when playing guitar.

Study Tommy Emmanuel’s Recordings and Videos

If you want to master Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique, studying his recordings and videos is essential. Here are some tips for effectively studying Tommy’s performances:

  • Observe his hand positions: Watch how Tommy positions his hands on the guitar. Pay attention to where his fingers are placed and how he shapes his chords.
  • Focus on his right-hand techniques: While Tommy’s left-hand technique is also impressive, it’s his right hand that really sets him apart. Study how he uses his thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers to produce complex fingerstyle patterns.
  • Listen for nuances in his playing: Tommy’s playing is full of subtle nuances, such as slides, bends, and vibrato. Pay close attention to these details and try to emulate them in your own playing.
  • Transcribe his music: If you’re serious about learning Tommy’s fingerstyle technique, consider transcribing some of his music. This involves listening to a recording and writing out the notes and chords played by each hand.
  • Experiment with his techniques: Don’t be afraid to experiment with Tommy’s fingerstyle techniques. Try them out in different contexts and see what works best for you.

By studying Tommy Emmanuel’s recordings and videos in depth, you’ll gain a deep understanding of his fingerstyle technique and be on your way to mastering it yourself.


In conclusion, mastering the fingerstyle guitar techniques used by Tommy Emmanuel in country music requires patience, practice, and dedication. Emmanuel’s unique blend of harmonic, percussive, and chord melody techniques have helped him become one of the most respected and sought-after fingerstyle guitarists in the world today. By focusing on the basics of fingerstyle guitar, honing in on Emmanuel’s signature techniques, and utilizing different tips to improve your playing, you too can improve your fingerstyle guitar skills.

However, it’s important to remember that the journey to becoming a great fingerstyle guitarist is a never-ending one. There will always be new techniques to learn, and new artists to be inspired by. By embracing the challenge of mastering the fingerstyle guitar, you can unlock a whole new world of expression and creativity.

So don’t be afraid to push yourself, take risks with your music, and experiment with new techniques. With enough dedication and practice, you can become a master of the fingerstyle guitar, just like Tommy Emmanuel. So pick up your guitar, start practicing, and let your fingers do the talking.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is fingerstyle guitar?

Fingerstyle guitar is a method of playing the guitar in which the player plucks the strings directly with their fingertips or nails, instead of using a pick.

What is the difference between finger picking and flat picking?

Finger picking involves plucking the strings with your fingers or nails, while flat picking involves using a flat plectrum, or pick, to strike the strings.

What makes Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique unique?

Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique is known for its blend of intricate melodies, harmonies, and percussive rhythms. His use of harmonics and chord melodies are also distinctive.

What are some common harmonic techniques used in fingerstyle guitar?

Common harmonic techniques in fingerstyle guitar include natural harmonics, artificial harmonics, and harp harmonics.

What are some percussive techniques used in fingerstyle guitar?

Percussive techniques in fingerstyle guitar include tapping, slapping, and using the guitar’s body as a percussion instrument.

What are chord melodies and how are they played?

Chord melodies are when chords and melody are played simultaneously on the guitar. This is done by picking out individual notes in a chord using fingerstyle technique.

How can I improve my fingerstyle technique?

You can improve your fingerstyle technique by practicing regularly, starting slow and increasing speed gradually, focusing on accuracy and tone, and studying the techniques of great fingerstyle guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel.

What types of finger picks are best for playing fingerstyle guitar?

The best types of finger picks for playing fingerstyle guitar are metal, plastic, and thumb picks. Each type of pick has different tonal qualities and can be used for different playing styles and techniques.

What are some songs that feature Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique?

Some songs that feature Tommy Emmanuel’s fingerstyle technique include “Classical Gas,” “Angelina,” and “The Trails.”

Can fingerstyle guitar be played in country music?

Yes, fingerstyle guitar is commonly used in country music, and Tommy Emmanuel is one of the great fingerstyle guitarists in this genre.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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