How A 15 Year Old Learned Fingerpicking Inside And Out

For the sake of privacy, I've changed the name of the person in this success story.

I've been working with Nancy since she was about 10 years old. I normally don't like to work with kids that are this young because my curriculum was designed for adults. Nancy, however, was not a normal kid. She has oodles of creativity, is a fearless performer, is about 10 times smarter than I am, and she's a quick learner.

Nancy originally came in for a lesson about five years ago. We learned the basic stuff: Strumming, chords, and how to do lots of nifty things like mute strumming (our favorite jam was Horse With No Name by America, which is full of mute strums). She disliked learning songs like Dead Flowers because it wasn't exactly in line with her generation. Since I am an older dude, I constantly dropped millennial sayings just to get her to practice and work harder, and she'd give me a quizzical, almost annoyed look. I'll do a lot for progress, even if it means I'm making fun of myself.

It is fun watching her learn. Through working with her and her parents really closely, she started to get really interested in learning to write songs. Last year, as she was learning over Skype (yes, that's possible too), she managed to write at least one song per week. Being the type of teacher I am, I thought to myself "What sorts of things can I teach her that will be helpful for her as she writes songs?" On the sly, I started showing her possibly the hardest fingerpicking exercises in the classical guitar repertoire, Giuliani's 120 Exercises for the Right Hand. These exercises aren't difficult in the traditional sense; They just need attention, and to be perfectly honest they are dry and boring. I basically started to use the warm-up time in each lesson to show her a new fingerpicking pattern. This started roughly a year ago.

Through about a years worth of lessons, I've managed to show her about 40 different patterns, all college-level classical guitar. She didn't like them at first, but she got to expect them as part of the guitar lesson experience. Not too long ago I started to randomly play Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. She said, "You must show me this right now!" I did, and she played it beautifully without me really having to coach her through it. The fingerpicking exercises paid off. Imagine my surprise when she basically started writing fingerpicking songs! Her creativity is boundless, and shes a fearless performer. It has been a trip to watch her grow into a strong and highly-capable guitarist, and basically on less than five minutes a day, too. We never spent more than five minutes each lesson doing these fingerpicking exercises. It was fantastic, and I'm so proud of her.