Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

We are Living in an Exciting Era for Fingerstyle Guitar. Where’s it Going Next?


(At the end of this post, I’d very much like YOU to tell me and the readers where you think fingerstyle guitar could possibly be heading next….)

This is a really exciting time in the fingerstyle guitar scene, and I feel blessed to be playing guitar at this time in history. We’re all going through this very cool time together – and it is time for you to get involved…

In case you didn’t know this – back in the 1950’s classical guitar wasn’t an option in conservatories, in fact guitar was not even considered a “real” instrument. Yet, Andres Segovia stepped up to the plate when everyone thought guitar wasn’t a real instrument and said “here’s some Bach…now deal with this!”

In the 80’s classical guitar became accepted in the major music conservatories. Wow. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.

In the 60’s Wes Montgomery came along and put mainstream jazz onto a guitar with a level of touch, taste and groove that he influenced a whole generation of guitarists and still does. Chet Atkins put songs on the guitar with his signature “boom chick” sound and practically defined fingerstyle guitar as we know it. Not to mention, Chet played on countless old rock & roll albums.

Today, Tommy Emmanuel has brought the “ultimate Michael Jordan” experience to the guitar. Every time he plays, it’s beyond a slam dunk. Chops and energy meet invention, harmonics and beauty. He has inspired me and thousands of young guitar players.

I find this evolution fascinating…of course there are many many more players who have pushed the guitar into new territories, too numerous to list here. And there are tons of new guys working hard at the craft! Andy McKee has taken the tapping – percussive approach and evolved it.

One of my goals is to “play the groove and counterpoint” that a whole funk band might play. Funky guitar in a band setting is one thing, but funky guitar with 2 or 3 independent moving basslines is a challenge. I guess that’s why I have gravitated towards Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.

(In case you are interested in playing my Jackson 5 arrangements – the new instructional DVD with tab booklet will be available for purchase the second week of August, stay tuned! This launch is a major event that I’d like you to be part of…so stay tuned…)

If you think about it, playing the music of the J5 is a New York City kid’s version of just what Chet or Tommy is doing. The common denominator? We’re all playing songs and making people happy – only I am playing with the grooves I heard here in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, not a Nashville boom chick groove.

I really look forward to YOUR contribution and encourage you to dig deeply into your musicality. Please practice hard, post your videos to youtube and let me know what you are up to.

Where do you think fingerstyle guitar is heading next? Leave a comment here…I am very curious as to what you have to say about this topic.

Until next time…



Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

24 thoughts on “We are Living in an Exciting Era for Fingerstyle Guitar. Where’s it Going Next?

  1. Amen brother 🙂

    The guitar has been around for a long time, so I can’t help but think “this has all been done before”, and yet, all this fingerstyle stuff seems so new and exciting. Every time I put another arrangement together, drawing from my bag of tricks that I have been slowly acquiring from others and incorporating into my own style – I think, “nobody has ever done this before just like this, if at all!”

    You know I don’t even know what you’d call this style of guitar – “fingerstyle” covers too much ground, we’re a bit more specific than that – so when pressed I go with “modern solo instrumental fingerstyle”…but even that doesn’t really specify what we are up to.

    Generally, I think the world enjoys fingerstyle. Guitarist of any bent enjoy fingerstyle, that’s a given, but I’m talking the greater world of non-guitarists. You can only eat heavily refined white bread music for so long until you are all clogged up – a bit of that raw, uprocessed, clean acoustic guitar sound is good for everyone’s system, and I think we are all starting to realise that!

    I could rave on about all this all day – and I have been known to – so let me just say thanks for the continuing passion in ‘the scene’, and in my own little way, I am sure I am contributing a tiny bit too 🙂

    Where are we heading next? Yep, even though I think “it’s all been done before” I am suprised time and time again, so without a doubt there will be future ground to be uncovered; just a player, an acoustic guitar, and bold new ideas.


  2. By the way, JAW – didn’t take Sungha but a few weeks to cover my latest Jackson cover “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”. Imagine a 15 yre old using that as a starting point? Kids nowadays….:-)


    • I’d say he’s pretty a pretty rare sort though 😉 Generally, I get about 500 tabs downloaded from my site a day and around 3 youtube video responses per month. So, around 1 in 5000; even if you said for every one poster there were 10 who learnt it and I never saw it, it’s still not big numbers. People do love free stuff hey AR? 😉

      But you are spot on – the resource available these days is incredible; armed with youtube and tabs the sky is the limit! I wish I had that when I was a kid, I could be ten years further down the track…but then begs the question – does being given the silver spoon make you lazy, or does it give you a head start? I know you could write a good blog about that 🙂


  3. Jaw

    Well, I suppose it’s a combo. On the one hand, we stand on the shoulders of our teachers and evolve…like my Dad used to program computers with big tape reels & punch cards…and Atari was the bomb.

    However – it’s what you say with it. Just because the language and techniques evolve, the inner story that is told has to be for real. There have been and always will be child prodigies and technical superstars…but what is being said behind the notes, the QUANTUM stuff of human and musical communication, is the real thing.

    “Just because a record has a groove don’t mean it’s in the groove” – Stevie Wonder.

    Tag you’re it..

    – AR

  4. I think fingerstyle will evolve in several different directions. I think there will always be those who are “old school”, and adhere to the old titans of the style. Chet lives, and all that. But, I also think that some younger players will gravitate to using fingerstyle as a means to a funkier, more urban sound; following guys like you, Pete Huttlinger (thought he also flows to the traditional sounds), Andy McKee… And still more will carve their own paths, following the new traditions of folks like Vicki Genfan (and McKee, again, et al) with the more percussive orientation… I think that fingerstyle, due to its inherent flexibility, will probably serve as a tool to ferment EVERY musical genre on the guitar. And there will be Tommy, playing ALL of it like the madman he is. 🙂

  5. Phil

    That’s what’s so cool. This is just the beginning, and there are a million ways it can go…but due to better musical education, guys like Pete for example can orchestrate even bigger ideas than just a “good picker”.

    It’s frightening actually. Imagine 50 years from now what guys will be into, when we are the severely old farts.


  6. Quite a thread going here!

    Sort of late and my brain is too worn out to respond well, but I will sure try to in the next day or so.

    I will say that I am so very thankful for to Kottke for having the ‘nerve ‘ to release a purely instrumental steel string album back in ’69. 6 & 12 String Guitar is still a standard and great piece of work. Like wise for John Renborn and his Black Balloon and Nine MAidens albums.
    Then in ’81 comes along Hedges, and changes everything.

    Now it is an ‘accepted practice’ for guy to create albums of steel string guitar music based solely on their original compositions. And for guys to release albums of peformances of popular tunes from the past few decades of pop music, be it Beatles songs, or the highly advanced, complex and funky stuff that Adam does. It is pretty amazing, and leaves one with so material to draw from.

    Where is it all heading? I bet in 10 yrs everyone will play Twist and Shout and Wild thing with this new technique called….BARRE CHORDS! you heard it here first 🙂

    More to follow…this is me without a lot to say ????

  7. Adam, I’m so happy to have discovered your music and passion for it. Thanks for the gift. Just ordered your Wonder DVD today and cannot wait to dive in!!! I’ll see you in Covina, CA at the Frethouse later this month.

    I’ve been more into fingerstyle accompaniment ala James Taylor, Jim Croce, etc. But the solo instrumental approach has such a great appeal, that I know the next guitar journey for me will be a challenging and very satisfying one thanks to the likes of you!!

    All the best and I look forward to meeting you in a few weeks…

    Woodland Hills, CA

  8. I really think this is just the beginning, he are just starting the “YouTube Boom”. For now we will have many newcomers learning fingerpicking, and later on they will start to incorporate their music influences in fingerpicking.

    The more natural talented young guitarist are already doing this. For instance Gareth Pearson has already covered contemporary music like Radiohead, and MGMT.

    First time commenting so let me just say that your music is amazing, and i can’t stop listening to your arrangement of “Isn’t She Lovely”.

    Nuno Barreto

  9. Hey Adam! Swordplay2 here from youtube. Longtime fan of yours, I was watching your vids before you ever met Tommy. Then when I saw your vid of you and Tommy togeather I couldn’t believe, my two favorite guitar players on the same stage. Totally awesome.

    Anyway, I think fingerstyle guitar will gravitate to the more surreal for some people, just finding really cool tones. Perhaps even playing around with loop pedals, effects etc.

    THere’s this guy I found on Youtube, playing a song of his called Down Roma Traffic –

    Its getting mixed reviews, but I don’t think alot of people are ready for him just yet, he’s way out there.

  10. Adam,
    your new DVD will lift up levels very high for instructional DVDs. The trailer makes me happy because I will get this fantastic DVD in a few days. You have put a whole lot of work into it. Everything is so clear: music, melodies, arrangements (not a single note too much, not a single note missing!), lighting, dramaturgy (black background), explanation, artistic expression. Video and sound are on top level, too.
    Congratulations, Adam, you´ve reached a new peak in your lifetime as an artist. Due to the extensive rehearsing of this material for the DVD, your playing is better than ever: pure finesse!
    When the DVD arrives I will lock myself up in a room and have some real good guitartime!

  11. True George! True indeed.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this since Adam’s post and wanted to share some thoughts about it. Because I spend a lot my time teaching, my comments are chiefly in regard to the way I’d like to see the education field evolve.

    Adam is correct that until Andre Segovia came along, most music conservatories did not consider the guitar worthy of the kind of in-depth study that is offered for piano or violin. Even today many schools do not offer the guitar as an applied area of study. With the exception of a few schools that focus on contemporary music, most guitar programs that exist today are fairly conservative and offer guitar programs that focus primarily on traditional classical or jazz repertoire and technique.

    I completely agree that students must familiarize themselves with history of the instrument and its music and that having a structured approach to the discipline in place is necessary. In addition to music fundamentals, this may include learning classical or jazz repertoire and mastering common techniques that will enable the student to execute solo guitar material in a musical way.

    On the other hand, I believe that there must be room in the schedule to help students to develop their own individual approach to the instrument and a repertoire that is at least somewhat unique. One way to do this is to have students choose some music that they love and help them to create their own unique arrangements.

    Let me give you an example of the type of assignment I’ve given to several students in the past:

    Before getting creative, the student would be assigned a piece of music selected by me that I feel will challenge them and help them to learn certain concepts, but that they can master with some diligent practice. Since I primarily teach jazz, let’s say that I have them learn Barry Galbraith’s arrangement of “Our Love is Here to Stay” from one of my favorite books: Barry Galbraith Guitar Solos by Jim Lichens. In addition to simply learning to play the arrangement we’d analyze the arrangement in two ways. First we’d look at the technical side of the arrangement exploring the fingerings in detail to make sure that everything lends itself to giving the most musical result. If we find that a new fingering seems to make more sense than the ones indicated in the book we can try it out and decide whether or not to implement it. Then we’d analyze the musical choices made by Barry Galbraith. In this arrangement he uses a variety of techniques such as: contrary motion, block voicing, walking bass lines, and chromatic planing.

    Okay, so hopefully the student enjoyed the piece, has practiced it and has learned a thing or two. Once they’ve completed a couple of pieces in this manner, I’ll challenge them to choose a piece of music from a fake book and use some of the concepts to try their own hand at arranging. If the student is fairly new to jazz, a little direction may be needed – obviously jazz tunes are likely going to make better use of walking bass lines and chromatic planing than a rock or funk tune, but who knows?

    Over the past several years I have been pleasantly surprised by students who have come back with really lovely solo guitar arrangements of jazz standards. Other times I have encountered students who seemed at a complete loss as to where to begin and needed more help along the way.

    I believe that it is no longer enough to teach students only the standard classical or jazz repertoire. We have to challenge our students to not only be guitar players but to be creative arrangers and composers. This is what is going to get them noticed and ultimately what will pay the bills. Think about it: Segovia was the first player to be taken seriously as a classical guitarist not because he was a fantastic guitarist but because he played works by works by J.S. Bach, which he had transcribed and arranged himself.

    Today we have access to thousands of performances from players all over the world via the Internet. If you’ve discovered artists such as Tommy Emmanuel, Pete Huttlinger, Adam Rafferty, Ulli Boegershausen, Sungha Jung, or Andy McKee in the past few years, I’ll bet you they weren’t playing pieces by Dowland, Bach, or even Gershwin when you first heard them. These guitarists have gained a worldwide audience because not only do they play beautifully, but they play material that the vast majority of the public can identify with. Their arrangements they play are not taken from any book but were created by the artists themselves.

    Now I’m not suggesting that it’s my goal to create the next hot YouTube guitarist, but if a young guitarist is hired to play specific material they had better be prepared to work up an arrangement or two. If they can’t then I didn’t prepare them well enough. And if that material includes songs by top 40 artists, then so be it. I know that the future of fingerstyle guitar will continue to embrace the accepted repertoire but I sincerely hope that we can start to leave behind the notion that contemporary pieces are only novelty pieces and are not worth of serious study. Depending on the arrangement, these pieces can be just as difficult as any classical piece, and – they can actually help you make a living!

  13. Thanks for the well written and thoughtful post John.
    For me as a student your ideas are very insightful. And as a guy who is just beginning to teach formally, your writing is very helpful.

    I like the idea of taking a piece and looking at it both intellectually/harmonically – that of musical choices,
    and also the technical aspects of exploring different fingerings so the tune is more easily played and accessed on the fingerboard. It is amazing how simply changing the position of a single note can change (and improve) the flow of the whole tune! Adam spoke at length on this topic at guitar camp last week…I was in classes, but I saw him a few times hanging out at night or on break and he shared with me some of the aspects he struggled with and changed to ‘get it right.’
    That is , to make some really hard stuff at least possible.

    A question for you re: learning some simple but well played musical jazz standards….I have the Barry G books and a few books of H Morgan and find those arrs. very good to learn and teach bcs they are ‘very jazzy’ but not too tough to grab for a player with at least intermediate skills and a foundation of jazz voicings. From a more folky jazz point of view, I find PAt Donohue’s and Duck BAker’s arrangements to be very fun to play and also effective teaching examples.
    CAn you recommend any others?



    • Rob,

      Sorry I didn’t reply sooner.

      Have you checked out Mark Hanson and Pete Huttlinger’s books? Great stuff there that’s beautiful and only rarely ventures into jazz vocabulary.


  14. Great blog post Adam. I tend not to view the future of acoustic guitar in a very rosy light, but that’s just me.

    I think the acoustic guitar renaissance had its peak around the advent of YouTube and the creation of Candyrat Records. It could go out of fashion when the advances of technical achievement make music composed on the acoustic guitar too complex and progressive.

    Throughout my time playing Preston Reed covers, the number of people who say “I’ve never seen the guitar played like that before” seem to diminish as the years go by. Guitar tapping, polyphonic lines and altered tunings could be a common staple of the average singer songwriter in the years to come.

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  16. Pingback: Teaching and the Future of Fingerstyle Guitar | John Horne Guitar Studio

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