The way to address the guitar with the fingertips of both hands can be boiled down to this: tappity tap and pingity ping. What I mean by this is that you should tap your fingers down on your left hand to fret the notes and strike with the fingers of your right hand for a definite ping. Mandolinists and people who play guitar with a pick also can benefit from this advice. The tip of the pick is just like the tip of the finger on the right hand; it’s the same principle.
Many people tend to carefully place their fingers on the fretboard of the guitar and the mandolin. This may be a good way to assure accuracy when you’re first starting out, but it’s slow and actually requires more strength than you need to use. It is better to tap your fingertips straight down behind the fret in a very precise way. You don’t have to press as hard and you tend to get a clearer tone. A good way to exercise this technique is by doing slur studies, as in hammer ons and pull offs. If you play smart, you don’t have to play as hard. Of course timing is important. And your left and right hands have to be in sync.
This leads us to right hand technique… What I mean by pingity ping is that it is better to strike a string than to pluck it. To me, plucking implies pulling a string and releasing it as harpists do. Instead I recommend that you strike the string into motion. Be it with your fingernail or with a flat pick, the motion should begin away from the string. You hit the string and then you follow through. This is all one very quick motion. You don’t want to spend any time on the string, but your aim is to hit it so fast that you don’t hear a buzzing sound in your attack.
To coordinate both hands takes some practice. Your tappity tap and pingity ping have to happen simultaneously. For guitarists, an exercise book I recommend is Aaron Shearer’s Supplement I: Slur, Ornament and Reach-Development Exercises (the blue book). It’s good to spend a lot of time on exercise ten with a metronome. For mandolin players, I recommend Giuseppe Branzoli from 1892 [download]. Another option is Mel Bay’s Complete Mandolin Method. There aren’t a lot of slur exercises in it, but there are some pretty good speed drills.
Just remember tappity tap and pingity ping will help you play louder and cleaner with less effort.
This animation link was shared by a friend of the studio. It beautifully illustrates what I call tappity tap and pingity ping for the visual learners among you.