A Modern Picking-Hand Study by Muriel Anderson

The accompaniment part for "Night Lights" will have you breaking out of familiar patterns.

In 2013, the Nashville-based fingerstyle and harp guitarist Muriel Anderson set out to compose a gift for a friend’s first child, and ended up with a two-disc album of new music: Nightlight Daylight, one disc with compositions to drift off to and the other for waking to; music Anderson intended to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. (Anderson’s recordings and sheet music are available at murielanderson.com.)

“Night Lights,” from the nocturnal disc, has rich instrumentation, with Anderson playing sparkling arpeggios, the flamenco guitar duo Tierra Negra handling melodic chores, and Take 6’s Mark Kibble adding sweet vocal effects to the proceedings.

“Night Lights” also works well as a solo piece, as Anderson demonstrates on harp guitar on her most recent album, Eclipse. And taken on its own, the accompaniment part for “Night Lights” is a satisfying picking-hand study—one that will have you breaking out of familiar patterns.

The Game Plan

The picking hand’s role in “Night Lights” is quite involved, especially in section A, in which Anderson plays harp harmonics in the manner of Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins. (For more on harp harmonics, see the February 2017 issue of AG.) But once you’ve learned each of the composition’s three different picking-hand patterns, it should be fairly easy to put everything together.


If harp harmonics are new to you, start with one of the more straightforward portions of the piece, section B. The basic concept here—and throughout the piece—is to hold down each chord shape for as long as possible, while letting the notes ring together. In bar 9, fret the Am(add9) chord with your second, fourth, and first fingers on strings 4, 3, and 2, respectively. Then add the picking pattern shown between the staves—remember, p = thumb, i = index, m = middle, and a = ring.

Keeping the Am(add9) shape held, practice the pattern slowly, striving for  evenness of attack and note spacing. Increase the tempo gradually as the picking pattern becomes ingrained in your muscle memory. Once you feel confident with the pattern, extend it to the other chords in section B.

Next, tackle section C with the same systematic approach when it comes to the picking hand. Also note the introduction of new chords, like the bII (Bb), that move things along in unexpected harmonic directions.

Celestial Effects

Once you’ve got sections B and C down, work on those harp harmonics. The fretting hand’s role in section A (as well as the coda) is the same as in the rest of the piece: holding down the chord grips. But the picking hand takes things up a notch.


Each harp harmonic is indicated in the notation with a diamond-shaped notehead, and in the tablature with a pair of notes, one in parentheses. Try a harp harmonic: Fret the Am(add9) chord and select one of the frets in parentheses. Using your picking hand’s index finger, lightly touch the given string at that fret—directly above
the fretwire instead of between the frets—without pushing the string down. At the same time, pick the string with your thumb or other available right-hand finger, producing a chime-like sound. If you have trouble with this, be sure to watch Anderson’s video demo at acousticguitar.com.

After you’ve gotten the hang of playing a harp harmonic, work on bar 1 of section A—super slowly. Use the suggested fingering in the picking pattern, alternating harp harmonics with conventionally played notes, for a beautiful cascading effect. Once you’ve learned the Am(add9) measure in its entirety, it will be easier to extend the harp-harmonic picking pattern to the G6add9 and Fmaj9#11 chords.

When you’ve successfully learned the accompaniment part to “Night Lights,” you have a handful of new arpeggio patterns in your arsenal, as well as some solid harp-harmonic technique. Be sure to use these ideas in decorating your own favorite chord voicings and progressions.

Muriel Anderson - Night Lights

Muriel Anderson - Night Lights

Muriel Anderson - Night Lights

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *