1. Getting Started
2. Right Hand
Finger Freedom
3. Harp Style
Examples and Chords
4. Celtic Ornamentation
Triplet Variations
Thumb Triplets
5. Related Tunings
6. Scales in DADGAD
Detailed Charts
7. Chords in DADGAD
Detailed Charts
8. Tablature
Performance Notes
Notation Guide
9. Articles
Miscellaneous Topics

Play DADGAD - Simon Fox

4(b). Right-Hand Ornamentation

Scottish guitarist Tony McManus uses very innovative right hand picking techniques to render the triplets often heard from Celtic instruments. There are also a number of right-hand percussive techniques being played by Celtic guitarists. These techniques add much-needed drive and ornamentation to Celtic pieces when playing as a soloist.

Finger Triplets

This is a very difficult technique to master. Even then, it takes a lot of work to use the ornament in pieces effectively and make it sound worthwhile. It is very much an all-or-nothing technique. Unless it works perfectly, it has a tendency to destroy a piece by adding an awkward jolt. Used to mimic the triplet ornaments of fiddles and bagpipes, this technique can add great drive to a guitar rendition of a Celtic piece.

The triplet is created by picking a note rapidly three times where ordinarily there would be one note. The right hand picks the triplet in ring, middle, index order (a-m-i). The challenge is to make each note sound clear and crisp with equal volume.

When this is all working, it feels like a very simple and economical motion with very little tension in the right hand. This technique is developed over time and is best practiced in a slow and methodical way. Practising it for long hours at a time will just be frustrating and not terribly productive.

Here are some tips that help in learning the a-m-i triplet technique.

Hand Position

The position common to fingerstyle guitarists shown in section 2 will work reasonably well for the triplet technique. Classical guitarists have a similar technique called “tremolo” which is a continuous running of notes in the p-a-m-i picking pattern. The triplet ornament is a little easier, consisting of only three notes in a row. As a general guide it seems best not to stray too far from the way classical guitarists perform this technique, given that they have been doing it for centuries.

Speed / Breakdown

Unfortunately, it is not much easier to play this triplet slowly. It is a good idea to start with just two notes at a time. Try all combinations of fingers:

• Middle, index (m,i)
• Ring, middle (a,m)
• Ring, index (a,i)

Thumb Position

Try playing the triplet while the right hand thumb rests on the bottom D string. This will stabilize the muscle tension in the right hand. It will also force the right hand into a fairly open position which may not be the easiest place to start practicing. It might be better to rest the thumb on the 4th string, D. This closes the right hand a little, which is an easier position to start from.

Eventually the thumb must come away and the triplet is played with the hand floating freely. In the middle of a tune, a triplet may be required from all sorts of positions which is a huge challenge.


The finger triplet technique seems particularly sensitive to the length of the right-hand fingernails. Too long and they get tangled up in the strings, too short and the contact of skin on the string causes an unequal triplet. It is best to practice with a range of nail lengths to gain some tolerance to variation.

Capo Position

The finger triplet is a little easier to play when the string is under more tension. To start with, try placing a capo at the 4th or 5th fret. 

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