Guitar fingerstyle picking is a playing method used in tons of songs of a variety of musical genres. Essentially, instead of using your standard pick to pluck the strings, you use your fingers and thumb.
Fingerstyle picking employs a very different technique than using a traditional pick. With guitar fingerstyle picking, you frequently use your thumb to pick the bass notes (low E, A, and D) while your fingers are commonly responsible for picking the remaining treble notes (G, B, and high E).
This differentiation allows guitar players to play much more complex arrangements that would otherwise require multiple members of a band to play.
Take for instance Tommy Emmanuel, a world-renown guitarist that specializes in fingerstyle picking. As he explains in the video below, with the use of guitar fingerstyle picking he is able to sound like a 4-piece band consisting of rhythm guitar, drums, bass, and melody (i.e. vocals).
This article will go through the advantages and disadvantages of fingerstyle picking as well as the basics of how to get started.
I’ve also included a few important exercises/fingerstyle picking patterns that should be practiced in order to get more familiar with the concept.
Furthermore, if you want to take your fingerstyle playing to the next level, check out our list of best online guitar lessons to help you get there.
Pros & Cons Of Fingerstyle Picking
There are a few advantages/disadvantages to fingerstyle guitar picking. Depending on what type of music you want to play, fingerstyle picking may not even be required for you to learn.
However, learning how to fingerstyle pick will greatly expand your guitar playing vocabulary.
Outlined below are a few pros and cons of learning this technique of guitar picking.
- Allows you to play two non-adjacent strings simultaneously
- Easier to play artificial harmonics
- Allows you to play multiple melodies and rhythm sections simultaneously (as demonstrated in the video above)
- Creates a softer / warmer sound
- You aren’t required to carry around a pick
- Easy to play arpeggios
- Greater expressiveness in timbre
- Can be damaging to fingernails (and fingers in general) depending upon the guitar and type of strings used
- Fingerpicking usually produces less volume than when using a pick
- Harder to strum chords/rhythms
- As a beginner, using guitar fingerstyle picking may cause strings to buzz or unwanted muting
How To Achieve Proper Finger Placement
As previously mentioned, in fingerstyle picking your thumb is used to play the bass notes while your fingers are used to play the treble notes.
There is no definitive rule that says you should use a specific finger when plucking a certain string, however, generally when first learning how to use fingerstyle picking it is recommended to use the following fingers to play each string.
|Low E String
|1st Finger (Index)
|2nd Finger (Middle)
|High E String
|3rd Finger (Ring)
Some guitar fingerstyle picking players also use their fourth finger as an “anchor” of sorts. They do so by resting the fourth finger near the soundhole of the guitar.
This helps keep the fingers in the right place, however, is not possible nor comfortable for everyone. Some people’s pinky finger may not be long enough to comfortably use as an anchor and therefore the fourth finger, in this case, can simply float.
To Use a Pick or Not to Use a Pick?
Fingerpicking doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t use a pick. Fingerpicking can be achieved in 1 of 3 ways:
- Using the flesh of your fingers or your fingernails
- Using finger & thumb picks
- Using a hybrid method of fingers and a regular guitar pick
As with many things when it comes to playing guitar, choosing whether or not to use a pick is based on personal preference. The main difference between using a pick vs not is that a pick typically produces more volume and can be faster to pluck strings (depending on your level of experience).
However, you can also utilize thumb & finger picks like the ones below to solve this problem.
Moreover, something I tend to do quite a bit is called hybrid picking. With this method, you essentially place a normal guitar pick between your thumb and index finger and use it to play the bass notes of the guitar (Low E, A, D) same as you would if you were using your thumb.
I really like using this method because it gives me a bit more volume as well as flexibility. I can be fingerpicking a portion of a song and then when it comes to the strumming section, I can quickly reposition the pick and start strumming with much more control and volume.
Read Next: Top 70+ Greatest Fingerpicking Songs
Easy Guitar Fingerstyle Picking Practice Pattern
If you’re just starting out with fingerpicking, start by doing a few exercises with basic guitar chords you know such as G, D, or E.
Make the shape of these chords with your fretting hand and then one-by-one fingerpick each string with the appropriate fingers as mentioned in the section above. Start from the top of the chord (bass notes) and then work your way down plucking each string at a time.
So for example, with a G chord, you would do the following (I have marked the bottom of the tab with when you should be using your thumb or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd finger to pluck the note).
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the chord, start working your way back up. This is just a quick little exercise to get more familiar with the actual process of using your strumming hand to pick each string of a chord one by one.
Again, if you’re a beginner, do this exercise for about 5 minutes each time you want to practice guitar fingerstyle picking before you start working on real patterns. Once complete, you can move on to mastering the following fingerpicking patterns.
5 Fingerpicking Exercises (Based On Songs)
Below, I’ve included what I believe to be a few great fingerstyle picking songs that are recommended for both guitarists who are just starting to learn how to fingerpick as well as guitarists who have been doing it for a while.
I’ve included a few components within each song. Mainly, I’ve selected the key fingerpicking pattern of each song and included the tabs of said pattern. Beneath that, I’ve also added 2 audio files, 1 which plays the tab at 50% speed and the other which plays the tab at regular speed.
The patterns of each song that I included are only a small portion of the song, however, provide a pronounced factor of recognition when played with guitar fingerstyle picking. Furthermore, for those who not only want to learn the pattern that I’ve provided, I’ve also included a link to the download page of the Guitar Pro tab as well as a link to each song’s Songsterr tab (a web-based guitar tab player). Choose whichever method is easier for you!
1. Dust In The Wind – Kansas
2. Blackbird – The Beatles
3. Why Georgia – John Mayer
4. More Than Words – Extreme
5. Stop This Train – John Mayer
In conclusion, there are a few things to remember when fingerstyle picking on the guitar. First and foremost, be sure to use your thumb for the top 3 strings and your fingers to pluck the bottom 3 strings.
Secondly, experiment with different techniques and find what works best for you.
Finally, always take the time to practice regularly; this will help you improve your skills and play faster and more fluidly.
Have fun with it!