Fingerstyle Guitar For Beginners

Beginners often struggle with fingerpicking. It probably shouldn’t be the first thing you learn as a guitarist, but beginners are often put off, thinking its too hard.

In this article, we’re going to give you some pointers on how to play this style.

What is Fingerstyle Guitar (or ‘Fingerpicking’)?

Fingerstyle or fingerpicking is a strumming technique that consists of using your nails, or using ‘finger picks’ (which are basically plectrums attached to ends of your fingers) to create the rhythm.

It’s a well-established technique for classical or nylon string guitar, but it’s seen as more of a specialized thing on steel string guitars. It’s less usual on electric guitars.

What makes this style so appealing is the use of chords and melody at the same time, which gives the listener the feeling they are hearing two guitars rather than just one instrument. Bass, harmony, melody, and percussion can all be played simultaneously.

So how do you do it?

You want to use your thumb and your first three fingers. Your pinky is sometimes used, but let’s keep it simple.

As a general rule, play the following strings:​

  • Thumb – Mainly plays the 6th, 5th or 4th string, usually alternating between them
  • First Digit – plays the 3rd String
  • Second Digit – plays the 2nd string
  • Third Digit – plays the 1st string

The position of your hand and wrist is important to get right from the beginning too.

  • ​Your wrist should be slightly arched
  • You hand and your fingers should be also arched, in a claw-like position
  • Your fingers should be to the right of your thumb
  • Often players rest their pinky just below the strings to act as a support

Fingerpicking Patterns

Standard Picking

Let’s look at a basic pattern that simple involves plucking down the strings, and alternates between the C and G chords.

Here’s how you play it:

  • ​Play the 5th string with your thumb
  • Play the 3rd, 2nd and 1st string with your first, second and third digits
  • And alternate between the C and G chords

​Travis Picking

You’ve probably heard the term ‘Travis Picking’. It involves playing a steady bass pattern, alternating between strings with the thumb and filling out some syncopated rhythms with your other fingers.

Listen to ‘Dear Prudence’ on The Beatles’ White Album, or Bob Dylan’s classic ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’. Both these songs incorporate the Travis picking style.

It takes a bit of learning, but is pretty simple and sounds awesome.

Here’s how you play it:

  • With your thumb, practice plucking between the 5th and the 4th string. Use a metronome set to 90bpm to get the rhythm right
  • Now in-between the bass notes played by your thumb, pluck the 2nd string with your middle digit
  • Finally, pluck the 3rd string with your index digit

Once you’re comfortable playing this over the C chord, try adding a G chord and playing a couple of bars of each chord. It will take a while to get used to, and you’ll have to shift your bass notes (played by your thumb) up to the 6th and 5th string.

Here’s another travis picking pattern:

Here’s how you play it:

  • Play a C chord
  • Alternate the bass notes (with the thumb) between the 5th and the 4th string
  • Use the first digit to pluck the 3rd string
  • use the 2nd and 3rd digits to pluck the 1st and 2nd strings at the same time


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