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The No.1 Way to Fingerpick on Guitar for Beginners

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Howdy y’all, it’s fingerpicking time.

Not cherry-picking, not clothes-picking, not nose-picking but fingerpicking. And that’s (very debatably) the best kind of picking!

So today I’ll be teaching you the best way to fingerpick on guitar for beginners, so that you can up your fingerstyle game for playing chords and solos.

Let’s go.

How to Position Your Fingerpicking Hand

Operating from a position of comfort will help you for the rest of your fingerpicking life.

So that’s why it’s important that you get used to doing the following things early on…

For the purposes of this example, imagine you are playing an E minor chord.

No.1 – Rest your thumb on the lowest string you want to pluck (in this case the low E), angled so that it’s almost parallel with that string.

And make sure your thumb is in front of your fingers, as if you were giving someone a thumbs up.

This’ll allow you to pluck the string with some proper oomph.

No.2 – Rest your index finger on the G string, your middle finger on the B string and your ring finger on the high E string.

They only need to touch the strings very lightly.

No.3 – Tilt your wrist forwards so that your fingers stand up almost vertically, with some bend in the fingers too. You’ll realize your hand begins to look kinda like a closed claw.

This’ll set you up properly for the fingerpicking motion that we’ll look at next.

Put all this together, and you should get something that looks like this:

Fingerpicking technique setup

Extra tip: Placing your fingers closer to the bridge will produce a brighter, more twangy sound. Placing them towards the neck will produce a warmer, softer sound.

And voilà! That’s the basic set up for ya.

But it’s absolutely useless at the moment because you still don’t know how to play anything.

So let’s look at how we should pluck the strings from this position…

How to Make the Plucking Action

Alrighty, let’s actually get you playing some notes.

The best way to think of the plucking motion when learning to fingerpick on guitar is like squeezing the brakes on your bike.

So just squeeze and squeeze until a string snaps, and you’ve got it!

But seriously, imagine having something in your hand and squeezing it tightly… Notice how your thumb kinda goes inwards and your fingers curl up?

We want to take this movement and turn it into a small flicking motion.

When you pluck a string with your thumb, you’ll want to flick the string inwards towards where your fingers are.

Just use the bottom quarter of your thumb to make this flick easier.

And when you pluck strings with your fingers, you’ll want to flick them upwards towards your palm. Not too much, just enough to pluck them.

It’s a quick squeezing, flicking motion which should feel nice and natural.

Have a play around plucking with your thumb and fingers separately, at the same time, whatever… But just make sure that they come back to their resting positions when not in use.

And as soon as you’ve got used to this motion, you can now officially fingerpick on guitar!

Some Fingerpicking Patterns to Practice

Before we get into playing some chord progressions, we need a couple of cool ways to actually play those chords.

And because I’m absolutely awesome, I’ve conjured up a few patterns that you can use FREE of charge. Wow, that’s right! 100% free!

And if you don’t like them, you can have your money back.

So we’ll start with an easy one to get you started.

Fingerpicking chord pattern 1

Nice and simple, just get those fingers a-moving. Try playing it with different chords, different strings, upside down… anything goes!

And when that feels comfortable, you’ll be ready to try something with some muted notes in it:

Fingerpicking chord pattern 2

Muted notes are used all the time in fingerpicking rhythms. They kind of act like a snare drum, providing some groovy rhythm.

So to get that sound, lift your fingerpicking hand up a bit, and then gently hit your thumb and fingers down onto the strings where they normally rest.

Hit hard enough so that you get a sound, but not so hard that it overpowers the chords and sounds clicky.

Mute the strings with your fretting hand if need be in the beginning, and aim for something like this:

It should hopefully feel pretty natural. Before you know it, you’ll be ready for patterns like this one too:

Fingerpicking chord pattern 3

MAN I love that pattern. It has a great Bossa Nova, jazzy kind of sound that’ll add a cool flavour to any progression you try.

So it seems like chords are a breeze for y’all now. But hmmm, what about arpeggiated stuff…

Fingerpicking arpeggio pattern 1

Yup, you gotta separate your fingers now.

I like to think of them as three solitary giraffes, yearning for food, scratching at the strings as if they were reaching desperately for a tree that they’re too short for, coordinated, yet fierce…

Yeah, what he said! Speaking of giraffes, here’s pattern numero dos:

Fingerpicking arpeggio pattern 2

Another nifty arpeggiated G chord pattern for you there. And remember, try it with different chords to get good at using it on the fly.

That brings us onto our final pattern:

Fingerpicking arpeggio pattern 3

We’re spicing it up there with some chords and single strings.

And as soon as that feels easy for you to fingerpick on guitar, then you’ll be good to go for most scenarios.

So let’s see them in practice!

How to Fingerpick Chords in a Progression

Boom! Great job on nailing the technique and those patterns. Now’s the time when you can actually put them to use.

So here’s an example chord progression I came up with to have a go at and practice with:

Practice fingerpicking progression

Notice that even as the chords move quicker, the pattern stays the exact same underneath. That’ll probably be the tricky part to maintain.

So go slow if need be, and just practice switching the chords underneath as you play the same pattern.

It’s also always a good idea to tap a foot along with the chords you’re playing to help you get the groove.

And if you want to step it up and try some fingerpicking on guitar with bar chords, then have a go at this jazzy prog:

Jazzy practice fingerpicking progression

On the whole, this’ll be more difficult since you’ve got more going on in the left hand. But you know what? I reckon you’ll manage.

So feel free to mix and match plenty of different patterns with these progressions to customize them and make them more fun.

And boom! As long as you can do that, you are good to go with the chord playing side.

Add Percussive Muted Notes for Groove

If you wanna take your fingerpicking skills to the next level, then you’ve gotta be ready to get funky.

Adding percussive, muted notes will give you an awesome, infectious, head-bop kinda feel that makes you sound like a pro.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I mean, and then I’ll break it down for you:

Fingerpick groove tab
Delicious.

Yum! Doesn’t that just sound epic? So what am I actually doing here which makes everything sound so groovy?

The first thing I’m doing is adding that percussive picking hand hit that we learnt earlier, to act like a snare drum.

The second thing I’m doing is plucking muted notes. I’ll make sure that I’ve got the string I want to pluck muted/deadened with my left hand, and then I’ll just …well… pluck it.

And normally I’ll use my index finger just because it’s easy. These muted notes are often called “ghost notes”… Wooooo spooky!

Yikes, I almost scared myself there…

Anyway, on their own they sound like this:

Bonus tip for chord stumming: sometimes you’ll want to strum some chords with your fingers during a fingerpicking song. And just using your thumb for this will: A – be very difficult and B – give you more blisters than you’ve had hot dinners.

So to solve both of these problems, I recommend that you strum downwards with your thumb, and strum upwards with your index finger.

Like this:

And that way, strumming will again become a possibility for you.

Plus, it’s a great backup when you drop your pick on stage and it disappears into the pick abyss… :/

John Mayer is an absolute MASTER of this kind of fingerpicking, so I highly recommend you watch a couple of his live videos to see how it’s done.

He’ll even do some thumb slapping too, which is kinda cool. That’s a whole different topic in itself, so here’s a video by one of my favourite guitarists Guthrie Govan on funky thumb slapping.

Understanding Fingerpicking Tab

You probably didn’t have much trouble reading the tab above because it’s pretty basic.

But if I threw this one at you…

Read fingerpicking chords tab

…then many of you may run off and start crying in a corner. I know I did.

So how can we interpret this and actually try to play something?

Well, the key thing to remember is that even though a bunch of different notes are being played, most of the time they are all from the same chord shape!

The first half of these two bars is basically just an Em bar chord with a bit of decoration. And the other notes are just different chord shapes, arpeggiated instead of played as one.

So find the chord shapes first, then learn the pattern for each one afterwards.

Also notice the “let ring” notation above each line of tab. Now we can be doubly sure that the tab wants us to play chords, and keep each note pressed down as we play.

Extra Tip: This “let ring” notation is there for a reason. If you want to fingerpick like a pro on guitar, then try to keep as many notes alive for as long as possible before you have to change chord shape.

Basically, if it’s possible to let a note ring, then let it ring and you’ll sound wayyy better.

Do You Need Nails to Fingerpick Effectively?

To answer that question in one word… Nope you don’t.

Darn, that was three! Hey, it’s been a long day…

But anyway, nails help if you plan to fingerpick on guitar all the time. If classical guitar is your jam then you’ll see loads of people with long nails on their picking hand and, like, zero on their fretting hand.

That’s because by growing longer nails, you’re basically turning each of your fingers into its own plectrum.

This helps make stuff sound louder and brighter, which is why it’s good if you plan to play like that all the time.

But having short nails is equally fine. You’ll just be plucking with your fingertips instead of the nail, creating a warmer and more cosy sound.

So if you’re a casual fingerpicker like me, then you don’t need to worry about growing long nails.

Popular Fingerpicking Songs to Practice

Alright, so it’s all well and good knowing how to fingerpick on guitar… But most of us learn the technique because we want to actually play something cool.

So here’s just a few fingerpicking songs to have fun learning in case you’re stuck for ideas:

Loads of these songs will have some wacky techniques or patterns to learn, so have fun with that.

Obviously there’s way more, but there’s just a couple to play around with.

Wrapping It Up

Ladies and gentlemen, there we have it. Hopefully you can now fingerpick on guitar like a pro, unlike the beginners who still haven’t read this thing yet.

It’s all relatively logical and feels (for the most part) quite natural.

Just remember to position your picking hand so that your index fingers stand relatively vertical, and make the plucking motion by flicking inwards to your palm.

After that, you’ll be good to go.

I’ve been Sam Olverson,

Chow!

P.S. If you want to learn how to play bar chords on guitar so that you can play chord progressions in any key, click here to view my post on that.

Sam

Sam is a guitar teacher and educator, with his main goal being to give people advice that they can truly rely on. He strives to teach through modern and effective techniques that actually provide results. Getting good at guitar was always his dream, and this blog outlines the steps he took to achieve total guitar freedom from scratch.

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