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Guitar Fingerpicking for Beginners: A Simple Fingerpicking Pattern

Updated on September 28, 2017
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green discusses musical talent and explores different musical styles ranging from classical to rock.

The guitar can be played using many different styles and techniques. From simple strumming to playing with a pick to guitar fingerpicking, the sky is pretty much the limit.

This article details fingerpicking for beginners. If you've been playing guitar and want to progress from strumming to fingerpicking, read on for fingerstyle tips.

Some guitarists try to fudge it by randomly striking strings with any available finger but this produces an uneven and undisciplined sound, lacking that essential polish heard when listening to accomplished guitar players.

While fingers are used in fingerpicking, fingerpicking, done right, is a far cry from randomly striking the strings and hoping to wring a professional-sounding sound from the strings.

Fingerpicking is not overly difficult to learn and if one is willing to invest the time in some short practice sessions, mastery of this playing style will soon follow. The neat part is that once you train your fingers, you can fingerpick almost on auto-pilot. It becomes that effortless.

What is Guitar Fingerpicking?

♥ Fingerpicking involves the use of patterns: specific fingers strike specific strings in an established pattern to produce a distinctive sound.

♥ Different sounds are produced using different fingerpicking patterns.

Reminders for Fingerpicking

Many guitarists, eager to learn fingerpicking, attempt to hurry the learning curve, rushing the pattern before fingers and brain have learned it thoroughly. This is a recipe for frustration because the wrong strings will be struck or the sounds produced will reflect that lack of preparation and sound choppy and undisciplined.

Start out slowly and strive for an even tempo. It is more important at this stage to train your fingers to the pattern and smooth, even playing is the goal. If you lay a good foundation, you'll be amazed at how quickly you catch on to fingerpicking and how, once you've become thoroughly acquainted with the pattern, your fingers will naturally start to pick up speed.

Once you've learned a pattern, you can easily speed it up to produce an impressive, musically-pleasing sound.

In fact, it has been observed that once a fingerpicking pattern has been memorized, fingers can go at almost lightening speed effortlessly--such is the power of fingerpicking patterns.

Do You Know How to Fingerpick?

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Ready to Get Started?

The following finger picking pattern is fairly easy and is a good one to start with. This can be played at a slow gentle pace.

Guitar Fingerpicking Finger Key

P = thumb, usually plays lower strings 6th (E), 5th (A), 4th (D)

I = index or first finger

M = middle finger

A = ring finger

Practice This Fingerpicking Pattern a Few Times on Open Strings

Even if you are used to using chords in your playing, to keep things simple, try this pattern first on open strings. This will help your fingers develop a feel for which strings to strike.

Fingerpicking Pattern

(P, I, M-A, I)

1--------------------------------------------A--------------------------------------------------------

2--------------------------------------------M--------------------------------------------------------

3---------------------------------I---------------------I-----------------------------------------------

4------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

5------------------P----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

6------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As can be seen here, the thumb plucks the fifth string, then the index finger plucks the third string and the M & A fingers pluck the second and first strings simultaneously, then the index finger plucks the third string.

Practice this fingerpicking pattern a few times on open strings and when you feel comfortable with it, then try it out with chords.

Now Try it With a Chord

Fingerpicking With a Chord

Okay, let's turn things up a notch.This pattern sounds so much better when played with chords, instead of on open strings. We'll use chords with the pattern to produce a musically-pleasing sound.

  • Use a C-chord to start.
  • Finger placement: begin by placing your P finger on the 5th string and the I, M, A fingers on the third, second and first strings, as you did when using open strings.

Pluck the strings, as follows: P (fifth string), I (third string), [M (second string) + A (first string) played simultaneously], I (first string). Repeat pattern. It may help to count: 1(P), 2 (I), 3 (M-A), 4 (I).

Here's how it looks:

C

1------------|------------|-------------|-------------------------A----------------------------------

2-----O-----|------------|-------------|------------------------M-----------------------------------

3------------|------------|-------------|------------------I--------------I----------------------------

4------------|-----O-----|-------------|-------------------------------------------------------------

5------------|------------|------O-----|-----------P------------------------------------------------

6------------|------------|-------------|-------------------------------------------------------------

Play it slowly until you become comfortable with it, using the C-chord, and then practice speeding it up.

At times, you may play a chord while your selected strings do not strike a particular note in the chord. No worries, this helps to produce a better sound overall and can act as a guide for your fingers. You' ll notice, in this example using C, that the fourth string, while comprising part of the chord, is not actually plucked. One could split hairs and only place fingers of the left hand on the strings to be plucked but simply playing the chord is easier and helps with chord changing and is perfectly suitable for fingerstyle guitar. For someone playing a technically harder classical piece, this might be relevant, but for the sake of this tutorial, the chords suffice.

Graduating to Chords

Using This Pattern With Chords

Try this pattern with the following chords: C (P (5)), A-minor (P (5)), D-minor (P (4)), G-7 (P (6)), alternating the base notes as indicated here. Repeat.

As you become more familiar with how the pattern sounds with different chords, you will start to automatically alternate your bass notes depending on which chord you are playing. If you strike a bass note that doesn't work with this pattern, you will hear it.

Once you've committed this fingerpicking pattern to memory, you can use it with any chords of your choosing. It makes a great accompaniment to singing and is an easy one if you like to play and sing along.

What do you think of this fingerpicking pattern?

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© 2010 Athlyn Green

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    • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Athlyn Green 

      6 years ago from West Kootenays

      Hi Stephen, I play piano, too, but learned guitar first. Guitar is harder to learn.

    • profile image

      Stephen J. Ardent 

      6 years ago

      I learned how to play the piano when I was a child, and still play today.

      As a teen I tried to learn guitar, but just couldn't get my hands to bend in the proper positions. It was outright painful.

      Guess I should have taken guitar lessons first, then moved on to the piano.

    • Athlyn Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Athlyn Green 

      6 years ago from West Kootenays

      It's amazing what can be accomplished with even 15 minutes of practice daily. I'm very strapped for time and have committed to practicing daily--even for short periods.

    • profile image

      carlos 

      7 years ago

      Well I need 2 more years of flatpicking

    • profile image

      Lee Hughes 

      8 years ago

      I love finger picking! I haven't really got that into it though.. this makes me what to give it another go :)

      Thanks :)

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      My guitar has been sitting in my room for 5 years. I just can't seem to get back to it. I guess I don't want to go through the pain a getting calluses again. I will put bookmark this, now I feel guilty!

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