Fingerpicking: More dynamics using fingerstyle playing technique for your songs

With fingerpicking, you don't pluck the strings with a pick, but with your fingers.

More precisely: You pick the strings individually with your picking hand.

The great thing about this technique is that you add a lot more dynamics to the songs you play.

What is fingerpicking aka fingerstyle?

Fingerpicking (also called fingerstyle) is a playing technique that involves the right hand.

Instead of strumming the guitar strings with a pick, you pluck the strings individually with your fingers - thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger - of the strumming hand.

Fingerpicking consists of patterns that repeat.

This plucking technique is especially popular in the genres of rock & pop, folk or blues.

Big advantage: You always pluck in alternation and can thus play faster and more versatile sequences.

How do I use fingerpicking?

Fingerpicking is played with the right hand - the strumming hand. Place it over the sound hole.

The thumb plays the top three (bass) strings, the index finger, middle finger and ring finger are distributed in the logical order on the lower three strings (g, b and e string).

You can strike the strings with just the fingertip or use a combination of fingertip and fingernail. The sound is different and ultimately a matter of taste.

To pluck, apply light pressure to the string and then slide your finger across the string, being careful not to touch the adjacent string, but to strike just past it. The movement goes towards the inside of the hand in the direction of the elbow. 

Your fingers bend during this movement. The thumb, however, remains stretched and strikes downward, past the other fingers on the left.

Tip: Pick the guitar strings with a movement out of the joints, or more precisely, the root joint. The movement must not come from the whole hand.

Simple fingerstyle pattern as tab

The pattern is the key feature of fingerpicking.

The playing technique consists of sequences that can be repeated and varied. We have picked out a simple basic pattern for you to use for practice:

Fingerpicking patternThat's the basic pattern to Nothing Else Matters by Metallica (yes, not the whole thing, we want to keep it simple for now).

  1. Pluck the low E string with your thumb (1).

  2. Pluck the G string with the index finger (2).

  3. Pluck the B string with the middle finger (3).

  4. Pluck the high E string with the ring finger (4).

  5. Pluck the b-string again with the middle finger (3).

  6. Pluck the G string again with the index finger (2).

  7. Repeat the pattern until it sounds smooth.

4 tips for fingerpicking

1) Use Alaska Fingerpicks.

Some fingernails are not made for fingerpicking. Fortunately, for such cases there are the Alaska Fingerpicks - picks made of plastic.

You put them on your finger - the front ring (which looks like a nail) replaces the actual fingernail.

2) Keep your fingernails short on the picking hand.

Too long or unfiled fingernails make guitar strings sound scratchy. So cut the fingernails of your picking hand short. Can't live with that?

File and polish your nails smooth.

3) Pluck and release.

Pluck the strings briefly and let them go. Don't rest your finger on the strings just to keep your orientation. Also, don't pop your finger off the string - that just makes the sound clang unsightly. The tone of the plucked string should resonate.

4) Divide the fingers on the strings.

Divide the work among your four fingers. The thumb operates the top three strings (bass strings) - low E string, A string, D string - the index finger operates the g string, the middle finger operates the b string, and the ring finger operates the high e string.

6 songs you can play with fingerpicking

So that it doesn't remain with the theory, we have selected 6 of our favorites for you, which you can play with fingerpicking:

  • House of the Rising Sun - The Animals

  • Blackbird – Paul McCartney

  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac

  • Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley

  • Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers

  • Dust in the wind - Kansas

Alternative: Flatpicking

Flatpicking in contrast to fingerstyle describes picking patterns played with a pick, combining melody lines and chord accompaniment. This playing technique is mostly associated with the genre Bluegrass. You hold the pick with your thumb and index finger, the middle finger replaces the index finger, and the ring finger replaces the middle finger.

written by:
Mirco Sontag
Mirco Sontag

Guitar teacher

Post last updated: 02.10.2023
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