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How to fingerpick on guitar

TGR350 How to fingerpick on guitar
(Image credit: Future)

Beginner guitar: Switching from pick to fingers is one of the most dramatic changes you can make to your guitar tone, and it costs nothing. Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck, Chet Atkins and Joni Mitchell show the world of different tones you can get when you ditch the pick.  

The basic rule for fingerpicking is that your thumb plucks the three bass strings (E, A, and D) while your fingers take care of the rest. If this is your very first time fingerpicking, we’d suggest starting with just thumb and one finger. 

If you’ve had some experience, try using your index finger for the G string, middle for the B, and ring finger for the high E – ultimately the more versatile approach. We’ve written a short piece of music for you to hone your skills with. It’s chord-based, so just hold down the relevant shapes and focus on fingerpicking the right strings. 

Fingers and thumbs

(Image credit: Future)

In music notation, abbreviations are used to tell you which finger to pick with. Use the image below as a reference guide to relate each finger to a letter! 

Chords

(Image credit: Future)

These are the chords you’ll need to know to play the track below. It’s a fair number of shapes, so approach the tab with a longer-term perspective and spend a few days or even weeks practicing shorter sections before building up to playing it in full. Even just playing through the first couple of bars of music is a big achievement if you’re just starting out.

Technique check

TGR350 How to fingerpick on guitar

(Image credit: Future)

1. Finger position
Angle your hand with your thumb pointing to the fretboard and your fingers closer to the bridge, so they won’t collide with each other as you pluck the strings.

TGR350 How to fingerpick on guitar

(Image credit: Future)

2. Fingerpicking chords
To play chords, use a ‘pinching’ motion (your thumb moves downwards; your fingers go up) with one finger on each string, plucking all the notes at once.

Fingerstyle study piece

(Image credit: Future)

The notes should sound smooth and connected in our track, ringing out over each other, so avoid touching the strings except at the exact moment you intend to strike the note.

Note that you’ll mainly follow a thumb-index-middle-index picking pattern (p-i-m-i), with some easy variations in bars 4, 12 to 14, and 17.