Fingerpicking Lessons...
Start With Good Technique.

If you want to start learning acoustic fingerstyle guitar, these fingerpicking lessons will get you properly started. A free video guitar lesson is included to help you see what your fingers need to do. This lesson is best for those of you who already have some experience strumming basic guitar chords. Now you can add some new tricks to your bag ;-)

These instructions will be worded for right-handed guitarists. If you're a lefty just reverse everything. In other words, if I'm talking about your right hand, it means the hand you use to "pick" the strings. And that is the hand we will be dealing with the most in this lesson.

The 1st of these fingerpicking lessons will focus on the right hand technique exclusively. We'll also discuss a little about fingernails. In the 2nd lesson we'll use some basic guitar chords along with our fingerstyle techniques. Both lessons will be demonstrated in the free video guitar lesson below.




So... what's so great about Fingerpicking?

I'm sure you've heard some of the great guitar playing of artists like Paul Simon or James Taylor. You may even already have learned the classic Beatles tune "Blackbird". That's fingerpicking. Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? Some call it Travis picking...which was made famous by Chet Atkins. This is a particular technique of fingerpicking which is well worth looking into. We will touch upon it in these lessons.

Of course, there are also more exotic styles of fingerpicking such as some of the folk blues and open tuning approaches. Those are fascinating approaches to the guitar but beyond the scope of this lesson. We'll stick with getting your right hand organized first. Then apply that to some chords. The right hand is doing most of the work in fingerstyle guitar playing :-)

The main advantage to using your fingers as opposed to a guitar pick is that you can have multiple lines of music. You can have a bass line moving along with the other "voices" of the chord. It's also much easier to add a melody on the top strings. You can also play 2 notes that skip strings at the same time. Just like a piano player.



LESSON 1

This lesson will focus on "planting" the right hand properly on the strings. The technique comes from classical guitar. This sets the stage for all of your fingerpicking endeavors in the years to come :-)

Planting is simply placing your fingers in a "ready to play" position. The flesh and nail of you fingers will be grabbing the string.

Below is a picture of me with a D chord. Note my hand is "floating" and is relaxed. The thumb is AHEAD of the fingers -- which are gently curved.

Note: I am a lefthanded guitarist -- and in this photo, I am placing my guitar on my left leg. The same leg as my picking hand. The classical position is to have your guitar on the opposing leg. Use a footrest if you need -- such as a brick or yoga block -- and experiment. I don't generally use a footrest unless playing in classical position.

Fingerpicking

Fingernails?...Regardless of what you may have heard, fingernails are mostly a matter of preference. On nylon string guitars it's definitely a plus with both the sound and control. On steel strings it also helps...but some players do exceptionally well fingerpicking with no nails. No nails gives a warmer sound, but it's probably more challenging to get the same amount of control and volume.

There are plenty of opinions around...I would suggest "picking" up a good classical guitar book for beginners from your local music store. Try out what they suggest, but don't be afraid to experiment. I'll also show you my nails in the fingerpicking lessons video.

My opinion... I don't want something that's too difficult to maintain. I have a basic shape that allows my nail to "glide" across the strings without getting snagged. It also allows the flesh of my fingers to be a part of the string attack. Since I don't specialize exclusively in fingerpicking and enjoy playing piano, I keep the length as short as I can get away with. I also play my classical guitar from time to time and have no major issues with tone or control. That's my way of doing it. You'll have to find out what works best for you and your situation :-)


Let's Play!

Before we begin the fingerpicking lessons, I just want you to aware of a basic point. You can rest the body of the guitar on the same leg as your picking hand or on the opposite leg. The opposing leg is classical position...if you prefer this way, you'll need something to raise your foot with. There are guitar footstools you can buy or you could use a yoga brick or book... as long as it's fairly stable.

When playing my acoustic steel string guitar I generally keep the guitar on the same leg as my fingerpicking hand. When playing my nylon string guitar I use classical posture. I'll demonstrate these 2 postures in the guitar lesson video.

Side Note: I tend to use classical posture when practicing on my electric guitar as I find this feels more like how it does standing up. I can also execute wider stretches with my fretting hand :-)

Watch the fingerpicking lessons video and then follow these tips and pointers... you'll also see Lesson 2 demonstrated. Just watch it for now and then come back here for some more tips.

  • Keep your thumb ahead of your fingers when fingerpicking.
  • In books, you'll see "p, i, m, a" . This is thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. I'll use the same terminology so you can get used to it.
  • Pick from your knuckles...not from the middle joint in your fingers.
  • Slow down! This is probably the most important advice of all. Aim for a good sound and clean production of the notes.
  • Practice the patterns over and over. A large part of good guitar playing is muscle memory. This comes by getting your reps in.

Try This...

  • Plant "p" on string 6
  • "i" on string 3

  • "m" on string 2
  • "a" on string 1
  • Slowly play your fingers in order, starting with your thumb (p). If you have a metronome or drum machine, set it at 60 b.p.m.



LESSON 2

In this 2nd fingerpicking lesson we'll mix up the pattern a little bit. This is a basic Travis picking pattern with alternating bass notes. Let's use a C major chord in open position.

  • Plant your fingers. "p" on string 5. "i" "m" "a" on strings 1, 2, and 3.
  • Start with the pattern we used in Lesson 1 to get warmed up and to make sure all the notes in the C chord are ringing through clearly.
  • New pattern...
  • "p" to "i", "p" to "m", "p" to "i", "p" to "a"
  • These are played as eighth notes with 4 beats to the bar.

Tip...if you master this, try it with other basic guitar chords in open position. To start, keep all your fingers planted on the same strings. Except your thumb. Move your thumb to the appropriate bass note for each chord.

If none of that made sense to you, you need to go to the Beginners section. There's information there that should help you out :-)

Once again, watch the fingerpicking lessons guitar video. Study the exercises outlined here and practice them. Give it a week or two. You'll start getting some muscle memory happening. Then try applying it to a song.

Thanks for being here at fingerpicking lessons. Hopefully this lesson was able to give you some more fuel for your guitar playing journey. As always, I'm grateful to play a small role in inspiring you to keep dusting off your guitar :-)

Dave

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