How To Play Fingerstyle Guitar: Beginner Guitar Lesson

Oct 2019

4 mins read

If you love the sound of the guitar and enjoy the melodies of greats like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, Tracy Chapman and other famous bands or singers known for a great guitar background, fingerpicking guitar or fingerstyle guitar will be something you’d know. However, the fingerstyle guitar technique is not something everyone can easily learn. 

If you are looking for the best fingerstyle guitar to learn the art of grooving the guitar using the unique technique, here are a few simple tips to get started.

What is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Playing a fingerstyle guitar just means using your fingers to pluck the strings. Beginners can learn the technique by simply practising their guitar playing without a pick. Fingerstyle guitar adds a whole new level to your guitar sounds, and you’d have heard it in songs like ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Rhiannon’, and other classics. It is used in genres like bluegrass, country music, blues, rock and even in heavy metal. 

In fingerstyle guitar, the thumb is usually poised to strike any of the first three (bass) strings while you use the other three fingers to strike the other strings, making a great sound that adds to the tune. If you are not used to plucking the strings directly, fingerstyle guitar players also use finger picks or thumb picks, which go on your thumb and enable the same motion.

If you are looking to add the fingerstyle guitar technique to your style, here are a few easy ways to learn fingerstyle guitar and master it with dedicated practice:

Finger Placement Is Instrumental 

Finger placement is essential to playing the guitar, and the fingerstyle guitar technique makes it even tougher if you do not practice it properly. The wrong positions will limit your speed and sound quality.  

Fingerstyle guitar is usually played with the thumb, index finger, middle and ring fingers (T, 1, 2, 3). Some will even use the baby or pinky finger, but that should be brought to use only once the basic technique has been perfected. 

Start by placing your fingers: 

  1. The thumb on the 6th string
  2. The index finger on the 3rd string
  3. The middle finger on the 2nd string
  4. The ring finger on the 1st string

Once you have this position perfected, you have the foundation to easily learn fingerstyle guitar

Start Slow & Increase The Pace As You Progress

If you are a beginner or new to fingerstyle guitar technique, it is likely that the movement will take some time to perfect. When learning something new, always make it a point to go over the technique and start slowly. Lower your speed initially, and gradually increase it as you feel confident with your movements.

Perfecting the fingerstyle guitar style is all about muscle memory, and with proper practise your movements will flow naturally. This applies not just to the fingerstyle guitar technique but also for the right-hand movements. Practice simple, open chords and do this till it gets imprinted in your muscle memory.

Highlight The Root Notes 

Fingerstyle guitar is great for solo performances and is bound to make jaws drop, as it gives tunes a great background sound. However, when playing solo, it is easy to get lost in the melody and forget the bass notes, without which, the fingerstyle guitar will seem shallow and methodical. 

So, be sure to focus not just on the main tune, but also the root notes. Normally, these notes will be played with the thumb.

Know The Patterns

Before you start playing the best fingerstyle guitar tunes, there are a few simple patterns that are easy and will greatly help you perfect the art. Start with the basics like: 

The Basic (One-Four-Five-Six) 

Pluck the first string with your thumb, then the fourth string with your index finger, the fifth string with your middle finger, and the highest note of the chord with your ring finger. Repeat till you’re perfect. 

The Rising Sun (One-Four-Five-Six-Five-Four) 

Often used in folk music, the Rising Sun technique is similar to the basic pattern, with the only difference being that after hitting the sixth string with your ring finger, you reverse the direction and pick the fifth string with your index finger, and then the fourth string with your middle finger. This pattern is comparatively harder, but is used in a lot of your favourite songs like House of the Rising Sun, Nothing Else Matters, etc.

The Blackbird (One and Six, then Two-Five-One Six-Three) 

Perfecting this technique will make you a pro and thus, needs some practice. Pluck the strings in order of one and six together, two, five, one, six, three (1+6-2-5-1-6-3). Here, you can decide which finger to use where, but make sure the motion is right and the first note and every second note after that are made with your thumb, which alternates between three bass notes.

Perfect The Art With Fingerstyle Guitar Songs

Although learning the fingerstyle guitar is not as easy as it looks, practice and patience go a long way in helping you get there. To start with, pick a few easier songs where the guitar background is perfect for beginners, the tunes are well known and easy to recollect, and which are some of the top recommendations for any audience.

Start with songs from the list below:

  1. Shape of My Heart (Sting)
  2. Nothing Else Matters (Metallica)
  3. Hotel California (The Eagles)
  4. Dust In The Wind (Kansas)
  5. Blackbird (The Beatles)
  6. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright (Bob Dylan)
  7. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)
  8. Good Riddance (Green Day)
  9. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
  10. Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
  11. House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
  12. Fire and Rain (James Taylor)

Looking to sharpen your guitar skills to play like a rockstar? Join our top-rated online guitar lessons that are best suited for students looking to get started with professional guitar training.

Join 12+ million students who already have a head start
Sign up today and get 4 weeks free!
No commitments. Cancel at any time.

Shaw Academy

Shaw Academy has over 100 globally recognised courses across 10 faculties. Sign up now - the first four weeks are free.