The guitar is an amazing instrument. It gets the rep of an “easy, campfire side instrument,” but all that is nonsense. No instrument is easy, no matter how famous. Just because you can play 3 chords, that doesn’t necessarily make you a guitarist. Anyways, this article isn’t about roasting people, and it is about answering the question “how to finger pick guitar.”
Fingerstyle guitar is one of the fascinating techniques out there. It gives out sound in such a manner that the audience is almost fooled into believing you are playing multiple guitars at the same time or perhaps playing something extremely complicated.
The origins of it are rather murky, and I couldn’t find any reliable sources regarding the origin of fingerstyle. I will argue that Flamenco, Bossa Nova, and Country Blues can be credited with popularising this style of playing.
Nowadays, many mainstream songs too feature a little bit of fingerstyle here and there.
how to finger pick guitar/play fingerstyle?
Fingerstyle playing is a very broad and general term. To be able to play with your fingers and to play fingerstyle guitar are very different things. Generally speaking, fingerpicking guitar means instead of using a pick or a plectrum, you use your fingers instead.
There is the very famous “The PIMA Formation,” an exercise you can find on Wikihow to learn fingerstyle. I am a self-taught guitarist, so I learned it myself. Here is how I teach my students:
Now, instead of a boring old exercise, let us try and learn “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. The first 6 notes are what we need right now. The reason why we need only the first 6 notes, for now, is because they are open notes. Now, focus, as we get to the main part
Step 1: With your thumb, you will play the bass notes. Here, that is the Open 6th string, low E.
Step 2: With your index, play the 3rd string
Step 3: Play the 2nd string with your middle finger
Step 4: Play the high E, 1st string, with your ring finger
Step 5: Now, go back up. Play the 2nd string and 3rd string with your middle finger and index finger, respectively.
Get this down! This is a very simple exercise, and you can easily, with dedication, learn it within 2-3 days. The rest of the song does get complicated unless you are an experienced player because there are a number of barre chords and fast picking. With that said, I would recommend learning as far as you can, challenge yourself.
If you are on the more beginner side, after learning the above steps, I recommend you do the following.
I am sure you must be familiar with the basic chords by now, so I am going to skip explaining that. You need to know how to finger pick guitar instead of strumming it now whilst holding these chords. Do all that fundamental chords, and I will take the G chord as an example here.
Step 1: Get your fretting hand in the position of a C chord and start strumming. Once you have made sure all the notes are correct and there no muting or buzzing, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Now, our focus will be the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd string. For now, let us ignore the two Es (1st and 6th)
Step 3: Play the 5th string with your thumb, the 4th with your index, the 3rd with your middle, and the 2nd string with your ring finger.
Step 4: Play it slow. Remember this, “if you can play it slow, you can play it fast”. Do not worry about speed in the beginning. Your focus should be playing correctly.
Step 5: Once you can play this smoothly, change the chord. Any chord you like.
Step 6: After circling through all of them (you can do this before as well), go up with your fingers. To spell it out: 5-4-3-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-3-4-5.
That is the very basics of learning “how to finger pick guitar”. There are so many more techniques, so many genres to explore. It is a very wide topic to cover in a single article, but that is the basics of them all. Hope this helped, and thank you for reading!