How To Fingerpick 101

Have you ever caught yourself listening to a song, knowing for sure there was a guitar playing, but swore it almost sounded like a beautiful piano or harp? Did it seem like the music was jumping all over the place, while sounding very connected and ethereal?

Do you get down with classic artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or The Beatles on vinyl?

Or maybe The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons, and Ed Sheeran are among your top-played lists on Spotify?

Whether you into the oldies or the new hits of today, there is a commonality that connects them all.

Want in on the secret? They all use finger-picking techniques to play certain songs on the guitar.

What is Fingerpicking?

Fingerpicking (sometimes referred to as fingerstyle) is when you play the guitar with your thumb and finger pads or fingernails, rather than using a guitar pick. It has a distinctive sound due to the fact that instead of using a plastic pick to strum or brush the strings of the guitar all at once, we are now plucking each note, or a couple of the notes, of that chord.

Listen to the clip below to hear an example of this difference:



So how do you do this?

First, start with your thumb. I want you to think of your thumb as the bass notes, meaning, it’s going to play the lower sounding, thicker strings of the guitar. Take the side of your thumb and rest it on the thickest string of the guitar, nearest to your chin. Once it’s rested there, push the thumb down towards the ground. If you hit multiple strings, you will need to adjust your approach so that you only hit one string.
This index finger is going to play a different string, the thinnest string on your guitar and pull upwards, towards your chin. If you’ve hit multiple strings, you will need to adjust your approach and make sure you’re able to just hit that one string. Watch the video below to see this in action!

Here’s tablature of the exercise I am getting at…

And there you have it! You now have the bare bone knowledge of how to play guitar using fingerpicking techniques! Now, let’s blend in some real tunes to make this extra fun!

Bob Dylan - Blowin’ In The Wind

Metallica - Nothing Else Matters

Ed Sheeran - Perfect

“Why don’t you teach us the ENTIRE song?” you may be asking.

Truth be told, that’s how most people approach learning guitar and then learning songs. We do need to connect with music that you love, so it feels real and like you are getting somewhere. However, all of us – including virtuosos, beginners, semi-pros and hobbyists – need to spend time on techniques to get things right and not rush through the art of learning.

If you want to fingerpick, look no further. I’m here to help and I look forward to being a part of your journey!

Jonathan Olson is a Fingerstyle and Blues Rock guitarist from Everett, Washington. Here he lives with his family and is the Lead Instructor for The Guitar Circle, a music school serving Snohomish County. Looking for guitar lessons in Everett, WA?

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