How To Learn Fingerpicking On The Guitar

Today, we’ll be showing you four different techniques on how to learn to fingerpicking on the guitar. 

How To Learn Fingerpicking On The Guitar


Photo by Ruel Del Jamorol on Unsplash

To learn fingerpicking, you need to first know what it is. Fingerpicking is also known as fingerstyle. It is a guitar-playing style that involves plucking the guitar strings with the fingertips or fingernails, not picks.

There are a few techniques that are essential to getting fingerpicking right, these are:

The thumb technique for your bass notes

Repeating the same for all your other fingers

Rolling technique

Constant bass technique

The Thumb Technique For Your Bass Notes

If you are new to fingerpicking, this step is essential for you before you move on to any other thing. For this step, the first thing to do is find a neutral and comfortable position for your arm.

After that, you can bring your hand close to the strings and rest your thumb on the bass string. Do this while other fingers take the higher strings. Be sure that your thumb is as relaxed as possible on the 6th string. 

If you are doing this for the first time, play the bass strings with your thumb often. Do this until your fingers and joints become comfortable and accustomed to this new movement.

There isn’t exactly any perfect technique for placing the finger. This is why we recommend that you find the one that gives you the best and consistent tone before moving on to the other steps.

Repeat The Same Process With Your Other Fingers

When fingerpicking, the thumb is used to strike the last three strings (the bass strings), while the three remaining strings are played by the next three fingers.

Now, how do you tell when to use what finger? On a fingerpicking musical piece there are three letters represent three fingers. The first finger is represented by the letter “I”. The middle finger by the letter “M”. The last is represented by the letter “A”.

So, take the relaxed position you had in the first step. Now, use the first finger to strike all the high notes strings repeatedly until you have the perfect tone. Repeat this same process for all the fingers until you are relaxed, comfortable, and have gotten the perfect tone.

Don’t be in a hurry to get more complex things done. Be sure to take your time and find the fingerpicking style that works best for you and produces the best tone.

Rolling Fingerpicking Technique

Rolling is one of the main aspects of the fingerpicking technique. It is a more advanced level with fingerpicking, so, it is important that you master the techniques in the last two steps before getting to this point.

Rolling involves three different movements; rolling up, rolling down, and a combination of both. The first one involves striking the strings with your fingers in succession from your thumb to the last.

To practice this, you can hold any chord, then pick the strings from the thumb to the ring finger. Doing the reverse of this – that is, from bottom to top – is rolling down. With these definitions, you can already tell what the last movement entails.

So let us take an example with the C chord. Instead of just strumming the whole chord, you can create more soulful sound from fingerpicking (which is what makes it so interesting).

Now, with the C chord, you roll up with your thumb striking the fifth string, then have the first, second, and third finger hit the three high notes. Playing this starting from the ring finger up to the top is rolling down.

Like the other two steps this technique also requires some time getting used to. So, go easy on yourself and start slow. The more used to the system you get, the faster you can go.

Constant Bass Fingerpicking Technique

With this technique, you just have your thumb constantly playing one bass note as a foundation note. Then, you can use the rest of your fingers to add some melody on the higher notes.

To perform this technique, the important part is keeping the bass note going, this is where the mastery of the other techniques earlier mentioned comes to play. By this time, your fingers have gotten used to the perfect positioning and tone for the fingers and strings.

So, for the constant bass technique, all you have to do is to continuously play the bass notes, it could be one or two this depends on your preference, however, whatever you do has to be as basic as possible for starters.

Once you have mastered the bass notes you would be hitting, the next step would be to keep to timing or beat count, the consistency in these steps are very essential to the music that your fingerpicking would produce.

Once you have your bass note or notes set, the next thing would be to add a melody to the music with your higher notes. You can take this step one note at a time until you are completely comfortable with the basic stuff.

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Conclusion — How To Learn Fingerpicking On The Guitar

By now, we believe that you can already see that the fingerpicking style is a pretty interesting playing style. However, it is very important that you do not try to rush the process, if not you might not enjoy it as much.

It is said that nothing good comes easy, so, no matter how tasking it gets, practice each of these techniques as many times as you must in order to get it right. If you do this, by the time you get to the final stage of learning, you would be more than happy with the outcome.

The final tip we leave for you is to look around online for various exercises that would help you get better at speed, accuracy, and strength. We have added a video right here having a few exercises that you could use on your fingerstyle learning journey.

How To Learn Fingerpicking On The Guitar — Frequently Asked Questions

Is fingerpicking hard to learn? 

Fingerpicking is a somewhat difficult skill to learn, especially when compared with the alternative method of strumming. Fingerpicking involves picking out notes individually as opposed to strumming which involves playing chords. 

Learning the fingerpicking style will, therefore, take considerable time and effort from you. With some motivation and devotion, however, learning fingerpicking will become easier and with perseverance and practice, you eventually become a master at it. 

How long does it take to learn to fingerpick?

This depends on your dedication and consistency with learning and practice. With consistent practice, you should be able to play some songs using this style within a few months. However, to become proficient at fingerpicking, this could take years – up to 5 years, even. Bear in mind that it all depends on how much effort you are willing to put into practice. It helps to take your time and start slowly to ensure you cover the basics early and thoroughly. 

How do I get better at fingerpicking?

As with learning any other technical skill, improving your fingerpicking skills will take lots of practice. There’s no shortcut to it. Fortunately, there are numerous fingerpicking exercises that are available to improve your dexterity and speed while using this style. You can even access some of these exercises and tutorials on YouTube. 

It is important that you take your time to learn the required techniques as directed in these tutorials. Learn the correct hand and posture positions until you master it. Don’t be in a rush, take things slowly. Start with simpler lessons and master them first before proceeding to more technical lessons. But most importantly, practice, practice, practice. 

How many hours should you practice guitar a day?

The answer to this is not so straightforward. It depends on your level of expertise, that is, whether you are a beginner, amateur, or professional. Professional guitarists can practice for long hours in a day. Some claim to spend as much as 10 hours practicing. 

However, this approach may be counterproductive for beginners. For beginners, consistency is key. Practicing more frequently is more important than the length of hours per practice session. So, practicing one hour per day is sufficient. If long hours are desired, be sure to break the sessions into bits and allow breaks in between. 

Can you strum with your thumb?

Yes, strumming with your thumb is a normal practice. This is often applied when the guitarist intends to produce a softer and more subtle sound. 

Thumb strumming also gives a rounder sound in contrast to the bright sound you would achieve with a pick. 

While strumming with your thumb, it is important that you get the proper angle to place your thumb to prevent it from getting caught on the thinnest string during the up strums.

Is fingerpicking harder than strumming?

The answer to this is an overwhelming yes. Strumming is a lot easier than fingerpicking. When a player strums, he holds a chord and plays all the notes, whereas, fingerpicking involves picking out the notes individually. This is considerably harder and more difficult to master. 

Strumming provides rhythm to a song. Fingerpicking can be employed to play accompaniment for a singer or play the melody together with chords and bass notes.

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