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Learn how to play fingerstyle on guitar

Posted on January 12, 2024

Fingerstyle is a popular technique for guitar that allows you to create beautiful melodies, harmonies, and rhythms without the use of a pick. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist looking to expand your skills, learning fingerstyle can open up a whole new world of possibilities on acoustic guitar.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the basics of fingerstyle guitar, from proper hand positioning to essential techniques. With Yousician’s guidance and tips, you will be well on your way to mastering the art of fingerpicking.

What does it mean to play fingerstyle on guitar?

Playing fingerstyle on guitar refers to a technique where the guitarist opts to forgo the use of a pick and instead plucks the strings with their fingertips or fingernails. This approach allows for a more nuanced and versatile sound, as the fingers can produce a wider range of tones and dynamics compared to using a pick.

By utilizing various fingerpicking patterns and techniques, such as Travis picking or classical fingerstyle, guitarists can create intricate melodies, harmonies, and rhythms all on a single instrument. Fingerstyle on guitar not only showcases the guitarist’s dexterity and control but also opens up a world of possibilities for musical expression and creativity.

Fingerpicking guitarists often employ various techniques such as fingerpicking, where each finger is assigned to a specific string, or using a combination of fingers to pluck multiple strings simultaneously. By eschewing the pick, fingerstyle guitarists are able to create a rich and expressive tone, showcasing the versatility and beauty of the instrument.


The concept of Travis picking

Travis picking is a popular fingerstyle technique that involves keeping the beat with alternating bass notes using the thumb, while simultaneously playing treble notes with the index and/or middle finger. The technique is named after Merle Travis, a renowned American country guitarist who popularized this style of guitar playing.

Travis picking is a fundamental skill for any aspiring fingerstyle guitarist, as it allows for a rich and intricate sound, often incorporating syncopated rhythms. It serves as a great entry point for beginners looking to explore the world of fingerstyle on guitar and provides a solid foundation for more complex fingerpicking techniques.

Should I choose fingerstyle or flatpicking?

Flatpicking is a versatile technique that allows guitarists to play melodies and solos using a flat pick. It involves holding the pick between the thumb and index finger and using it to pluck the strings in a downward or upward motion.

This technique is commonly used in a variety of genres, particularly in country music. With flatpicking, guitarists can achieve a distinct and crisp sound, making it a popular choice for those looking to add flair and precision to their playing style.

When deciding between fingerstyle or flatpicking, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the style of music you want to play. Fingerstyle on guitar involves using your fingers to pluck the strings individually, and mastering this technique can contribute to a broad range of expressions.

On the other hand, as flatpicking involves using a pick to strum or pick the strings, it provides more control and precision, and for that reason, it tends to be easier to play faster this way.

Ultimately, flatpicking is a great technique for guitar playing as well. Experimenting with both techniques and considering your musical preferences will help you make the right choice.

How can I learn to play fingerstyle on guitar?

If you’re looking to learn how to play fingerstyle on guitar, there are several steps you can follow to develop your fingerpicking skills. Begin by practicing with your picking hand only on open strings, without fretting any chords. This will help you get comfortable with the motion and coordination required for fingerstyle playing.

Next, choose a chord with a bass note on the low E string and practice the pattern with your thumb on that string. Repeat this step for chords with bass notes on the A and D strings as well.

Once you’ve mastered these patterns, select a chord shape that allows you to pick all three low notes and practice the pattern, varying the bass note each measure. Finally, choose a chord progression and practice the picking pattern until you can play it smoothly and at your desired speed.

With the right technique and approach, you can learn to play fingerstyle on guitar while avoiding injuries and have a good first experience with fingerstyle. It is important to start with the basics and gradually build up your skills.

Proper hand positioning and finger placement are crucial to avoid strain and injury. Additionally, practicing regularly and gradually increasing the complexity of your fingerstyle patterns will help you develop dexterity and control.


Seeking guidance from experienced guitarists or online tutorials can also provide valuable insight and tips. Remember, patience and perseverance are key, and with time and practice, you will be able to master the beautiful art of fingerstyle on guitar.

Songs to play fingerstyle on guitar

If you want to learn fingerstyle on guitar or are already mastering it, there is a wide variety of songs that you can play using this technique. From older classics to contemporary hits, fingerpicking allows you to create beautiful melodies and intricate patterns on the guitar.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to improve your fingerpicking skills or an advanced player seeking new challenges, we offer a selection of songs ideal for fingerstyle on guitar at various levels. As a beginner, you can take on:

As an intermediate player, you can try great songs such as:

  • Let Her Go by Passenger
  • Jolene by Dolly Parton
  • Is There Anybody Out There? by Pink Floyd
  • Yesterday by The Beatles
  • Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton

As an advanced fingerpicking player, you could try:

  • Why Georgia by John Mayer
  • Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
  • Big Love by Fleetwood Mac
  • Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin

No matter your skill level, you can explore fingerstyle and the many ways it offers a unique and captivating way to express yourself musically on guitar.

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