Fingerstyle guitar also called fingerpicking, is when you pluck the string directly with your fingers,
with or without nails.
This laser-focused fingerstyle guitar patterns guide illustrates the basics of the Arpeggio Style and the Travis Style (alternating bass).
If you’ve been inspired to start playing fingerstyle guitar or you are an experienced guitarist wanting to enhance your knowledge, this guide is for you.
With the fingerstyle patterns, I’ve selectively chosen after nearly 30 years of fingerstyle playing,
you’ll use your fingers to pick the individual notes out of common chords to play solo and
backup voice instead of strumming or picking those chords with a pick.
You’ll get a more versatile, full of nuance options and gentler way to play rhythm guitar.
Think of new and old famous songs like “Blackbird,” “Scarborough Fair”, “Tears In Heaven”,” See You Again”,
They are all based on fingerstyle guitar picking.
I’ll cover all the principles that will help you play multiple non-adjacent strings Simultaneously,
polyphonic melodies, arpeggios and with greater expressiveness.
When you implement what is in this ultimate guide you’ll find yourself fingerpicking the guitar without really thinking about it.
Fingerstyle Guitar – 7 Things To Know Before Playing
What is the best way to learn Fingerstyle?
To learn fingerstyle guitar, I recommend putting into practice all the patterns you see here.
It covers a huge variety of fingerpicking exercises.
The human brain is very well developed and we have already put a man on the moon,
but physically we are quite primitive and therefore the best way is by good old repetition.
In this way, we “tattoo” the movement in the brain and the fingers will react accordingly.
I would recommend studying in small doses.
For this matter, 1-5 patterns, 1 minute for each, 2-3 times a day, 3-5 times a week.
The idea is to practice effectively, and in focus and thus the progress will be the fastest.
Gradually, and already in the early days of the practice, you will feel that the patterns are becoming a second nature for you.
In what musical style can I use fingerstyle technique?
Fingerstyle is not a genre but a technique. A certain way to convey your musical idea.
Therefore, you can play and combine many music styles like rock, pop, country, latin, flamenco and of course, classical music.
In the last two, it was the musical ideas that created the technique of playing with the fingers alone.
In classical music, the solo guitarist needs to play simultaneously 2 melodic lines or more.
Or flamenco where there is a groove that is achieved by a certain rapid strumming repetition ( rasgueado )
that requires the guitarists to play with the outer and inner side of the nails combined.
What is the best way to hold the guitar when playing fingerstyle?
You can sit or stand with the guitar.
In the early stages, when you are still in the process of acquiring the skill of fingerpicking,
I recommend sitting as it’s more stable because it has more points of support with the legs than standing
where there are only 2 points of support for the arm and chest.
In this way, you’ll feel more in control and the chance of missing the strings while fingerpicking is smaller.
In the standing position, you’ll have to use a strap, which you’ll not need in a sitting position.
Which guitar do I need to play fingerstyle?
You can play fingerstyle on any type of guitar because the technical principles are the same.
At the same time, the same principles will adapt themselves to the type of guitar.
It’s like typing in different keyboard types:
You’ll probably need to adjust your typing ability for keyboard type, size, shape, spacing, etc.
In the same way, it’s just a matter of getting used to the type of guitar you have.
I have to point out that there are guitars that will feel more comfortable for you than others.
For example, if you have relatively large fingers, you will choose a guitar that will be larger than usual,
but you can get used to a standard guitar if you have it.
If you have a small body, a 7/8 guitar might feel more comfortable to hold, It’s a matter of habit and you can also enjoy a regular size guitar.
What if I have short or relatively big fingers?
If you have very large fingers, you may find yourself having trouble plucking a single string without
touching a nearby string.
As for the fretting hand,
succeeding in pressing one string in a certain fret without unintentionally,
having to mute another string is usually a beginner’s problem who haven’t yet got used to
the correct guitar position, the curve of the fingers and pressing point at the fingertips.
In this case, you should get an acoustic guitar with wider string spacing or buy a classical guitar which has wide spacing by default.
For those who have particularly short fingers the default spacing on acoustic and classical guitar is
just fine when fingerpicking.
As for the fingerboard, most of the acoustic guitar spacing will feel comfortable. If you want to play the classical guitar you can get a ¾ size guitar.
What are the ideal strings to play fingerstyle?
You can play with the strings on your guitar in case you have found the ones that
are most comfortable and suitable for you, no matter what type of guitar you have.
If you are in the stage before buying the guitar, then the strings that come with it are at standard gauge/tension.
At first, you may feel a slight burning sensation at the fingertips, your skin will peel off and a slight callus will appear.
I know it sounds terrible but soon the fingers will get used to it and the pain will disappear.
You can avoid it by more subtle and gentle fingerpicking with less tension in the movement of the finger.
There are many types of strings and this can be the subject of a whole post standing on its own.
Is it OK to learn fingerstyle by tabs if I don’t have formal training in music?
Having a B.A degree in musicology, which included four years of theories, analysis of works, harmony lessons, counterpoint, etc., I can state that when it comes to playing the most important thing is when the tip of the finger meets the string.
At the same time, if you reach the level of compositions with high musical complexity in terms of texture there are 2 options:
The first option is reading tabs, that clearly shows you which string and where to put your finger on.
If you practice it along with the audio of the piece everything will work out really well for you.
The second option is reading notes.
This is a more precise way but requires more learning and if classical music and studying music in any institution is less your goal, stay with the first option.
Do I have to keep nails for a fingerstyle guitar?
You can play with or without fingernails.
The sound of flesh will be more rounded compared to nails that will sound sharper.
You’ll find that playing with nails gives you more flow and speed because it is less “sticky” than the flesh.
However, With electric guitar, you’ll get that sharpness due to the pickups and electronics that sustain your treble.
If you play a nylon strings guitar the nails will give you high frequencies and without nails,
you’ll get a more mellow sound.
Guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel, Mark Knopfler, Romero Lubambo, Jeff Beck, Mike Oldfield and more, play without nails.
So it’s up to you.
If you decide to play with fingernails, you should approach the string ( physically and in mind )
as if you don’t have nails.
This way your playing will be closest to your specific hand and technique characteristics
and you will also feel most comfortable.