Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – 5 Easy Ways To Sound Amazing

Looking for some fingerstyle guitar lessons? Let’s get started!

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • The basics of fingerstyle technique.
  • 12 awesome exercises to get your fingers dancing around the strings.
  • How to use your thumb, first finger and second finger for fingerstyle.
  • How to apply fingerstyle technique to basic chords.

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons|#1 Understanding Technique

Fingerstyle technique is an awesome way to add texture and nuance to your guitar playing and is used by tons of different guitar players.

Here’s an awesome video of guitarist Bert Jansch who is a fingerstyle virtuoso:

A classic beginner mistake is trying to use too many fingers to learn fingerstyle and fingerpicking.

In this lesson we are only going to be using our thumb, first finger and second finger. That’s all.

We can cover a lot of ground with just these three fingers.

Where Do I Place My Picking Hand?

Your hand should be roughly above the sound hole, with your thumb pointing towards the headstock and your fingers just below it above the strings.

 

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Where Do I Place My Fingers On The Guitar?

To start with it’s good to have a rule in place for where we’re going to place our fingers.

  • The majority of the time your thumb will mainly be playing the thicker E, A and D strings.
  • Your first finger and second finger will cover the thinner G, B and high E strings.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

What About The Rest Of My Fingers?

The fingers you currently have left are your third and fourth fingers.

There are a few things you can to do with these to help you with this classic technique.

Anchoring Your Fingers

One technique which a lot of players use is an anchoring technique, this is where you use your guitar’s body as a platform to anchor your fingers.

Place your 3rd and 4th fingers on the guitar’s body and try it. This can help with balance.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

This is a great technique as it helps you balance between the fingers you’re using on the strings and the fingers you’re not using!

However your fingers may not stretch this far and it just feels too weird for some people, which is why so many guitarists simply HOVER.

Hovering Your Fingers

If you 3rd and 4th fingers won’t reach over (or it feels too precarious) you may want to simply hover over the strings, like this:

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Even though hovering your fingers can be harder than anchoring them, it can be useful because it means your 3rd and 4th fingers can be used to play extra strings.

Ultimately you have to find what’s best & most comfortable for you so experiment with both these positions and see what feels right.

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Exercise 1

It’s important we get used to the motion of moving our fingers across the strings.

In this first exercise we are going to go between the Low E string, A string and D string using our thumb, first finger and second finger one after the other.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Notice how in the tab there are letters above the tab.

All this means is what fingers you use.

  • p=thumb
  • i=first finger
  • m=middle finger

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This may seem very simple, but this is a fundamental exercise and picking pattern for all aspects of fingerstyle guitar. Practice this pattern again and again using different chords shapes and see how it sounds.

Action point: Bounce back and forth between Em and G using this pattern.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons| #2 Using Your Thumb

The thumb is often neglected by guitar players but it can be an incredibly useful tool for a guitarist.

Using the thumb adds a softer texture to the guitar and can add a lot of dynamic range to your playing.

Before we get started let’s pick a chord that we can use throughout all these fingerstyle guitar lessons.

Let’s go with E Major. A fabulous fingerpicking chord as it’s big, bold and we can play all 6 strings.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

If you don’t understand how to read chordboxes, read this article of ours.

An E chord should sound like this:

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If you’d like to know some easier versions of E, check out this lesson: 4 Easy Ways To Play The E Chord On Guitar

We won’t be using any other chords in these fingerstyle guitar lessons, so make sure you have a good grip of this.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Using Your Thumb

Firstly we’re going to start off with something nice and simple.

All we’re going to do is alternate between the the low E string and the A string.

This is really great is at gets the thumb moving across two strings and is a classic fingerstyle technique.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Note: We are only using the thumb here.

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Using Your Thumb – Exercise 2

Now we’re going to strum with our thumb. This can add a soft texture.

All we’re going to do here is simply strum down and up using the side of our thumb, like this:

 

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Using Your Thumb – Exercise 3

The second exercise we’re going to look at is to add some bass notes to our strumming pattern.

So this time, we’re going to use our thumb to play the E and A strings separately. Whilst in between these notes, we’re going to strum the chord.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

It should sound like this:

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fingerstyle guitar lessons

Wondering what songs to learn on acoustic guitar? Here’s a list of the top 25 best acoustic songs of all time: The 25 best acoustic songs of all time | MusicRadar

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons #3 – Using Your Thumb And First Finger

Now let’s take a look at using our thumb and our first finger together, adding in the extra finger can be tricky, but don’t worry we’re going to go through a bunch of exercises which will help you tackle this essential technique.

This is classic fingerstyle technique, used in thousands of folk & country songs.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Thumb And First Finger – Exercise 1

To begin with we’re going to get used to the idea of the thumb and first finger being completely independent of each other.

To do this we’ll be individually picking each string with the thumb and first finger.

Our E, A and D string will be picked with our thumb.

Our G, B and E string will be picked with our first finger.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Thumb And First Finger – Exercise 2

The second exercise we’re going to do has some string skipping in it, this is a unique technique and can add a cool texture to chords.

This style of finger picking is great as it can often make your basic chords sound completely different!

This time we’re going to skip out the middle string.

The string pattern will go like this.

  • E string: thumb, D string: first finger.
  • A string: thumb, G string: first finger.
  • D string: thumb, B string: first finger.
  • G string: thumb, E string: first finger.

Then to follow that pattern you simply go back up the pattern:

(Remember we’re still just holding that E chord!)

fingerstyle guitar lessons

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Thumb And First Finger – Exercise 3

This exercise uses the first finger differently.

We’re actually going to use our first finger as a pick, whilst our thumb changes bass notes. Again, this is another classic piece of fingerstyle technique.

When we use our first finger, we’re going to use our nail to strum the rest of the strings. This works best with a downward strum towards the floor.

Our pattern will go like this:

  • E string: thumb, first finger: strum top three strings.
  • A string: thumb, first finger: strum top three strings.

Here’s the tab:

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Do you want to experiment with more than just an E chord? Here are a 6 different chords which sound amazing on acoustic guitar: 6 Amazing Chords For Acoustic Guitarists

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons #4 – Using Your Thumb, First Finger And Second Finger

Now we’ve gotten used to the idea of using your thumb and first finger together, let’s add in our second finger.

This is a big step. Take your time. Be content to just play using your thumb and first finger for a while, adding your second finger as a ‘bonus’ every now and then.

Adding in an extra finger adds all sorts of possibilities and can create a LOT of interesting patterns. We’re going to look at three different exercises to get your finger picking chops up to scratch.

Now we’re getting into pro-sounding fingerstyle technique. So cool!

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons -Thumb, First Finger And Second Finger – Exercise 1

The first exercise we’re going to learn is really great for chord comping. This is often heard in acoustic music, mainly by solo singers as it adds an extra bass part:

Our pattern is going to like this.

  • Low E string: thumb, G string (first finger) and B string (second finger) plucked at the same time.
  • A string: thumb, G string (first finger) and B string (second finger) plucked at the same time.
  • D string: thumb, G string (first finger) and B string (second finger) plucked at the same time.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Thumb, First Finger And Second Finger – Exercise 2

The second exercise we’re going to look at is really simple. We’re going to be alternating our first and second finger between the B and high E string, whilst our thumb changes the bass note.

Again, this is heard frequently in folk and country music and sounds fantastic.

It’s also a great exercise to keep the first and second fingers warmed up.

Our pattern goes like this.

  • E string: thumb, B string:first finger, E string: second finger.
  • A string: thumb, B string:first finger, E string: second finger.
  • D string: thumb, B string:first finger, E string: second finger.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

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Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – Thumb, First Finger And Second Finger – Exercise 3

This last exercise is a bit of a finger twister, so make sure you go slow when attempting this!

We are going to be finger picking each string and descending down each string as we go.

So our pattern will be something like this.

  • E string: thumb, D string:first finger and G string: second finger.
  • A string: thumb, G string:first finger and B string: second finger.
  • D string: thumb, B string:first finger and E string:second finger.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

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Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons #4 – The Claw and Mute

The final thing we’re going to look at is a technique which I think is often overlooked by many guitar players, however it is used frequently throughout acoustic-based music.

The “claw” uses your thumb, first finger and second finger together to play several notes of the chord at the same time.

Where as the “mute” is used as a percussive technique to stop the chord altogether, this sounds useless on it’s own but can create unique textures when combined with the “claw”.

Now we know what these techniques are, let’s get into some exercises which utilise them.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – The Claw and Mute – Exercise 1

This first exercise is going to use our thumb, first finger and second finger, whilst we pluck each string at the same time. It’s designed to create unique textures to chords, as opposed to strumming the whole chord. By using certain fingers we can create sounds which would be hard to create using a pick.

To do this we’re going to:

  • Use our thumb on the low E string.
  • Use our first finger on the G string.
  • Use our second finger on the B string.
  • Pluck all strings at the same time!

Here’s a tab:

fingerstyle guitar lessons

It sounds like this:

You don’t have to use these specific strings either, you can experiment with using different combinations of strings.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – The Claw and Mute – Exercise 3

In this exercise we’re going to specifically look at muting the strings after we’ve played them.

  • Firstly, strum your E chord.
  • Place your hand on the strings after you’ve played the chord.

You should be muting with the lower palm of your hand.

This will stop the sound of your strings almost instantly, as well as creating a cool percussive sound to your guitar playing.

Even though it’s a simple technique, it’s used frequently in fingerstyle playing and helps to cool and interesting sounds.

Fingerstyle Guitar Lessons – The Claw and Mute – Exercise 3

The final exercise we’re going to look is a combination of the two.

This time we’re going to add some rhythm to our playing, as well using this cool technique.

With your picking hand put your:

  • Thumb on the low E string.
  •  First finger on the G string.
  • Second finger on the B string.
  • Pluck the strings at the same time!

This time we’re going to add some rhythm to our chord, as well as muting it after.

Here’s what it looks like on the tab.

fingerstyle guitar lessons

Here’s a video showing this in action:

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

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We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

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