There are two main ways to play the guitar either with a guitar pick/ plectrum or by using your fingers. The technique for using your fingers is called fingerpicking or fingerstyle. This guitar lesson will introduce you to this technique.
Many beginners will tend to strum the guitar with just with their thumb to avoid having to use a guitar pick. However there is much more to proper fingerpicking technique than just this. Learning correct fingerpicking technique can be more difficult than learning how to use a pick as it involves coordinating four fingers and a thumb verses just one guitar pick.
Fingerpicking technique comes from Spanish Flamenco and classical guitar playing where the tips (and sometimes the nails) of the thumb and the four fingers are used to pluck the strings. Just as there are numbers for the four fingers on the fretting hand there are names for the thumb and four fingers on the plucking hand. They are:
- Pulgar (P) for the thumb
- Indio (I)for the index finger
- Medio (M) for the middle finger
- Anular (A)for the ring finger
- Chiquita (C) for the little finger
The exercises below show which finger to pluck with by using the abbreviations PIMAC. The little finger (C) is not used very much in most folk/rock/pop fingerpicking so the exercises here will just focus on the PIMA fingers.
Fingerpicking Plucking Finger Placement
The secret to good fingerpicking technique on guitar is where and how the fingers are placed on and over the guitar strings. Place your plucking hand over the strings with the thumb extended straight out and the other fingers curled under. The side of the thumb will pluck the strings while the other fingers will pluck the strings outwards away from the guitar body.
With the fingers in this position it’s easy to pluck the guitar strings quickly and smoothly. The best way to get comfortable with the fingers in this position is to practice arpeggio exercises. Using an E minor chord play the exercises using the PIMA fingers as written while keeping the plucking hand in position close to the strings.
Note how the thumb (P) moves to different strings in the exercise. In a way your thumb ends up acting like your bass player in many fingerpicking patterns. Once you’re comfortable with this try and play the arpeggios smoothly as possible using a metronome to keep time starting at 70 BPM.
Fingerpicking E Minor Arpeggios | Download
Next try playing the following exercise using the 4 chords of G E minor C and D7. Again follow the PIMA fingering keeping the plucking hand and fingers close to the strings. This exercise has a 50s pop ballad style similar to a Sam Cooke or Richie Valens song.
Fingerpicking 50s Style Arpeggios | Download
Finally try playing these 2 other arpeggio exercises again ensuring that you use the correct fingers to pluck the strings as indicated. The first exercise here is similar to the intro of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” while the second has more of a classical sound and is part of “Is There Anybody Out There?” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Fingerpicking More Than A Feeling Arpeggios | Download
Fingerpicking Is There Anybody Out There Arpeggios | Download
The aim of all these fingerpicking exercises in this guitar lesson is to create a smooth flowing sound with all your plucking fingers playing at the same volume and in time. For famous fingerpicking songs check out The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkle, Country Roads by Bob Denver and The A Team by Ed Sheeran.