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So far I know some chords, and a handful of ways to strum. But I was wondering what is the best way to learn finger-picking on a guitar?

Also, would you recommend using your guitar pick?

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5 Answers 5

There are various styles of finger picking - some discussed here: Is there a proper finger picking style

How to learn will depend on each style, but learning strength and control of each individual finger is going to be essential.

Using your pick is not a recommendation as such - it is suitable for some things and not for others...it sounds different (sharper attack than the fingertip) and doesn't have quite the range of use (you can't use a pick in the same way you can use 4 fingers and a thumb)

Best bet is to think about what kinds of music you want to play - rock music is generally played with a pick (although there are numerous famous exceptions - eg Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits) whereas Flamenco and Classical guitar are played with the fingers.

I tend to play rock, metal and slide guitar with a pick, and flamenco, classical and 12 string with my fingers. But not always - see what you enjoy.

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Using your fingers, or using a plectrum, is a personal choice, and also depends on the piece you're playing. Try both, and see how you get on.

I spurned the plectrum for many years, but have recently found that bi-directional plectrum picking is the best way to play fast patterns on a single string. Example: the bottom guitar riff from 'The Killing Floor'

For finger-picking patterns, a good place to start is the patterns used by folk musicians. Google, or look in books, and practice some.

It's useful when learning to fingerpick, to establish which of the bass strings is the root note of each chord. It allows you to play conventional sounding accompaniments, and is a generally useful thing to know as your playing advances.

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The best way I found to learn finger-picking is to learn a song you love. "Blackbird" by the Beatles and "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas are great examples. Even some John Mayer if you're inclined, or Iron & Wine--anything so long as you like it. In that way, you'll find yourself practicing a song because you want to, not because you have to. A guitar pick isn't really necessary--you're using your fingers after all.

You can find hundreds, if not thousands of songs like that below.

Guitar Tabs

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I've recently made the transition from being a strummer to a fingerpicker. This is how I started:

  1. Start by playing the low E, open, using your thumb. Play that at a steady, 4/4, reasonable tempo.
  2. Now play the low E open and the A open, alternately, at that same pace and rhythm. Keep doing that until you don't need to think about it any more.
  3. Find an easy picking pattern, like the one here: http://www.fingerstyle.co.uk/
  4. Pick an easy song! Irish traditional stuff tends to be quite easy while being pretty. Try looking for 'She Moves Through The Fair', if that's your kind of thing.

Ultimately, you're trying to divorce your left hand from your right, so that they can achieve some kind of independence. This is always going to be difficult, but best of luck!

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Interestingly, both "Blackbird" and "Dust in the Wind" were written as exercises in first-fingerpicking songs. See, Paul McCartney hadn't really been taught the guitar and always used a flat pick when he played one. But he decided he'd write a song that sounded like a fugue that would make him finger-pick it. He points out that his nails make a kind of scratchy sound instead of a clean pick with the index and middle fingers. Source: Sir Paul himself. In concert.

For "Dust in the Wind", Kerry Livgren wrote this while playing his acoustic guitar exercises -- evidently the music came first, then the lyrics. He was just trying a different style. (From "Guitar Player Magazine".)

More typical fingerpicking styles are found in anything by Paul Simon or James Taylor. Jeff Beck, and of course as mentioned before Mark Knopfler are insane finger-pickers on electric guitars.

I couldn't agree more with the recommendation to find a song you love. Really, who cares whether you do it "right" just so long as you like what you hear?

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