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?

10 Answers 10


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.


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.


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?


I would advise that the best way to learn finger-picking on guitar is: 1) the rest stroke, 2) the free stroke.

The rest stroke is the source of power and emphasis. As such, that technique is often used for melodic passages, and this is commonly used in classical guitar tunes. The rest stroke is easier to learn (than the free stroke) because as each finger comes to rest on the adjacent string, and that string provides a reference point to your next stroke on the same or other strings.

The free stroke is great for harmonic playing because all of the strings are free to vibrate. The key difficulty with the free stroke is developing a reference point for accuracy. Some players plant their pinky on the soundboard. Others use the thumb on a bass string. Some players develop a playing position that gives them sufficient accuracy without an "aid", like a planted pinky or thumb.

Concerning fingernails, if the nails are too long, the rest stroke will not release from your finger properly. Too short and the free stroke will suffer. Those players with long nails or added finger-picks have abandoned the rest stroke in favor of a louder free stroke.

My teacher used the Carcassi Method for classical guitar. It will help you learn these strokes, albeit with a classical guitar bias. As others have said, let the music that you enjoy listening to dictate what style(s) you should study. Nevertheless, I definitely recommend developing the rest stroke before the free stroke. Above all, enjoy yourself!

Lastly, concerning hybrid plectrum/fingerpicking techniques, you may want to review the responses to Combining fingerpicking with guitar pick. Alternatively, investigate the techniques of players who do so. Steve Morse comes to mind as a candidate; I'm sure that there are many others.


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


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!


I have decided not to use a pick when playing. I'm a big Mark Knopfler fan and usually play a lot of stuff in his style.

When I was learning, I didn't really follow any particular style, since I taught myself mostly. I generally use my thumb and first 2 fingers, however a lot of times you'll see lessons where you use the thumb for the lower 3 strings (we refer to strings in tone rather than position, so these are the thick E, A, and D strings) while index finger plays G, middle, B, and ring finger plays E.

Also, some people grow longer fingernails to pluck the strings with, I like to keep mine nice and short and use my fingertips. This gives me more of a connected feel to the guitar. It's easier for me to determine how hard I'm going to pluck or strum the string.

Finally, don't forget, you don't always have to strum down or just with your finger tips. Often I will strum down (direction this time - to confuse matters) with the fingers curled over and use my fingernails then strum up the tips of my fingers. I'll often play 2 strings, one with the middle finger, the other with both thumb and index finger to get a bit of extra punch.

With all that said, there's so many different ways you can accomplish finger picking, go online to Youtube and search for "basic fingerpicking" where you'll find a whole array of examples. Work at your own pace, and pick the style which is both comfortable and sounds good to you.


When I first started finger picking or fingerstyle I first learnt the root notes of each chord eg, G major on the sixth string where there is a G note, D major and minor on the fourth string where there is a D note, and A major and minor on the fifth string where there is an A note. After that I made up different fingerpicking styles until making a fingerpicking style on the spot was as simple as making a strumming pattern. Lately I have been trying to learn a type of fingerstyle called hybrid picking where the pick is held with the thumb and index finger and the other fingers are free to pluck strings, this really helps to have different tones and dynamics in songs. I would overall recommend hybrid picking at the start. I hope this has helped. :)


I would suggest getting a good beginners fingerpicking book. To start with you want to just concentrate on playing chords with different picking hand patterns. You should be able to transfer the picking pattern to any chord sequence you can play (you'll have to vary patterns a bit depending on which string the root note is on, but that should become quite easy). You can sound quite sophisticated just by playing picking patterns over chords, when you play patterns with alternating and or syncopated bass notes.

The next stage is then to start adding a few notes that are not part of the chord such as passing bass notes to connect chords or melody notes on the higher strings. If you can do this and add in accents, hammer-ons, pull-offs and maybe a bit of palm-muting, you'll be reasonably advanced.

Once you can do all this, you'll be more than equipped to start playing full finger-picking arrangements with 2 or 3 part harmony.

I would recommend not starting with a pick as it reduces the number of fingers you can use. Once you're comfortable using thumb, index, middle and ring (p.i.m.a. in fingerpicking notation) feel free to experiment with picks. A lot of patterns only use p.i.m. and you can adapt them for use with a pick, but you will be a more rounded player if you can also play without pick.


Best way to learn how to fingerpick is to fingerpick. Take simple songs like Metallica-Nothing else Matters, Freight train... anything you want, just play it over and over again and you will get it. Keep it slow at first dont rush. I played songs at 50% speed just to keep it right. It is slow proccess but you will get better. Patience my friend.

Good luck!

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