I'm relatively new to fingerstyle - I've played Nothing Else Matters, I got the feel for fingerstyle, however in that song i didn't use any other fingers than my thumb and my first finger; I haven't got much experience in using all the fingers (excluding fourth).

I'm learning a new fingerstyle song currently and it includes using all fingers.

From what I know, thumb plucks E, A, and D strings, first finger plucks the G, second finger plucks the B, and third finger plucks the high E.

But, I'm developing slightly bit different finger-string pattern.

What's different in my plucking is, i pluck both the D and G strings with my first finger, instead of my thumb on the D. It feels more natural to me.

So i was wondering, should i kind of force myself to stick to the usual finger-string pattern; If i keep to my own pattern will it create problems in future?

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    Mark Knopfler has done pretty OK considering that he has an unusual approach to fingerpicking. Whatever makes you feel good and sounds right is the best approach generally.
    – PeteCon
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 20:27
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    You need to be able to do it various ways. There's no chance you'll be able to stick to your pattern for more than a few bars at a time. Your thumb needs to be able to play all the strings as required. Your pattern is fine but it's one of a hundred. Using your i finger on 4th and 3rd isn't going to work a lot of the time, but sometimes it will. .
    – PeterJ
    Commented Jan 24, 2019 at 11:35

5 Answers 5


There are many many different picking patterns to fingerstyle, and the 'rule' (of thumb!) on the bottom strings is only a basic guideline. One reason for that is the sound on the lower strings, using thumb: it gives a softer bass pattern.

However, some patterns will need all fingers (yes, I know lots of people frown at using pinky, but it's there if needed) so get used to the idea that you will play each pattern how you want to, and that will incorporate using whichever digits you feel necessary.

  • 1
    Be careful. It's only too easy, on just about any instrument, to get stuck with a limited but 'natural' technique that will put a brick wall in your progress. For instance, it's SO much more 'natural' not to turn your thumb under when extending a piano scale beyond the five-finger position. And you'll manage to play easy music without doing so. But you'll never play a fast scalic passage without stumbling.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 17:30

you can always do what you think it feels more natural (not only in guitar playing)!

and if it is more comfortable or natural to you to pluck the D or A string with the index -do it!

It won't harm later when you want to change it with the thumb. Imagine the mobility and flexibility a piano player needs with fingering.

Probably a professional guitar teacher might give you another advise. But he would surely first tell you how to hold the guitar in your hand.


Learn to use your thumb. You'll need ALL the fingers soon enough. The ones that don't 'come naturally' need extra attention, not leaving out.

  • 1
    He's already learned to use his thumb.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 18:08
  • 1
    As @Tim said, i've learned to use my thumb - I pluck the bottom two strings with it.
    – Nikad
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:01
  • Learn to use it where you said you didn't WANT to use it. D'oh!
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 19:51

Someone mentioned Mark Knopfler in a comment. He uses mainly thumb and first finger with occasional second finger. In one extremely fast pattern in Sultans of Swing he uses his thumb on the 1st string!

Here's Mark Knopfler himself playing this. There is a closeup of his right hand alternating between 1st and second string with his thumb. Sultans of Swing

It was clearly no block for him to develop his own style. Of course he is an exceptional guitarist but in an interview he mentions that he used to fall asleep playing riffs and styles. Practice is what makes perfect. Also he uses a pick when playing rhythm.


Here is Django Reinhardt. His left hand was damaged in a fire. Watch carefully; He is playing with only two left-hand fingers. Just watch the "impossible" run he does up the neck of the guitar.


As other people have said - it depends on what you're playing. You're also very new to the instrument, so it's no big deal at the moment.

However if you're playing a D or Dm chord then you very much do need to use your thumb on the D, otherwise you fundamentally can't get the notes you need to make a chord. If you're fingerpicking, you cannot move across strings with the same finger, so you wouldn't be able to fingerpick a D chord. (To commenters quoting Mark Knopfler or Django Reinhardt - yes I know good players can do it. The OP is a beginner. Go and nitpick elsewhere.) This is a very solid reason to get used to your thumb on the D string.

Ultimately when you get better then you'll get used to moving across the strings and using whichever fingers work for what you're playing there. Don't worry too much about it now. But do use your thumb for a D chord - that's a must-have and you will be depthcharging your playing if you don't.

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