I'm transitioning from playing primarily with a pick, to using just fingers, (no finger or thumb picks either).

I feel this gives me a greater range of tone and better control in most scenarios - however, playing lead lines or faster melodies is noticeably harder. I tend to pick melodies with just the index finger, using more for harmonies (double and triple stops).

What types of techniques are used to develop speed when finger picking? Is there anything similar to 'alternate picking' or 'economy picking' with finger style? Or rather, are there accepted methods and techniques to develop speed?

3 Answers 3


Yes - alternate your fingers.

Picking hand fingers are usually indicated with initials for the Spanish names of the fingers, because fingerstyle guitar originated in Spain. You've got P (pulgar: thumb), I (indice: index), M (medio: middle), and A (anular: the ring finger).

For most passages you use an alternating i-m or m-i fingering. If the line involves a string skip you might use i-a, a-i, m-a, or a-m to handle those bits. And rapid notes on the same string can be handled with i-m-a or a-i-m.

It takes a bit of practice. Any classical guitar method should give you some basic exercises to work with.


Have a closer look at the players that play solos/melodies exclusively with fingers. Mark Knopfler and Derek Trucks would be good examples.

They both alternate between thumb and index a lot with other fingers joining in when handy.

Mark Knopfler in particular has an interesting technique where he the alternate plucks are more like a snaps where the string sort of gets passed back and forth between thumb and index finger. Have a look at him playing the fast bit of solo from "Sultans of Swing" to see what I mean.

Obviously speed is relative, and it's hard to build up speed using fingers only right up to what's possible with a pick but for some players out there the advantages of more control over the tone, color and articulation will prevail.

Also bear in mind that even though playing a fast notes on a single string might be harder with fingers, many other things are easier. Like changing string really fast, skipping strings ect. so it could be argued that some licks can be actually played faster with only fingers.

For example the way Mark Knopfler plays these little arpeggios - that has a unique sound to it and even though it could be approximated by someone with a very good sweep picking technique, there's not way to make it sound a little "portato" so that there are little pauses between each note.


As well as the above answers, which talk about standard classical technique, my favourite cheat is to put my thumb and first finger together and use the first finger as a pick.

The usual alternating i & m technique is not fast unless you're very good at it and a pick will always win the race. The above trick is a sort of half-way house but a good tone may be elusive at first. Alternating p & i is very fast if you can master it but I feel it works better on steel strings than nylon because of the tonal difference between p & i.

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