90 percent of my playing is fingerpicking but whenever I have to play a rock tune I have to use a pick. I can fingerpick with my ring and middle fingers while holding the pick with my thumb and index but just can’t do many of the things I do when I play without a pick. What I’m missing is the power you get when playing power chords, etc. Has anyone been able to play rock strictly finger style ?


2 Answers 2


Sure you can!

You'll need a little bit of nail on your index finger and thumb, but you don't need much.

You pinch your thumb and index finger together as if you were holding a pick. Use the index fingernail for downstrokes and the thumbnail for upstrokes.

Also check out Andy Martin

Edit: This is what I do unless a gig requires a pick specifically. I mostly use index nail down, thumb nail up. For tremolo or other fast stuff, I might switch to just the index nail up and down. But I try to use all the nails at least a little, in an effort to distribute the stress and break fewer nails. For a lighter rhythm strum, you can strike Ukulele style and kind of slap the strings with all four nails at once and the flick the thumb nail back up for the upstroke.

Keep the nails as short as possible that still gets you the tone you need. Long floppy nails break. Keep them filed smooth. Nails with sharp edges chip. Chipped nails crack and break.

For more power, try downstrokes with index and middle nails combined. It gives you a super chunky attack because the effect on the string is like picking with the flat side of a triangle pick.

The most attractive feature of simulating pick styles without a pick is it allows you to seamlessly transition to other finger-only styles without having to juggle a pick at all.

  • That would be ideal for me but I wonder if it would damage my nails as Uncle Bob suggests. May 20, 2019 at 5:06
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    Interesting. I watched the video. It's possible that the nails will break when playing too aggressively. Not letting them get too long should help prevent that. I'm not entirely convinced that this would cause the nails to grow differently unless the nail bed behind the cuticle were to become damaged, because that's where the growth happens. May 20, 2019 at 5:39
  • @Francisco Chris Buck mentions that it happened when he was a teenager obsessed with Greenday and Blink 182. If you're sensible about it, and pay attention to any discomfort, I'm sure you'll be fine. May 21, 2019 at 4:41
  • @YourUncleBob Thanks for the solidarity! It may also depend on the specific technique. If you're grinding alternate strokes on just the index fingernail, better have calcium and vitamins in the diet. But if you strike downstrokes with index + middle (even +ringfinger) and flick upstrokes with the thumb, then the stress is pretty well distributed. Keep the nails short (for strength) and smooth (to prevent chipping) and you shouldn't run into too much trouble in this area. Think ukulele strumming. May 21, 2019 at 7:43
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    @luserdroog yep. Strumming w/nail even works on ukuleles with one or more metal strings, I can confirm from experience. I've never injured a fingernail on any metal string (even bass strings), but of course being careless could up the risk factor.
    – user45266
    May 22, 2019 at 22:47

I've always just used my fingernail like a pick - not because I need to be able to also play fingerstyle, but rather more mundanely because I once lost my pick right before a gig & had to try it.

I've stuck with it ever since.

  • ... and also appreciated easy transitioning to/from trad. fingerstyle itym (probably). May 21, 2019 at 7:47
  • I do work with the knobs but often this is not practical for me because I lead sing also, plus I have other gadgets to tend to. Thanks everyone for your suggestions. Ultimately, I have to take sometime to test different things. You gave me good ideas to experiment with. May 23, 2019 at 16:21

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