Finger Style First Steps

Fingerstyle opens up a whole new world of guitar playing. It can transform a song stylistically when going from strumming to fingerstyle and it can open so many creative doors for you.

The Basics

For this exercise, we’re going to be playing in 6/8 time. That means there are six beats per bar.

When using fingerstyle, we use our thumb, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers to pluck the individual strings. We don’t use the 4th finger, but more on that later.

Typically, each finger will be assigned to one of the three thinnest strings. The thumb handles the three thickest strings, moving around between them to play the bass notes of whichever chord is being played.

To Anchor or Not To Anchor?

The 4th finger on your picking hand isn’t completely useless here! Many people find it helpful to use it as an anchor for their hand by resting it on the guitar body. Personally, I don’t! I’ve got a short little finger, so for me, it creates a lot of unwanted tension in my hand. Of course, tons of brilliant musicians anchor (almost all of my favourites!), so it’s very much a matter of personal preference.

Nails or No Nails?

Again, this is up to you. When picking with nails, you’ll get a sharper, crisper, and louder sound from the strings, whereas when picking without nails, you’ll get a softer, rounder sound. It just depends on what sound you’re going for. Of course, make sure you’re consistent! If you’ve got all short nails but one that’s slightly longer, that string with the long nail will ring out pretty obviously over the rest.

Oh, and a pro tip for playing with nails - make sure there are no nicks or snags in them. Keep a nail file handy for this. The worst thing is to have a snagged nail get caught on a guitar string and ripped off. Ouch!!

Getting the Sound

When playing fingerstyle, start slowly and really pay attention to the quality of sound you’re getting from the strings. Be careful to let the notes ring out, and find a good hand position that allows you to get the sound you’re looking for.

One thing to look out for is not to have too much movement in your hand - it’s mostly going to come from your fingers! This will give you nicer contact with the strings and it will prevent you from essentially grabbing and pulling at the strings. That’s never great.

Bass notes

The thumb will play the bass note of the chord and the string that the bass note is found on changes with the chord. The bass note will be same no matter if the chord is major, minor, sus, 7 or 13#5b9 :)

Root on String 4: D and mini F

Root on String 5: A and C

Root on String 6: G and E and full F barre

The Exercise

We’ll be doing an entire module on fingerstyle in Grade 3, but this is just enough to get you started with it.

Again, your thumb will handle the bass notes (which will change depending on the chord) while your fingers take care of the rest.

The pattern (each played on the beat) is:

1 2 3 4 5 6
T 1 2 3 2 1

Pick a chord and practice this pattern with it. Go up and down the chord slowly practising the pattern. Focus your attention on maintaining consistent volume, consistent tone, and even timing. You don’t want it to sound lumpy and patchy! 


Lesson 11: Sus Fingerstyle