Fingerstyle and Fingerpicking

The difference between fingerstyle and fingerpicking guitar. The benefits of fingerpicking. Where to start with fingerstyle.

In addition find the best guitar for fingerpicking. Furthermore find patterns and practice techniques.

Use your fingers!

Why I Choose Fingerpicking

I have to say that after seven years of playing guitar I was getting a little stale. I needed something else. I would jam with my buddy but when he was not around I was just sitting around strumming. Most of the time I was noodling. I felt I wasn’t progressing and I was getting bored with simply strumming.

Fingerpicking, some refer to it as fingerstyle, gave me the challenge and rewards of taking my guitar playing to the next level. I even convinced my jam buddy, who has been playing for over forty years, to give it a shot. He loves it! In addition the only thing I use my guitar pick for is tuning my guitar. I use the end if my index finger to strum!

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What are the benefits of fingerstyle or fingerpicking guitar?

Fingerpicking or fingerstyle guitar is the most satisfying skill you can learn. The level of enjoyment, satisfaction, your interest and your playing skills will go to a new level. Fingerpicking is a totally different approach to guitar playing that is a lot of fun and challenging. But the surprise to me from learning fingerpicking, was the the added benefits to my overall guitar playing techniques.

I refer to what I do as fingerpicking. I play Travis picking patterns. I use my fingers and I play normally.

What’s The difference

The difference between fingerpicking and fingerstyle will vary with who you are talking to. To me they mean pretty much the same. Some might refer to classical style playing as fingerstyle. Some might say that using a pick to flat pick is more like fingerpicking.

As I have found, the benefits of fingerpicking have far exceeded any of my expectations. I have always been interested in fingerpicking and in particular Travis picking. Strumming with a pick has always been a bit of an issue and I still don’t fee totally comfortable with a pick in my hand. Probably more mental than anything else, but never the less a struggle. I was looking at fingerpicking as another means of playing. I figured if I could learn to fingerpick then I would feel more comfortable with my playing.

I struggled for over six months trying to learn the Travis picking style of fingerpicking. I watched and followed many video tutorials only to find that I had advanced very little. It was frustrating until I found a video by Dennis Anthonis on a Travis picking pattern. Eureka! His method is so simple and I caught on fairly quickly and in the two months I have been practicing I am now able to change chords and pick at a level I am pleased with.

But the added benefits I discovered have elevated my guitar playing overall to another level as well.

Benefit #1

Fingerpicking forces you to focus on technique. It’s simple really, you have to be on time with chord changes compared to strumming. When you are playing with a group you can mess up all day and still make it sound half decent. But you can’t do that with fingerpicking because you are playing individual strings, and if you are late on your chord change it is quite noticeable.

Benefit #2

The speed at which I can change chords now has improved a great deal. This is a great benefit and pointed out how lax I was at this. Playing with my buddies helped but I could be slack with chord change speed all day and it wouldn’t really matter them. As well this really helps if you want to play with players other than you jam buddies. Some players really mind that some players can’t keep up.

Benefit #3

Chord changing speed has helped with my strumming. A bad habit of players who are always catching up is that they tend to stop strumming when they miss or are late changing chords.

This big improvement is a result of practice. I know most people don’t want to hear that, but practice does make permanent. Your improvement will be a direct result of your practice routine and frequency of practice.

Where should I start with fingerstyle and fingerpicking guitar?

Just a couple things about learning and practicing fingerpicking.

Choose a fingerpicking pattern that you find comfortable to learn. It doesn’t have to be a complicated pattern but one that you feel comfortable playing. You can always learn more complicated patterns later. Practicing any fingerpicking pattern just reinforces that muscle memory. Over time it makes learning more complicated patterns easier.

Practice with a metronome or if you find that too boring practice to a two chord song. Practice that pattern until you feel comfortable changing chords, then introduce another chord.

People get frustrated because they are not progressing fast enough. Set goals! My long term goal was, “to be able to sit down with just about anyone and play along”. Your first short term goal could be to learn to play between two chords. If you have a set practice schedule, you will get better, but it takes time. Noodling is not practice, make sure you are practicing a skill like changing from chord to anther smoothly. Practice the things you are weak at until they get to the same level as the things you are good at.

Practice slowly. This reinforces muscle memory much better than playing fast. In addition it is much harder to play in time while playing slowly. Ten to fifteen minutes a day of practice is better than one long session per week. Furthermore take baby steps. Don’t try to learn it all at once. Learn in small increments until you know that skill, then add more.

If you just want a new challenge then learn fingerpicking as an alternative to strumming. If you want to improve your playing technique in general, dedicated practice of fingerpicking will do that for you.

What are the easiest fingerpicking patterns to learn?

The easiest fingerpicking patterns to learn first, are the ones you feel comfortable with!

Many guitar players have never tried fingerpicking. Some can do a little picking to enhance a song. You may be a player that has looked at learning fingerstyle. You may have gotten frustrated, or you were trying the wrong fingerstyle to suite you.

Let’s have a look at the fingerstyles I play and in addition the pattern that got me started.

There are many teachers of fingerpicking that do not like teaching patterns. Moreover they would encourage you to develop what’s called “thumb independence” first (I’ll explain that below). I tried that for months but it really got me no where. Moreover I wanted more immediate gratification. Learning a pattern to start gave that immediate gratification.

What Is Thumb Independence

When I first decided to start learning fingerstyle I scoured the Internet for fingerpicking lessons. In addition most of the instructors focused on developing “thumb independence”. I went ahead and tried to develop that. It was just frustrating period. Not that developing thumb independence is not a good thing, because it is.

Many fingerpicking styles require that you have that thumb independence. This means that while playing fingerstyle the thumb is either playing one or a combination of the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. Moreover the thumb is playing on the beat, 1,2,3,4, while the fingers could be playing with or between the beats. In Delta blues for example, many time the thumb is playing one string at a time. While Travis picking demands the thumb alternate between two strings such as, 6-4, 5-4 and repeat that throughout.

Getting An Advantage On Learning Thumb Independence

As I said above I spent hours just practicing my thumb independence. Eventually I stumbled across a video on a Travis picking pattern taught by Dennis Anthonis. He teaches a Travis picking pattern to the song Brain Damage by Pink Floyd. I was excited that I could learn a pattern and practice playing a song. In addition the first part of the tutorial only focused on the first four strings which made learning it easier.

This fingerpicking pattern teaches you the thumb movement in fingerstyle. In addition as time progresses, learning thumb independence becomes easier. Now after a couple of years I am starting to see that thumb independence becoming easier to learn.

Before You Start Fingerpicking

I would not discourage anyone from trying to learn fingerstyle guitar. But, I do recommend, if you are a beginner guitar player, to learn the chords first. For me, even knowing a lot of chords, I found it difficult at first to get the right and left hand working together. If you do learn the pattern taught by Dennis Anthonis, there are only four chords for the first part of the song. In addition one of those chords is a one finger chord. Moreover it is a good place to start learning period. As well I found I can use this pattern with just about any song.

This is a new skill. It will take time, so give yourself the appropriate time to learn. Furthermore don’t get discouraged. With practice it will come. Once you get it, your guitar playing life will change forever. You won’t be sorry!

Fingerpicking Styles

Travis Picking

Probably the most common and well know type of fingerpicking. It was made popular by Merle Travis. In addition it is know for it’s alternating bass line. This is the type of picking taught by Dennis Anthonis as mentioned above.

I can’t even hazard a guess at how many Travis picking styles there are. It has been adapted by many players. In addition players such as Chet Atkins and Tommy Emanuel developed their own styles. Furthermore many players use a thumb pick to get a real thumping kind of sound. I don’t use a thumb pick but it is something I am working on. In addition many players use palm muting which is another skill I have been working on.

Travis picking can also be either a three string bass line or a two string bass line. Playing a G major for example the bass line could be 6-4, 5-4 string or just 6-4 strings. The thumb alternates between either 6-4 and 5-4 or just 6-4.

Other Types Of Fingerpicking Styles


Rockabilly is similar to Travis picking in that it uses an alternating bass line. In addition it is a very upbeat type of playing.

Delta Blues

Delta blues, for the most part, uses a single bass line. You always play the root note first (this is true for all fingerpicking). In other words when playing a cord the thumb is playing one string. For example when playing a G major chord the thumb is playing the 6th string. That is the first string played with the thumb. Either with a pinch or by it’s own. For a C major the thumb is playing the 5th string and so on. In addition, in this style, the fingers are very active playing a melody.

Piedmont Blues

Very similar to Delta blues, but a totally distinct sound. The thumb is playing in time, 1,2,3,4 on one string and the fingers playing the melody over top.

Even More

Other types of fingerstyle picking I have tried or am learning.

  • Mississippi Hill Country
  • Texas Blues
  • Flamenco
  • Classical

…and the list goes on!

Classical Style

When people think of fingerstyle or fingerpicking guitar, classical guitar may come to mind. No matter what type of music you like, there is always a classical piece that will get your foot tapping. In addition, classical guitars have nylon strings. The nylon strings gives the guitar it’s distinct sound.

The best classical players are true artists. After practicing and playing fingerstyle for about two years now, I have an immense respect for those players. Moreover it very well may be the most well known fingerstyle.

Learn Classical style.

Flamenco Style

Not as well know as the Classical style, people relate Flamenco to Classical. It is best accompanied with Flamenco dancing. It is more of a passionate, driven with tempo.

Learn Flamenco Style Guitar

Travis Picking

Anyone who is a fingerstyle player will tell you there are probably hundreds of Travis picking styles. Travis picking is know for the alternating thumb technique. In addition the thumb always starts on the root note. Along with and between notes the other fingers play a melody.

Travis picking is named after Merle Travis. Merle Travis and Chet Atkins made this type of picking popular. Furthermore Atkins had his own style of Travis picking.

Learn Travis Picking

Blues and Genres

It is said that the blues originated in the deep south of the USA. Born from religious and work hollers and chants. Today there are many forms of the blues. Mostly regional, the blues took on many forms. Some examples of blues genres are listed below. Wikipedia lists three distinctive sub categories of blues. As well you can find the most famous musicians in each genre here.


  • Boogie-woogie
  • Classic Female blues
  • Country blues
  • Delta blues
  • Dirty blues
  • Electric blues
  • Hokum blues
  • Jump blues
  • Source (Wikipedia)

There are fusion genres and regional genres as well.

  • British blues
  • Canadian blues
  • Chicago blues
  • Delta blues
  • Detroit blues
  • Hill Country blues
  • Kansas City blues
  • Louisiana blues
  • Memphis blues
  • New Orleans blues
  • Piedmont blues
  • St Louis blues
  • Swamp blues
  • Texas blues
  • West Coast blues
  • Source (Wikipedia)

Learning The Blues

Links to tutorial on learning fingerstyle guitar.

Delta Blues
Piedmont Blues
Texas Blues

Best Fingerpickers Ever

Ask any guitar player and you will get different answers to who is the best fingerpicker, or guitar player. Trying to figure out who is the best player is an impossible task. Like any skill there are great players in their time. There is always someone who comes along that is better.

The only answer is, the player that is your favorite. I have a few favorites like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, just to name a few. In addition I also have many players I love to listen to. To each their own.

Guitars For Fingerstyle

ibanez ac340 grand concert guitar

One thing I have noticed since playing fingerstyle guitar, is the type of guitars most good players use. I’m not saying you need to go out a buy a special guitar for picking, you can use any guitar you like. Grand Concert or Orchestra model (OMs) guitars are the most popular. Moreover they are the perfect size for comfort. In addition they are a great size for smaller people to learn on. Just some food for thought. More on these guitars.

I use an Ibanez “Artwood Series” AC340. In my opinion, for the money, it is the best Grand Concert sized guitar on the market. Here is a review of the comparison between the Ibanez AC340 and a $1000 Martin. After watching this review I went out and bought one.

For your interest here’s an article on “the easiest guitars to play“.

Guitar Strings – What’s The Difference?

acoustic guitar strings

Guitar strings are something that players should be thinking of more. In addition I have seen strings on guitars that are really too old and should be replaced. A friend of mine changes his strings every two weeks.

Guitar strings should be replaced at least twice a year. Moreover if you play a lot, they could be changed three to four times a year.

What Type of Strings Are Available?

The normal range of guitar strings start from .010 to .013 gauge strings. The .010 gauge being the lightest and easiest on the fingers. In addition the .010 string would the high e string. Moreover a string set in this gauge will be from .010 to .052.

The most common string size is .012 gauge and .011’s. These are referred to “lights”, although some people call the .012’s mediums. I use .012’s on my acoustics. In addition this gives me enough tone without going to a larger gauge.

The .011’s go from .011 to .052 gauge. The .012’s run from .012 to .053 in gauge.

For those with well developed finger calluses, .013 gauge strings are also available. Check and make sure your guitar can take the extra tension from larger strings.

Coated vs Non Coated

This is a personal choice. I use non coated strings on my acoustics. I find with fingerstyle you get a little more tone. Coated strings (Nanoweb) are easier on the fingers, but as a consequence you loose a little in tone. That’s just my opinion.

What Guitar Strings Should You Use?

If you are just starting out a light set of coated .011’s or .012’s will do until you have played for awhile. Once you have some experience you will be able to tell what gauge of string you like.

Can I Change My Own Strings?

You will find a lot of videos on how to change guitar strings. It is a fairly straight forward process. However, it does take some practice. Furthermore practicing on an older guitar is recommended.

I will change them myself if not getting a set up done. Normally I will change one string at a time. I tune that string, then move on to replace the next one. This system keeps the proper tension on the neck.

Yearly Maintenance

At least once a year I take my guitar to my “set up guy”. Doing this will ensure that you are getting the best out of the guitar you have. Most music stores will have someone on staff that can do that for you. I have the following list done once per year, besides changing strings every two months:

  • Old strings removed and fret board cleaned.
  • Check for fret wear and repair if necessary.
  • Check if any truss rod adjustment is needed.
  • Check the body and bridge.
  • New strings installed.

Sometimes small adjustments can make all the difference in your guitar’s performance.

Storing Your Guitar

I always tune my guitar down, store it in the case and add hydration. Most people don’t like to do this because it means tuning each time you pick up the guitar. Since I always tune my guitar each time I play anyway so it’s no big deal to me. Here’s my suggestions to give your guitar the best chance at performing at it’s best.

  • Tune down the guitar a half step. This just means loosening the strings slightly.
  • Leave it in the case.
  • Give the guitar some form of hydration.

String Suppliers

Seasoned players have their favorite strings. The rest of us are trying strings from different suppliers. However, I do know I prefer .012’s over .011’s. I have tried all of the suppliers below. Their .012’s non coated strings all seem to work well.

Learn To Read Tabs For Guitar

An easy way to remember and practice fingerpicking is by using tabs. Lots of instructors offer tabs instructors as part of their instruction. In addition you can find lots of tabs for Cigar Box guitar written this way.

Tabs Fret By Fret

tabs for fingerstyle guitar

First tabs are viewed what appears to be upside down. High e string at the top, (number 1 on left).

In this tab 0-3 on the 6th string means, play the first note open on the 6th string and play the second note on the third fret 6th string. This repeats on the 5th string as well.

Next note play an open 5th string then a note on the second fret on the 4th string.

This repeats on the third string.

This tab has eight beats. Moreover if playing fingerstyle you can play strings 6, 5 and 4 with your thumb. Play the third string with your index finger. Or play them all with one finger. Scales would be written like this.

Tabs For Fingerpicking Patterns When Playing Chords

Tabs for playing a pattern when playing chords are fairly simple. The pattern is then repeated throughout the song. I can use this Travis Picking pattern for hundreds of songs. In addition even though it looks complicated it was one of the patterns I picked up quickly.

In the tabs below the yellow is played with the thumb. The other notes can be played with one or two fingers. Furthermore I use my thumb and my index and middle fingers to play this pattern. You can do it with one if that is the most comfortable for you.

Benefits of The Pattern Covered Below

Fingerpicking itself has a huge benefit of taking your playing skill to the next level. In addition it improves your timing and chording improvement.

The pattern helps you with the two benefits just mentioned and in addition gives you the tools to learn alternating thumb and thumb independence.

Fingers To Use While Fingerpicking

The most seasoned fingerpickers play with three fingers. In addition the thumb normally plays the baseline, strings 4, 5 and 6. The index for string 3, the middle finger for string 2 and the ring finger for string 1. This is not carved in stone. Furthermore use whatever fingers you feel comfortable with. Start with one and add fingers if you wish.

I played with two fingers for the last wo years. Furthermore I am now adding my ring finger more. It will be the hardest finger to train. But with time it gets better and it is starting to feel more natural.

Travis Picking Pattern Tabs

This is the first pattern I learned. I use this pattern with just about every song at Jam. Most of these Travis Picking patterns work with just about any song you play. The one covered below is a good starting point. Thumb is shown with a yellow dot.

I use two fingers to play normally, with the pinky anchored on the guitar top. I use the thumb and middle to pluck the first note, my thumb and index to play 2-and, and my thumb and middle to play 3-and. And of course the thumb to play 4.

Start On The Root Note, Easier Than You Think

The tab at left (tab for root of E) is a fingerstyle pattern for playing a chord with the root of E. For example if you play an E-minor, an E major or a G major, you would play this pattern.

  • First pinch the Low e and High E strings (6-1) together. In addition dots that are lined up together are played together.
  • Secondly the thumb plays the third string, and play the second string immediately after, in between the second and third beat. Play it on the “and” beat, (2-and).
  • Thirdly the thumb plays the 4th string followed by the “and” beat on the first string, (3-and)
  • Lastly play the third string with the thumb.

tab for the root of A

In this tab the starting point is different than above. Moreover in this tab, for the root of A, you would pinch 5 and 1 and follow the same pattern as above.

The rest of the pattern is the same as for the root of E above. 2-and, 3-and, 4

Use this pattern if you are playing a C major, B7, A major, A minor, A7

tab for root of D

This pattern is similar to the other two except for the starting point. This starts with pinching 4 and 1, for chords with the root of D. In addition you can use this pattern for any chord played on strings 1 to 4.

Furthermore I use it to play D major, D7, D minor, and since I don’t play Barr chords, my “cheaty” F and B.

Not counting the pinch start of each chord, the rest of the pattern is the same for all three. After the pinch, 2-and, 3-and, 4…in other words play strings 3-2, 4-1, 3. Remember play the thumb on the beat 1,2,3,4. The “and” beats are played in between.

Another Simpler Travis Picking Pattern

This pattern is a simpler pattern than the one above. However, I found it a little more difficult to master than the one above. Go figure!

travis picking root of E

This pattern has four notes, 1,2,3,4. This the pattern for playing a G major, E major, E minor, and any chord with the root of E.

In addition in all of the examples here the thumb plays 1 & 3.

I use the index finger for 2 and my middle finger for 3.

travis picking root of A

The same pattern but for chords with the root of A.

Chords such as C major, A major, A minor, B7 can be played with this pattern.

Again the thumb plays 1 & 3.

travis picking root of D

As you can see the it is the same pattern but we have dropped down to the the high e and B strings.

Play chords such as D major, D minor, D7.

And like above the thumb plays 1 & 3.

You can still use your index and middle fingers to play 2 & 4. Furthermore you can also use the middle and ring finger to play 2 & 4.

The Alternating Thumb

Travis picking is defined by the alternating thumb pattern. The thumb always plays on the beat.

Two String: The thumb plays on beats 1 and 3.

Three string: The thumb plays on beats 1,2,3,4. For example the thumb alternates between strings 6-4 then 5-4.

In both examples above the the index, middle and/or ring finger are playing with or between the thumb.

Thumb Picks

thumb picks for fingerstyle

You will see some players using a thumb pick. I am just now starting to use one. Moreover it takes some time to get used to it. It does enhance the sound you get while playing the bass notes.

Some fingerpickers also use finger picks. I find these cumbersome, but haven’t practiced enough to get use to them. It’s good to try all of these options to see what you like.

Easiest Guitars To Play For Fingerpicking

If you do get into fingerstyle guitar you can play on any guitar. Most fingerpickers use smaller guitars like Grand Concert models or even Parlor sized guitars.

I use an Ibanez AC340 Artwood. This is a Grand Concert size guitar. It is by far a lot easier to play than a dreadnaught. In addition I bought this guitar after seeing a review of it compared to a $1000 Martin. Watch the review.

Read more on the easiest guitars to play fingerstyle.

Give Yourself Time To Learn

No matter, whatever you do in life, if you do it everyday, it doesn’t take long for it to become natural. It took me about a month to play this pattern without thinking about it. In addition I practice every day, so I think I picked it up it up quickly, for my skill level.

In other words give yourself time to learn. Furthermore, In my opinion ten minute practices, 5 to 7 days a week, is better than a 2 hour session once a week.

Moreover correct me if I’m wrong but muscle memory works better when done often and slowly. In addition practice as slow as you can and work up to faster.

Practice Makes Permanent

When people think about guitar practice they normally think about it as a chore rather than what it should be, fun and learning.

The fact of the matter is that in order to do anything well you need to practice it. Practice makes permanent not perfect, since there is no such thing. This article may help you along and get your mind in the right place.

What’s the bad news about practicing guitar?

The bad news is that you have to do it.

What’s the good news about practicing guitar?

The good news is that making practice your own fun and making it consistent will only make your playing better. We all have good intentions but in order to get the best out something you need to practice. In addition you can practice even without a guitar in your hand.

What is practice with a purpose?

When I was younger I was a good athlete in that I was fast, I could run and skate like the wind. However I hated to practice, all I wanted to do was play. If I had put my efforts into practicing skills I may have been able to do something in sports. You can be the faster runner or the faster skater, but if you don’t practice the basic skills you will not develop into an all round player.

Purpose Equals Goals

Learning to play an instrument is no different than any other skill and learning the basics of any skill is vital. Like most skills improving your guitar playing skills has many moving parts. A purpose usually means a goal. Make a goal fo you guitar playing and work towards that.

What’s the first step in guitar practice?

Identify where you need to improve. No matter what level you play at there’s always something that can be improved. For example you may need more practice with proper poster, strumming techniques, fingerpicking techniques or chord changing. It may be all of these in which you can break up your practice into three or four five minute segments with ten minutes for putting into practice what you have just practiced with backing tracks or a favorite song.

What’s the second step in guitar practice?

Make some goals. When I first started fingerpicking I set a goal of a year to be at the level I wanted to be. My goal was to be able to play along with other players at jams.

A Good Starting Point

If you are just stating out then I suggest you learn a chord progression. Most campfire players probably use G, C, D the most. Depending on the time you will dedicate to practice you can set some goals. Make them realistic such as, learn a new chord every two weeks. In six weeks you could have three chords that you can play half decently.

Practice Those And Your Timing Too!

I use an APP called Chordify. You can import songs from YouTube and other sources. The free versions allows you to play along and shows your timing and the chord you should be playing. I pick a song and just keep playing along until I know it by heart. i find it better than practicing to a metronome.

What is practice rule #1?

Practice the basics and never stop practicing the basics. I still practice making good chords and as well I work on my fingers. We all get a little lazy at times and just go through the motions. Bad habits always seem to creep back in. You can still have fun but include the basics in your practice.

What is practice rule #2?

Practice slowly. It is much harder to play in time to a slow tempo than play in time to a fast tempo. Muscle memory develops faster for me if practiced slow to faster tempo. Use a metronome to practice playing in time. Start at 80BPM and work your way up to a faster tempo. If you do this consistently you will find that when you start to play fast it will not be as much of a struggle. It works!

What is practice rule #3?

Inject some fun into your practice and do it at the end of your practice session so you have something to look forward to. I use backing tracks that can be found on YouTube. As a result I can practice basics at the tempo I want. Sometimes it’s just changing chords with the music or playing along. Most times after I have practiced I will noodle around and try some different things on the guitar.

The exciting part is that you will notice your playing getting better and when you get to the point where you are playing along with little effort then playing really gets to be fun. There’s nothing better than sitting down with other guitar players and pounding out some tunes and not feeling like you are constantly tying to keep up.

What reminders can I use for guitar practice?

If you need a reminder to practice you can do a couple of things until practice becomes a routine in your life.

1. You can leave you guitar out on a stand as a reminder. However you should put your guitar back in the case at the end of the day or at least have some kind of hydration device in your guitar so it doesn’t start to dry out. This is especially important in the colder months when the heat is on.

2. Put a sticky note on a mirror where you see it everyday.

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