How to Start With Fingerpicking: Part 1, Picking While the Thumb Is Rested

Fingerpicking is great for classical and many other pieces, it gives a different sound than picking with a pick. This lesson is about how to start fingerpicking, resting your fingers but without using your thumb to play the bass.

How to Start With Fingerpicking: Part 1, Picking While the Thumb Is Rested
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If you learned to play guitar just to play your favorite music, it's usually played with a pick, meaning you haven't developed your fingerpicking techniques at all, or maybe just a little.

In this lesson I'll give small exercises on how to begin playing with your fingers instead of a pick in the same way I was taught.

It begins with knowing the name given to each finger in the hand
  • The thumb is called "p"
  • The index finger is "i"
  • The middle finger is "m"
  • And ring finger is "a"
You usually don't play with your pinky, but it is called "c."

A small exercise to help your fingers gain control and pick the correct string is to pick the bass string with your thumb and then the rest with your other finger then switch. as shown in the tab below:
e|-----------a-a------------|
B|---------m-----m----------|
G|-------i---------i--------|
D|-----p-------------p------|
A|---p-----------------p----|
E|-p---------------------p--|
And just repeat it until you feel comfortable.

Now, there is a way to pick that keeps your thumb rested (usually on the low E string but could also be rested on the guitar itself above the strings. It is also rested sideways, in the most comfortable position; the same position it has when picking with it) and picking just with your index, middle and ring finger, this kind of picking gives a slightly different sound and is usually stronger than the the other.

This picture should show you the natural position of your hand while picking in general.


When you pick with a finger, you don't remove it, you let it go off the string you picked and rest on the one above it, so if you picked the B string, your finger will be resting on the G string.

Do this with each finger on each on the highest 3 strings. And remember to rest you thumb and you finger after you pick a note.
e|-a-m-i-------------i-m-a-------------|
B|-------a-m-i-------------i-m-a-------|
G|-------------a-m-i-------------i-m-a-|
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|
You don't have to only play open strings, use your left hand to give your self some different sounds, you can play only using two of the fingers on each string, alternating the combination.

All of these exercises are to get you comfortable and used to finger picking.

Then start playing these song here, to get better at it.

Here you will only be using the first two string, this is a part of "Jingle Bells":

   a m i     a m i     a m i m   a     a m i a  m i a m  i m i a  i  m
e|-0-0-0---|-0-0-0---|-0-3-----|-3---|-1-1-1-1|-1-0-0-0|-0-----0|----3--|
B|---------|---------|-----1-3-|-----|--------|--------|---3-3--|-3-----|
   a m i     a m i     a m i m   a     a m i a  m i a m  i a m i  m 
e|-0-0-0---|-0-0-0---|-0-3-----|-3---|-1-1-1-1|-1-0-0-0|-3-3-1--|-------|
B|---------|---------|-----1-3-|-----|--------|--------|-------3|-1-----|
And repeat it until you feel comfortable playing it.

And this is "Love me Tender", you play it with the first three strings:

   i m a m  a i m    a m i m  a  i     i m a m  a i m    a m i m  a 
e|--------|--------|--------|--------|--------|--------|--------|------|
B|---1-0-1|-3---3--|-1-0---0|-2------|---1-0-1|-3---3--|-1-0---0|-2----|
G|-0------|---2----|-----2--|----0---|-0------|---2----|-----2--|------|
   a m i    a m i    a m i m  a      a m i a  m i m    a m i m  a
e|-0-0-0--|-0-0-0--|-0------|-0----|-0-0-1-0|--------|--------|-------|
B|--------|--------|---3-1-3|------|--------|-3---3--|-1-0---0|-1-----|
G|--------|--------|--------|------|--------|---2----|-----2--|-------|
And repeat it until you feel comfortable playing it.

You can choose any song you like and play it using these three finger (without the bass and thumb) and don't forget to rest you finger on the string above it.

Read Part 2 here.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    cheesedips
    are fingers and hand relaxed or do you keep some tension in them on the strings?
    jojo_2561
    Relaxed, or as relaxed as they can be when you kepp them in place, but since its "resting" them, you keep them relaxed If you put too much tension, you might get sounds from the string youre resting on You could also get sounds when you rest them with no tension, but thats okay, its because of the power you use when u get them there
    User0fAName
    I play guitar with just my fingers 90% of the time, and my instructor taught me these same things. I'm glad I'm not alone.
    jojo_2561
    yeah, at first he only told me to play like this, I still use them in a parts where there is no bass and no need for my thumb.