How to Start With Fingerpicking: Part 2, Playing While Using the Thumb for Bass

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, after leaning to play with no thumb, its time to add the bass.

How to Start With Fingerpicking: Part 2, Playing While Using the Thumb for Bass
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Now that you have more control over the three most important fingers, it's time to add your thumb.

Adding bass to your music makes it sound more full and better, and it is way easier to do so when you're fingerpicking, because you have a finger that will be used for the bass, and you can pick everything at the same time, or with short intervals without having to mute the strings in between the lowest and highest strings or move your whole wrist.

This is the most used fingerpicking technique, where you don't rest your thumb and fingers, and you're not tapping the strings, but you are picking them the same way you do with a pick, but with your fingers.

This gif might help you understand picking more:


In fingerpicking it is advised to let your right hand nails grow a little long so you can pick with them and give the notes a stronger sound (even though my teacher always told me to, I never let them grow, don't really like them long, so you don't have to if you don't want to).

In this lesson your index, middle, and ring fingers will be used only for the highest 3 strings (in other times you can use them also on the 4th and fifth stings if you want) and you'll use your thumb on the lowest 3 strings (the 4th, 5th, and 6th).

The thumb can sometimes also play the third string (in rare occasions if it is easier for the intended part - shown in one of the exercises here).

So the first exercise is to play the lowest three strings with your thumb:
 D|-----p-------p| 
A|---p---p---p--|
E|-p-------p----|
And repeat until you can do it without thinking about it, or at least until you feel comfortable with it.

Now a little exercise with a part of a song (it's called "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple).

You're gonna play this part first on the 6th string, then the 5th then the 4th.

D|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------| 
A|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------|
E|--0---3---5----0-|---3---6-5-----|-0---3---5----3-|---0----(0)-------|
D|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------| 
A|--0---3---5----0-|---3---6-5-----|-0---3---5----3-|---0----(0)-------|
E|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------|
D|--0---3---5----0-|---3---6-5-----|-0---3---5----3-|---0----(0)-------| 
A|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------|
E|-----------------|---------------|----------------|------------------|
Now onto something a little more complicated, playing bass and treble, though not at the same time, but one after the other.

You play the notes like this (i p m p) and repeat, this is played only on the highest 3 strings.
e|---------|-0-------|-----0---|-1-------|-0---3---|-1-------|-----0---| 
B|-1---3---|-----1---|-3-------|-----3---|---------|-----3---|-1-------|
G|---0---0-|---0---0-|---0---0-|---0---0-|---0---0-|---0---0-|---0---0-|
e|---------| 
B|-1---1---|
G|---0-----|
You can also try just using a chord and playing 4 of its notes with your fingers, in a pattern like p,i,m,a or p,a,m,i maybe even p,i,p,m or i,p,m,p or any pattern you want, just to get comfortable with using all of your fingers.

Or you can practice on this part of Canon by Johann Pachelbel
e|-------0--------------------------------------------------------| 
B|-----1---------0-------1-------0-------1------1-------1-------0-|
G|---0---------0-------2-------0-------2------0-------2-------0---|
D|-----------0-------2-------2-------3------2-------3-------0-----|
A|-3---------------0----------------------------------------------|
E|---------3---------------0-------1------0-------1-------3-------|
Now we'll be using the thumb at the same time as other notes, you can practice this first by also using chords, but playing four or three or even two of its notes at the same time, and make sure one of those fingers is your thumb.

Or you can practice on this part of Canon by Johann Pachelbel.
e|-0----------------------------------| 
B|-1---0---1---0---1---1---1---0------|
G|-0---0---2---0---2---0---2---0------|
D|-----0---2---2---3---2---3---0------|
A|-3-------0--------------------------|
E|-----3-------0---1---0---1---3------|
A Halestorm song called "Here's to Us" has a really easy intro and verse, which will be good practice too.
    p i a i p i m i p i a m i m i p     
e|---------------------------3--------|
B|-----1-------1-------1---3---3------|
G|-----------0---0-------0-------0----|
D|---2---2-3---------2----------------|
A|-3---------------0------------------|
E|------------------------------------| x5
(there might be an easier pattern)
You can also search for easy fingerpicking songs, and maybe start to try playing things that are a little harder.

One of my all time favorite fingerpicking songs is one my teacher gave me when in my first year is one called "Short Story" by P. Groisman. I played it so much I know its beat by heart and can play it with my eyes closed.

Try to find one you like and play it until you master it, then start trying to play it faster, then slower then faster again, to gain ore control over your fingers.

I made a tab for "Short Story" for a person on a forum that was looking for it, you can try to play it, you might find it a little hard at first but it's catchy and repeats itself, so it's easy to memorize.

Read Part 1 here.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    LightningandIce
    Thanks. I've been trying to learn finger picking lately. Mostly I've just been playing songs I know without a pick. I can do it a little but I have a lot of trouble when it comes to playing two different parts at the same time. This is a nice lesson, and I really like that song you suggested.
    jojo_2561
    You're welcome. When i first started i didnt have much trouble with playing two parts at the same time because i used to play the org and was used to it. But im glad this helped. All you have to do is start slowly and make your hands and fingers used to the motion and you wont have to think about it. Im glad you liked the song, its one of my favourites.