Finger Picking

This week we're going to do a technique that has it's roots in classical music but is commonly used in rock and other genres as well. This week we're going to cover finger picking.

Ultimate Guitar
Being the lazy, spur of the moment kind of guy that I am, I waited until today to decide what today's the lesson would be about and type it up. Just like every week. Only this week I had a bit of trouble deciding what to do. We've done pick sweeping, we've done alternate picking, we've done tapping and we've done legato. I had some ideas but wasn't really keen on doing them this week. So I did what I do every day and grabbed my guitar and started jamming. I began practicing my sight reading out of my fiance's classical conservatory books and that's when it hit me. I've had some people ask me about this technique casually over the last little while and I've seen some posts here on UG about this as well. This week we're going to do a technique that has it's roots in classical music but is commonly used in rock and other genres as well. This week we're going to cover finger picking. If I were to ask you "Hey you. When we finger pick, how many picks are we using?" Your first thought might be to say "None dufus.. we're using our fingers, remember?" That's when I would say wrong. We're using 5 picks, and that's the advantage of finger picking. We can manipulate our strings with great speed, accuracy and most importantly as many strings simultaneously as we want. To teach finger picking, classical music assigns each finger (including the thumb) a letter. The letters are P I'm A and C. P is your thumb, I is your index finger, M is your middle finger, A is your fore finger and C is your pinky. Though your pinky is assigned a letter it's actually very rarely used. The most common fingers you will use are just P, I, M, and A. It's important to remember the letters for the excersises because I'm going to be using them to indicate what fingers to use for your picking. Just remember, Poor Idiots Memories Are Crap. The most common convention in finger picking is to have P play the bass notes and I, M, A and occasionally C to play the high notes. Let's get to an excersise. The following is an arpeggio of C and G major and is to get your fingers used to moving.
   p i m a p i m a  a m i p  a m i p
Now we'll do a similar excersie but we'll throw in 2 string plucking.
   a i m a a p i m a i m a a i m a
   p       p       p       p
Notice that when we play the G followed by the B on the low E string and A string we restrict the picking to our thumbs to play the two bass notes. The next excersise is going to focus on bass notes and is a preparation for the one after it.
   p m i m p m i m .....
Practice this until you get the pattern at a very comfortable level. In other words where you can play it very rapidly while remaining crisp clean. The next examples I've actually recorded at their appropriate speeds. Don't try to play them as fast as the recordings right away, unless of course it comes very easy to you and you can do it clean. These are just meant to be examples of what you should aim for and to make sure they sound right. But do them at whatever speed is comfortable for you. I've included all the examples in a single zip file wich you can extract and play. If you don't have Windows XP or can't extract zip files then you will need to download WinZIP or a similar program to extract them for you. You can download them here (971k). The excersise above is intro.mp3. Now we get a little tricky. We're still arpeggiating the same chords but we'll do something that sounds fun and familiar. This is the beginning to "Ode To Joy" by Beethoven. You can use the excersise above as an intro to this.
   a i  p  i  a  i  a ......            m  i  m  i .....
   p          p     p                   p     p
For the last example we'll do a complete song. This song is called Allegretto and is by a composer named Fernando Sor (1778-1839). This song is in 2/4 and should be played at a tempo of 120bbm
   p i  m    i a  m                                   i m i m i m i 

                                                  p m p i  m i p
   p i p m  p i p                          p a m i  p a m i  m p p p 


And that concludes this week's lesson. From here I hope you'll be able to apply finger picking techniques to any style of music and to any chord progession. - Garett Spencley (

79 comments sorted by best / new / date

    BRILLIANT LESSON MAN, DONT LISTEN TO THE DICKHEADS WHO DONT WANT TO LEARN, man i thought finger 'c' was NEVER used plus i didnt no u could use fingers 'i' 'm' 'a' on the low strings. great lesson, also found out what the fingers were called!! another great song to play with fingers is Metallica's 'Nothing else matters'. THANX FOR THE LESSON, ten out'a ten
    Can anyone upload the audio pack with the MP3s? I would like to know how they sound, when done correctly. Thanks.
    Core Implosion
    What part of your finger are you actually supposed to use for this? Tip? Nail? Besides that it seems to be a very good lesson.
    Great lesson. Nothing Else matters is a good finger picker if you guys are interested
    hi im 13 years old and have binplaying since i was about 7.I've tried looking everywhere 4 a lesson as easy 2 use and easy to understand as this.I find fingerpicking amazingly hard bcuz i was hit by a car wen i was ten and left with hand-eye co-ordination problems.wots amazing is that now after about a yr of trying i learnt 2 fingerpick in about 10 mins. 10 out of 10
    Bass Cat
    very good lesson! im a bass player, and i was hoping to find a technique for proper finger picking i guess. i have dabbled slightly in guitar though, to increse my fret hand speed. its worked so far. thanks for the great lesson!
    Good lesson but i'm still a bit confused on the rules for which fingers to use. You say that the thumb plays the 3 bass notes and the index, middle and ring fingers play the top 3 strings, but in some of the examples you use the I M and A fingers to play bass notes. Is it just a matter of which fingers feel most convenient?
    new faith godz
    Dude this is so good you tuout me the power of fingering now i il'e finger this thunder axe all night long thanks dude u fukin rule for this ur sweep picking to
    i just don't get how to pluck when you throw me a chord from a song,some people are so good at it. It so confusing how you know what string you are gonna pluck next.
    no call of ktulu is better /harder to learn then the intro of nothing else matters very good lesson !!!
    This is one of the best lessons on here, nice job. I started trying to play nothing else matters, realized i was gonna develop terrible habits if I didn't look at a lesson for finger picking. Found this one in a flash and problem solved. Awesome.
    using what i've just learned from your lesson, i think i'll start playing alot more classical stuff. great lesson dawg. and i agree with Toast1337, ktulu is alot better than nothing else matters. if you wanna improve speed and accuracy, ktulu is the way to go.
    I loved it, I taught myself to finger pick when I was learning Unforgiven by Metallica, I then moved on to some Stephen Lynch and Classical Gas (which is actually originally composed and performed by Mason Williams, not Clapton.) This still helped me a lot. Good warm up stuff. Thanks a bunch man!
    Readers ought to wary of believing this lesson addresses any of the more important technical issues that should concern a beginner in fingerpicking or classical styles. Before starting any of the above check out a good teacher or similar reliable source to find out how to position and how to use your hand and fingers. Simply launching into arbitary patterns risks doing more damage than good.
    Good lesson. Try playing Third Eye Blind's Motorcycle Drive By - great son.
    Amazing lesson. Fingerpicking really broadens your guitar playing ability. I always keep an eye out for fingerpicking lessons and this one is top. 10/10
    Great lesson man! I knew nothing about fingerpicking before (Wanted to know more...), and I am new to UG so thanx heaps man! Helps a lot! Rock on!
    Awesome lesson. Def gonna play more classical now. The Whos Behind Blue Eyes is great to practice fingerpicking.
    I suggest learning 'I'd love to change the world' by Ten Years After if your looking for a good beginner fingerstyle song. For more experienced players, Tommy Emmanuel & Pete Huttlinger are fantastic examples of guitarists with entirely too much skill. Lotsa fun to attempt. And finally, if you want a HUGE coordination challenge, play the acoustic part to Stairway to Heaven and sing it at the same time. Beastly hard. Excellent lesson man, keep 'em coming!
    just hit it with the plastic thing, it usually sounds good... some times it sounds rubbish but oh well
    green strummer
    Thanks for the great lesson! I tried to download your examples noted in your lesson and kept coming up with an error saying "Sorry, the page you requested was not found". Can you help with this? I'd like to access those examples.
    leyenda by isaac albeniz is a classical song that sounds awesome on electric w/ med. distortion
    good songs for this is picking up some classical guitar book and playing it, Im using my dads guitar book and im getting pretty good.
    Great lesson, even though i already know fingerstyle playing, i use fernando Sor's pieces for practicing and warm ups. There not many good fingerpicking lessons on the net, but this one rox!
    Well done for trying, I understood it. I use my fingers anyway, I just wanted to see if you knew what you were talking about, and you do. Don't listen to that UG stranger, he's probably crap at playing guitar.