How To Make Your Fingerpicking Sound More Like Music, And Less Like An Exercise

Perhaps the most common and useful fingerpicking pattern for guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
How To Make Your Fingerpicking Sound More Like Music, And Less Like An Exercise

Learn how to sound more musical fingerpicking your guitar with these variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking technique. Mastering anything on guitar is a multi step process, and today I will show you how to master what is perhaps the most common and useful fingerpicking pattern for guitar.

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Today I would like to introduce you to some variations of a very popular and common fingerpicking pattern called the clawhammer. If you are unfamiliar with this pattern, then I highly recommend you check out an earlier lesson I created on this very useful fingerpicking pattern for your guitar playing that you will find in literally thousands of songs!

Upon doing this, you will be in a much better position to absorb and understand what we will be covering in today’s lesson.

Once you have the basic clawhammer fingerpicking pattern down, the next step is to learn variations of it. Variations are the key to mastering this pattern for fingerpicking your guitar. You will also be in a much better position to spot the clawhammer pattern when it is being used in exisiting songs.

You will learn that often there are subtle nuances applied to this pattern. Small but significant differences that make it sound much better, and more musical.

I am going to present to you a number of variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern in today’s article, all of which you will find time and time again, in song after song.

By learning each variation, and the following the instructions thereafter, you will gain the freedom to be able to tap into this awesome fingerpicking pattern whenever you like, as you play your guitar, in real time, without having to stop and think about it.

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Pattern Variations

So let’s get to it and look at some common variations of the clawhammer pattern so you can apply them to your guitar playing in a more natural and musical way.

Clawhammer Variation 1

Let’s start by plucking two notes at the same time in our clawhammer fingerpicking pattern. I will pluck the root note along with a higher note, on the first beat of the chord, like this:

I like to refer to this technique as “pinching” notes together, in this case the root of the chord and the octave of that root, on the 2nd string.

A further variation to this would be to pinch notes on the 2nd beat of the bar like so:

Both examples above provide a nice variation to the clawhammer pattern that you will often hear in songs.

Clawhammer Variation 2

This variation combines the pinching technique with a 5 4 6 4 pattern on the C chord, like so:

This is a little more challenging to play, so take your time with it.

Clawhammer Variation 3

At the beginning of the video that accompanies this lesson, I was demonstrating the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern along with some chord extensions. This adds a melody component to your pattern which is a really nice touch.

Let me show you this variation here applied to our C chord:

And again with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern:

Watching the video will give you a more detailed breakdown of this approach, which I think you will agree sounds really cool!

Clawhammer Variation 4

Another variation to consider involves the order in which you pluck the higher strings of the pattern. Up until this point in time I have been doing the same thing by plucking a specific combination of the 3rd and 2nd strings.

The following variation changes this up by plucking the 2nd, 1st, and then 3rd strings in-between the bass notes:

Here is the same variation only with the bass pattern of 5 4 6 4 being applied:

Clawhammer Variation 5

Yet another variation is to change the rhythm of the pattern slightly. In this example I am playing a straight 8th note rhythm:

I was almost doing this with all previous variations, only now instead of a quarter note on the first beat, I am plucking 8th notes. A small difference, but a significant one, and mixed with other approaches helps make this pattern sound much more musical and interesting.

Here is the same variation with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern:

Take this idea and come up wth your own variations of higher strings being plucked. Any combination will sound fine, as long as the bass remains on the beat throughout. The bass is your reference point, and makes up a very important part of the clawhammer fingerpicking technique.

Mastering The Clawhammer Fingerpicking Pattern

Below is an exercise I created that integrates the variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern that we have just looked at in today’s lesson.

As important as it is to mix and match and get use to creating variation upon variation of this technique, you must first be familiar with each variation in isolation. So don’t skip this very important step.

Upon doing so, an exercise like the one below is very effective in getting you to a point where you can mix and match variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern, and come up with all sorts of cool sounding music on the spot, without any preparation. In other words, you will have mastered this technique!

Be patient, take your time, and have fun with these fingerpicking pattern variations for your guitar playing. The time you invest into this will pay you back again and again, as you come across these and very similar fingerpicking patterns, in song after song!

About the author:

Simon Candy is a highly experienced and sought after guitar instructor from Melbourne, Australia. Having taught guitar for over 20 years, Simon specialises in the acoustic guitar through styles including jazz, rock, blues, and fingerpicking. As well as running his own guitar school, Simon also offers online tuition for acoustic guitar

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice lesson Simon! Never heard the term clawhammer for fingerpicking. Will start using it.
    Simon Candy
    Thanks lespaulmaster! Yeah, the term clawhammer is a common term for this fingerpicking style that derives form the banjo, however it's not actually the true clawhammer technique you hear banjos do. Some would call this "Travis Picking" too, however it's not exactly that either, although it has many elements of Travis Picking,
    Great video, but do i need fingernails or caluses on my picking hand ive been practicing this strat for years with songs like dee, classical gas, fade to black, black bird for years and i always find i make the pinches too loud or my fingers get hung up on strings to much to play at fluid rythm/even tonal balance 
    Simon Candy
    Thanks Andytheman87. You just described my fingerpicking setlist when I first started fingerpicking many years ago Yes, fingernails help a lot for tone, and balance. You do need to keep the nails short and rounded though or else they will get hung up on the strings. Tommy emmanuel has no fingernails at all, but rather really decent calluses that do the same job. Perhaps if you either: 1. Grew some nails and kept them in shape 2. Fingerpicked your guitar a lot more to develop the required calluses I'd opt for number one if I was you