Whether you just started guitar lessons or you’ve been playing for a while, guitar fingerpicking patterns can spice up your playing! Here, Denver, CO teacher Kirk R. teaches you three guitar fingerpicking patterns to add to your guitar-playing toolbox…
If you’ve mastered all of the left-hand chord shapes, adding some right-hand flair will help you keep things interesting. If you’re still working on your first couple of chords, or maybe haven’t gotten that far yet, using some guitar fingerpicking patterns is a great way to impress your friends.
There’s an almost unlimited number of ways to pick a chord with your right hand, so covering all the possibilities would take forever! Let’s keep things simple and go over a few of the basic guitar fingerpicking patterns.
“Boom-Chick” Guitar Fingerpicking
Let’s start with what I call a “boom-chick” pattern. You may also see it called “boom-chuck,” or something else entirely, and you may also see slightly different right-hand techniques with the same name.
The pattern starts with a bass note that you play with your thumb, followed by a group of higher notes. Most of the time, this will be a group of three notes, and you will use your index finger, middle finger, and ring finger. This pattern can also vary and have fewer notes, or you can add a fourth note with your thumb, but this makes the pattern a bit more difficult.
This sort of pattern is especially useful in songs with a waltz-like feel, or any other songs in ¾ time. In those cases, the pattern works best with your thumb playing on the first beat of each measure, followed by two chords on the second and third beats. The easiest version of this pattern in 4/4 or another duple meter, is a thumb note on beats one and three while the fingers play the chord on beats two and four.
As an exercise to develop this pattern, start by using your thumb on the open E bass string, and your index, middle, and ring fingers on the G, B, and E strings, respectively. You can use this open picking pattern anywhere that calls for an E minor chord, and give your left hand a break to turn a page, scratch your head, or whatever else it’s been too busy playing chords to do.
Check out the basic patterns here, as well as some of the possible variations.
Travis picking is one of the most popular categories of guitar fingerpicking. It’s named after the great country guitar player Merle Travis. If you’re not a country fan, don’t let that throw you off; if you don’t know who he is, make sure you check this guy out.
Despite being named after Merle Travis, the term Travis picking has a slightly more narrow definition than the patterns that Merle used in his playing. In general, Merle only used his thumb and the index finger of his right hand, which is the easiest way to approach Travis Picking.
Start by playing with your thumb and index finger at the same time, with at least two strings between the ones that you’re playing (i.e. play the fourth and first strings). After that, play your thumb on a higher string, and then your index finger on the next string.
After that, move back to the outer strings and play with your thumb, followed by your index finger, and finally, another thumb note before repeating the pattern.
It may look a little confusing written down, but once you start to feel it under your hand, it makes a lot more sense. When I play patterns like this, I try to remind myself that I wasn’t blessed with athletic hands like Merle Travis. While I can play the whole pattern with just my thumb and index finger, using my middle finger on the highest note makes it more comfortable to play for an extended time. It also opens up a few more options, which I’ve demonstrated in the video below.
Arpeggio Guitar Fingerpicking
Arpeggio means playing the notes of a chord, one after another, moving in the same direction. For that reason, I will call these types of guitar fingerpicking patterns the arpeggio patterns.
To start, set your hand up the same way you would for the “boom-chick” pattern, and start playing with just your thumb. Next, rather than playing the three fingers together, as we did before, we’ll play them in ascending order: index first, followed by the middle, and finally the ring finger.
This basic pattern is really useful in the right type of song, and it’s easy to expand to fit different chords or time signatures. In fact, back in 1812, a famous guitarist published a list of 120 different versions of this type of pattern, all using only C and G7. The easiest ways to switch it up is to simply do it backward, starting with the highest note, or start with the thumb, and then play only the fingers in reverse order. Playing the original pattern, followed by the middle and then index fingers also make for a pleasant sound. Try changing the rhythm up in the middle of the arpeggio. Here’s a few options that you can try out yourself:
The easiest way to switch it up is to simply do it backward, starting with the highest note, or start with your thumb, and then play only your fingers in reverse order. Playing the original pattern, followed by the middle and then index fingers also makes for a pleasant sound.
Try changing the rhythm up in the middle of the arpeggio. Here’s a few options that you can try out yourself:
As you can tell from the videos, once you’re comfortable with a few of the patterns, it’s easy to do impressive improvisations without having to think about scales, mode, or anything besides basic chord progressions.
These guitar fingerpicking patterns are great if you’re ready to get more variety out of the chords you’ve been using. Try Add some spice to your songs by trying these patterns with songs you already know.
If you have questions, ask your teacher or let us know in the comments below! Have fun, and get those right-hand fingers moving!
Image courtesy Kmeron