Looking to bring a deeper dimension to your acoustic guitar playing? Guitar teacher Jerry W. shares three simple fingerpicking patterns you can use to start making more rich and beautiful music today.
Many guitar players focus only on strumming patterns or guitar solo licks and miss out on the beauty of fingerpicking. Becoming a well-rounded guitar player means building up skills in both hands — not just your fretting hand — and basic fingerpicking skills are a must for many guitar styles. Learning how to fingerpick takes time and patience, but once you have a few fingerpicking patterns down, you’ll be amazed at what the possibilities are.
In the folk and pop tradition, the acoustic guitar fingerpicking style is different than what you’ll see with classical guitar. One of the biggest differences is that classical guitar players play with their fingernails, while steel string players stick to their fingertips or use banjo-style fingertip picks. Whereas classical players have a strict way to pluck each note, folk and pop guitarists tend to hold onto a chord and let a fingerpicking pattern rip. With a bit of practice, you’ll find that learning a new guitar picking pattern can breathe new life into your favorite chords.
If you’re just starting out with fingerpicking, begin with basic chords so that you can focus on your picking hand. Start as slowly as you need to, and don’t increase the speed until you can play it cleanly. If you find that the notes are not ringing out or that certain parts of a pattern feel sloppy, slow down the tempo and focus on the troubling bits. In time, your muscle memory will build, and these patterns will become automatic.
There are a variety of fingerpicking styles out there, with many players having their own unique approach to guitar picking patterns. Some fingerpickers plant their pinky fingers on the body of the guitar, while others float their hands above the string. If you’re new to fingerpicking, it’s best to keep your hand floating and avoid the pinky-planting habit. It’s also very important to make sure that your thumb is playing the bass note of the chord, which is either the chord name or the note after the slash in the chord symbol. Check out our lesson on how to read guitar chords if you need help.
For the purpose of our examples, we’ll use the chord progression A D A E, but feel free to change these chords to your liking. The strings you play with your pattern will change depending on which chord you’re playing, so that the bass note will fall in the right place. Two of our examples have four beats per measure, and one has three beats per measure.
Let’s get started!
Fingerpicking Pattern 1
This first fingerpicking pattern is both simple and elegant, and it fits right in with a wide variety of musical styles. The use of the bass note on beats one and three and the two-note chord on beats two and four give this a boom-and-chick-and-boom-and-chick-and sound. I have notated it below in both standard and tablature notation.
Fingerpicking Pattern 2
The second pattern is a little more complex but it creates a wonderful flowing sound that is beautiful for songs that need a soft, light touch.
Fingerpicking Pattern 3
This third fingerpicking pattern is simply a variation on the first pattern but now written so it works with music that is three beats per measure.
I hope that these three guitar picking patterns have sparked in you an interest to pursue fingerpicking further. Just like with any other musical technique, if you practice these diligently you will find that they become second nature, and soon you will be using them to accompany your favorite songs. If you hit any roadblocks along the way, a good guitar teacher can help you overcome them.
Before I end, let me throw in three more patterns as a bonus for reading to the end. If you take any of these patterns and replace the last note of the pattern with the bass note, you will find yourself with a wonderful new pattern that has a little more bass energy. Keep experimenting and you will be able to come up with many new patterns of your own. Enjoy your new fingerpicking patterns for guitar!
Jerry W. teaches classical guitar, composition, trombone and trumpet in Grosse Pointe, MI. He received his Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition from Cornerstone University and went on to receive both his Masters and PhD in Music Composition from Michigan State University. Jerry has been making music and teaching students for over 30 years. Learn more about Jerry W.!
Photo by Neta Bartal