Introduction to Fingerpicking




One of the most frustrating things about learning a new right hand technique is finding the strings you're supposed to play without looking at them. At first that can be very challenging. Let's approach this challenge logically

  1. If your right arm is placed correctly on the body of the guitar, good hand position is easy to achieve.
  2. If your right hand is positioned correctly over the strings, your individual fingers can easily reach and execute good finger-strokes.


As in most things, doing it right from the beginning can save you time and great frustration. Just something I thought you'd like to keep in mind as we advance through this lesson. Trying to skip ahead will only cost you time in the long-run.

Take a look at the images to your right. First, notice the position of the hand. The wrist is slightly curved and relaxed. The knuckle-line is somewhat parallel to the strings and the thumb extends straight out beyond the the index finger. Be sure not to bend your thumb. As you'll see, when executing a thumbstroke, the side of the thumbnail is what actually plucks the strings.



If you have a tendancy to bite your finger-nails now's a good time to make an effort to stop. The finger-picking technique is a whole lot easier if you use your nails to pluck the strings. Every time I've demonstrated this to a beginner, they're always surprised to find that to be true. Their first inclination is to think that direct contact of the finger-tip would give them more control. The reason that's not true is because the tip of your finger has a larger surface area than that of your finger-nail. That makes it harder to achieve a good consistent stroke. Each time you pluck the string with the flesh of your fingertip, you may initially touch (or grab) the string a little more or less on the tip.

I will admit that I have heard guitarists who have developed a very warm, consistent tone using the fingertips instead of the nail but these folks are far and few between. Take a look at the illustration below. Notice that the fingernail plucks the string. Also study the finger movement at the active joint.


Once your hand is in good playing position you can easily play any of the strings with almost no effort at all. We'll get into the idea of playing melodic lines with alternating finger-strokes in the intermediate lessons for Classic guitar. This lesson, however, will simply teach you the basics of the technique and a simple finger-picking pattern.

There is one over-riding thought you should have as you practice this movement and that is RELAX! Don't allow your hand to become tense. That works against your effort in more ways than you can imagine.

Study the illustration and picture below. Your fingers have 3 joints and your thumb only has 2 joints. When you pluck a string using your finger or thumb, you should think of a specific joint as the "engine" of the stroke. In other words, the "active" joint. Notice that the active joint for finger-strokes is the middle joint and the active joint for the thumb stroke is the joint where your thumb connects to your hand.


Our approach to teaching a beginner this technique is to assign specific strings to the fingers and thumb. We're using the standard letters from the Spanish finger names to label the fingers on your right hand. Refer to the image below:

p comes from pulgar or thumb.
i comes from indice or index.
m comes from media or middle.
a comes from anular or ring.


Ok, with your guitar in playing position, place your ring finger on the 1st string, your middle finger on the 2nd string and your index finger on the 3rd string. These fingers will only play these strings. Your thumb will play any of the remaining strings, i.e., the 6th thru 4th strings. Study the image to the right. Now you're ready to tackle the lesson. It should be pretty easy to do now that you've established good hand position!



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