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The Magical Art of Finger Style Guitar

fingerstyle guitar

In the world of music, finger style guitar is a technique that is loved and used by many. It involves using your fingers, rather than a pick, to pluck the strings of the guitar, resulting in a completely different approach to the instrument. 

I’m sure you’re here because you’ve already been enamored by the beauty of it. Each finger’s touch crafts a distinct note, and the guitar transforms into an instrument of expressive artistry. So without further ado, let’s get familiar with the technical and creative aspects of fingerstyle guitar and how to start learning it. Check out other amazing classical guitar techniques you must know about.

Art Of Finger Style Guitar

The Essence Of Finger Style Guitar Explained

What is Fingerstyle Playing?

Fingerstyle guitar is a captivating technique where a guitarist uses their fingers, rather than a pick, to pluck the guitar strings. Please note that all guitar playing styles that include finger picking are not necessarily fingerstyle.

Guitar players like Mark Knopfler and John Mayer pluck with their fingers but they are not fingerstyle guitarists. It is rather a style of fingerpicking. Fingerstyle largely focuses on playing the melody and accompaniments of a song all with one guitar.

This approach allows for a more nuanced and expressive range of tones and textures, making it a favorite among guitarists playing acoustic guitars.

Typically, fingerstyle guitarists use the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers of their picking hand to individually pluck the strings. Each finger is assigned to specific strings, and this fingerpicking pattern can vary depending on the guitarist’s style and preferences.

Reasons To Learn The Fingerstyle

One of the distinctive features of fingerstyle guitar is its ability to combine melody, harmony, and rhythm simultaneously. A pick user cannot play notes on multiple strings simultaneously unless the strings are adjacent.

Fingerpicking enables players to pluck two to four strings at the same time and also sustain notes of varying lengths. This technique enables the guitarist to create intricate and harmonically rich arrangements that can be both soothing and virtuosic.

This is especially suitable for players looking to play classical pieces where the music is divided into two parallel melodies in the upper and lower registers. Finger-style guitar makes it possible to play a bassline on the thick strings and a leading melody on the thin strings parallelly, so adopting classical pieces becomes possible.

Players who prefer being solo performers also take up on it, as finger stylists can get by without accompanying harmony or rhythm players.

Learning The Finger Style Guitar

The initial steps for learning can be sequenced as follows:

Hand Positioning 

Unlike pick users, fingerstyle players need to keep the right hand in a fixed position over the strings. Place it over the sound hole for the most resonance. Keep your thumb straight, hovering over the bass strings. Other fingers should make a loose 90 degrees with the palm at the first joint, pointed towards their assigned string. 

Finger Assignment

The right-hand finger assignment for guitar strings is shown as follows.

Finger (English)Finger (Spanish)AbbreviationString plucked
ThumbPulgarP6th, 5th, 4th

The thumb plays the bass strings, the only finger that is assigned to multiple strings. Remember not to bend the finger joint near the tip of your finger too much. Pluck by moving your fingertips along the direction of the surface of the guitar body, not perpendicular to it.

Developing Hand Coordination

Coordination between the fingers of the left and right hand is vital to finger style guitar. First, you should get used to plucking the strings using the previously shown finger assignment with the right hand. Try patterns that go like this:

Pattern 1


Do the same but backward. Keep doing this back and forth until it sounds steady and clean.

Pattern 2


Once you’ve got your right hand used to the playstyle, try doing linear chromatic runs like 1-2-3-4 frets in each string using appropriate right-hand fingerpicking. An example would look like this.


Do it in both ascending and descending order in all strings.

Learning To Arpeggiate

The next level in learning hand coordination is playing arpeggios. This is done by holding down chord shapes with your left hand and plucking the strings using the right, the picking hand, in various patterns. The notes are sustained throughout each bar.

Arpeggios are the essence of finger style guitar. The multitude of chord voicings and progressions possible make this an endless journey. If you have the basic open chords down and some common right-hand fingerpicking patterns down, though, you can play the majority of the songs out there.

Easy fingerstyle songs to learn

There are countless songs based on simple arpeggiated chord progressions that you can learn in finger style. Some off the top of my head:

  • Don’t Cry – Guns N’ Roses
  • The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
  • Nothing else matters – Metallica
  • Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
  • Never Let Go – Camel
  • Dust in the Wind – Kansas
  • Hope Leaves – Opeth
  • Moonlight Sonata Movement 1 – Beethoven
  • Bouree in Em – J.S. Bach

What’s next?

There are many intermediate and advanced finger-style guitar techniques you can learn. Incorporating linear melodies in arpeggios, arpeggiating with a moving bassline, percussive thumb slaps, various legato techniques, tremolo, and Travis picking. The list just goes on and on. Pick your poison, down it, and pluck your heart out!


Sabih Safwat

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