I started playing guitar as a teenager with a poor-quality electric guitar. A friend gave me my first lessons. With him, I learned the first elementary notions of playing guitar and my first chords. I felt great satisfaction when I managed to form my first chords and make them sound good. The satisfaction and feeling of triumph were much more intense, months later, when I managed to play the same chords with the fingerstyle technique. So let’s see now how to learn guitar fingerstyle.
This technique is based on playing the guitar strings directly with the fingertips. With this technique, you can play chords and arpeggios directly with your fingers. Producing rhythmic patterns on the strings. It’s necessary to be able to read tablature to learn and play them.
The bass line is played with the thumb on the upper strings, and the melody line is played with the rest of the fingers in the lower strings. Sometimes the notes of the melody are played alternately with the chords. It’s common to interspersed melody, chords, and the bass line. The body of the guitar can be used to make percussion.
You can use this fingerstyle technique both in classical guitars with nylon strings and acoustic guitars with steel strings. Playing with this style is usually one of the most enjoyable ways of playing the guitar. It’s a very flexible technique that can be used in styles such as pop, folk, jazz, or rock.
Have good posture for fingerstyle guitar
In another post, we worked on how to get a good posture for strumming the guitar. I think it’s important to review some important concepts of posture in our way of learning guitar fingerstyle. You must make sure that the weight of the guitar rests on your right leg. Hold the body of the guitar with your right arm. Make sure you can move your right hand without moving the whole guitar. And make sure you do most of the work by moving only your right hand.
The more you can relax your arm and wrist, the better you will be able to develop your technique. Remember that if you don’t keep your arm and wrist relaxed, your sound will suffer. If you do not relax your arm, you risk getting tired faster and causing a contracture in the arm muscles. Always try to keep the palm of your hand in front of and parallel to the body of the guitar.
Start with thumb exercises
The best way to learn guitar fingerstyle is to understand what it’s all about and develop a solid technique. I recommend starting with thumb exercises. Below is an exercise that will make you work the thumb playing the 6th, 5th and 4th strings of the guitar. As you progress, you can add the index, middle, and ring fingers on all three 3-2-1 strings.
Once you master the fingerstyle technique with your thumb on the top three strings, you are ready to add the other 3 fingers on the bottom strings. This way, you will be working to cover each string of your guitar. You’ll see that this exercise is played with the strings open, so it isn’t too difficult. This thumb exercise plays the 6th, 5th, and 4th string twice each one.
To develop a proper technique when playing these notes with the thumb, you should hold the thumb of your right hand over the strings and play them softly but not too much, as if you wanted to hook the string and bring it down, to release it quickly. You will be pushing the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings down and releasing them, making them vibrate and sound soft. By playing each string twice, you can try to develop a rhythm that is pleasing to you. Don’t forget to keep the guitar well balanced on your leg, as we saw in this other post.
Once you master this exercise and see that each string you play sounds good, you can try alternating and playing other kinds of patterns. Like playing twice on the 6th and 5th strings or on the 5th and 4th.You can try playing the exercise backward. Playing the strings with your thumb in reverse order on the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. Always keep your focus on playing each note clearly and with good technique.
Performing four-fingers exercises
Once you have worked enough with your thumb, it’s time to start practicing with the other fingers in your way to learning guitar fingerstyle technique. Below are the letters we will use to name each finger to develop the next exercises.
P = Thumb
I = Index finger
M = Middle finger
A = Ring finger
Next, we will see how each finger is assigned to a particular string. In the case of the thumb, we will use it to play the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings. But the other 3 fingers will each play a specific string.
6-5-4 = P (Thumb)
3 = I (Index finger)
2 = M (Middle finger)
1 = A (Ring finger)
At this point, we don’t use the pinky finger. This finger is reserved for more advanced techniques. Once you have developed a good fingerstyle technique, you can move on to add your pinky finger in specific situations. For now, we will concentrate on developing proper technique with these 4 fingers with the following exercise.
Remember to keep your hand relaxed and don’t bend your wrist down. Let your fingers and wrist loosen up. Now you know the letter with which each of the fingers is represented in the diagrams. So let’s move on to the exercises to improve your fingerstyle guitar technique.
Thumb and index finger exercise
Next, we will perform 3 exercises to work with the thumb and each one of the index, middle and ring fingers. In this way, we will explore different combinations of thumb + fingers. In this second exercise, you will alternate the thumb and the index finger. Initially, you will develop a fingerstyle with these two fingers. Remember to maintain a good posture and keep your right arm relaxed. Use a metronome to make sure you keep rhythm during the exercise.
In this guitar fingerstyle exercise, you are working alternating P and I playing with your thumb the fourth string and with your index finger the third string. Don’t hurry and take your time. It’s always better to start slowly but consistently. Play each note on each string as accurately as possible. Start slowly and speed up as you feel comfortable. You can alternate playing the 6th, 5th, or 4th strings with your thumb, just like you did in the first exercise.
You can change the pattern and play once with your thumb and two or three times with your index finger. This way, you can have fun generating rhythms and alternating from one finger to another. Using a metronome can be very useful to play, keeping the rhythm, and not going out of time. You can try the metronome that comes with the tuning application “Guitartuna” as we saw in this article.
Thumb and middle finger exercise
In this third exercise, you will alternate the thumb and the middle finger. Always remember to maintain good posture and keep your right arm relaxed. Use a metronome to make sure you keep rhythm during the exercise. With your thumb, you can try to play only once on each 6th, 5th and 4th string down and then release them, always making sure they vibrate smoothly and don’t hit the neck when you play them.
Play each note on each string as accurately as possible. Remember to alternate and play the 6th, 5th, or 4th strings with your thumb, as you did in the first and second exercises. You can change the pattern and play once with your thumb and two or three times with your middle finger.
Thumb and ring finger exercise
In this fourth exercise, you will alternate between the thumb and the ring finger. Always concentrate on playing each note firmly, so that the tone of each string sounds clear and without additional noise. Keeping the focus on these details is what allows you to develop proper technique in the long run. Play each note on each string as accurately as possible.
Remember to alternate and play with your thumb on the 6th, 5th, or 4th strings. This way, you can have fun generating rhythms and alternating from one finger to the other. It’s always better to start slow and speed up as you feel comfortable. And good luck succeeding in learning guitar fingerstyle.