Fingerpicking is the use of one’s fingers to pluck the strings instead of using a pick. This technique has a very distinctive sound and it is used in several music genres. Learn how to position your fingers and practice some patterns with these fingerpicking exercises!
What is Fingerpicking?
Before we move on to the fingerpicking exercises, let’s start by explaining what this is. Fingerpicking is the use of one’s fingers to strike or pluck the strings instead of using a pick. This technique is widely used in classical, flamenco, Spanish, and folk music; however, it has also been used in nearly every genre of music – including pop and rock.
Fingerpicking also has its own distinctive sound. It also allows the player to be more selective regarding what strings should sound when playing the guitar polyphonically (multiple simultaneous notes). For example, if I want to play an E minor chord, but don’t want the fourth and fifth strings to sound, I would either need to mute them or just not play them at all, which is not easy when strumming. However, with the use of fingerpicking, I can just pick strings 1, 2, 3, and 6 easily.
How to Place your Fingers
When reading music that uses fingerpicking, you may see the term P.I.M.A. This is an acrostic for the thumb and the first three fingers of the right hand. Because of its length, the pinky is oftentimes not used. PIMA is often used to indicate which fingers to use in picking:
Until you get more comfortable with the fingerpicking, start this process by playing an open E minor chord. Now with your fingerpicking hand, place your thumb (P) on the sixth string, your ring finger (A) on the first string, your middle finger (M) on the second string, and your first finger (I) on the third string. Now take a mental picture of how your fingers are sitting on the strings right now, as this is how they should always be like. Remember this one concept and fingerpicking will almost never be an issue for you!
Benefits of These Fingerpicking Exercises
To get you started, I have included 28 exercise patterns in this article. Granted, some of these patterns you will never use, but many of them you will. As an exceptional guitarist, however, we want to be versatile! Practicing all the patterns will not only develop your dexterity in regards to fingerpicking, but it will also get you to start “thinking outside of the box” and coming up with your own patterns.
Fingerpicking can be done in any time signature. However, 4/4 and 6/8 are by far the most common. In fact, they will make up the majority of the songs that you encounter. I’ve included some exercises here for songs in 4 and songs in 6.
Songs in 4
The first example says PIMA. That means if the song count is one, two, three, four, you would pick P, I, M, A, or thumb, index, middle, ring. Once you get this basic feel down, work your way down the list. So the next exercise would be P, I, A, M, and so on. Practice each exercise for a few minutes.
When you see two finger letters underneath a beat, that means that both of those notes should be sounded simultaneously (at the same time):
Here you have more of the same, only this time the thumb shares in the combination pick:
Songs in 6
These are songs in 6, which means the song count is one, two, three, four, five, six:
Here you will find more finger combinations or pinch-picks. It is called a pinch-pick because the motion looks much like a pinch if executed properly:
Fingerpicking requires practice, attention, and a lot of patience. This is a technique that feels awkward at first and too, with time and discipline, miraculously gets easier!
PS: If you want the plucking to sound sharper and you have no nails, you can buy these rings online.
Check other posts about guitar in the Guitar section of my blog