If you’ve been wanting to learn fingerpicking guitar, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, you’ll learn the core fingerstyle guitar basics: picking-hand mechanics, three easy fingerstyle picking patterns, and how to get the most out of open chords for fingerstyle guitar.

Most beginner guitarists learn to play with a pick, and there’s nothing wrong with that! However, learning how to play guitar without a pick AKA fingerstyle, will unlock a brand-new world of sounds. 

An acoustic guitar sounds especially awesome, maybe even better, when you learn how to play fingerstyle guitar. Don’t believe us? Check out this video of Nathaniel Murphy unlocking the full potential of his acoustic with fingerstyle guitar playing. 

If you’re interested in fingerstyle guitar lessons for beginners, there are a few core skills you can learn right away to get set up for success. 

In this guide, we’ll touch on these three easy ways to get started with fingerstyle guitar:

  • Basic fingerstyle picking-hand technique
  • 3 easy fingerpicking patterns
  • How to play lush open fingerstyle chords

Note: While this guide is written with an acoustic guitar in mind, you can totally follow along with your electric guitar as well.

Fingerstyle guitar basics

Establishing proper technique will help you avoid injury and make playing acoustic fingerstyle as easy as possible. While there are many approaches to learning fingerstyle guitar, this guide approaches the style from the perspective of a singer-songwriter or modern folk / pop guitarist. 

Picking-hand position
Right Hand Position Fingerstyle Guitar
  • Lightly rest the outer edge of your palm on the bridge of your guitar (where the strings end).
  • Keep your wrist relaxed. Let your arm rest comfortably on the body of the guitar and everything else should follow naturally. 
  • When you pluck a string, your fingers will move slightly diagonally to the strings. 
  • Optional: You can use your pinky as an anchor by letting it rest on the body of the guitar close to the highest (thinnest) string. 

How to fingerpick

Each finger has a role of its own so you can easily pick your guitar strings with a quick flick of a finger.

How to Fingerpick
  • When you pluck a string, start by making contact with the tip of your finger on the string. 
  • Next, move through the string by flicking the tip of your finger toward your palm.
  • To pluck a string with your thumb, make contact with the fleshy part of your thumb, then flick toward your index finger. 

Note: Sometimes the index, middle, and ring fingers will shift down as a unit to cover the 4th, 3rd, & 2nd strings.

3 easy fingerpicking patterns

If you have a basic sense of rhythm and some chords up your sleeve, learning how to play guitar without a pick is just a matter of getting comfortable with fingerpicking patterns.

When you start out, these picking patterns will feel awkward, and you’ll struggle to stay on the beat. Just remember to start slow and stay loose! Once you lock these into your muscle memory, you’ll hardly have to think about them.

Fingerstyle picking pattern #1 – T123

We’ll kick things off by translating a simple 4/4 strumming pattern into a T123 picking pattern.

  • Your thumb (T) will pluck the bass notes.
  • Your index (1), middle (2), and ring (3) fingers will pluck your higher string sets.
Fingerstyle Guitar Picking Pattern - 1
How to learn fingerstyle picking patterns
  • Step 1: Practice with your picking hand only on open strings without fretting a chord.
  • Step 2: Choose one chord with a bass note on the low E string and practice the pattern with your thumb on the low E string. 
  • Step 3: Repeat Step 2 for a chord with a bass note on the A string and then on the D string.
  • Step 4: Choose one chord shape that allows you to pick all three low notes. Practice the pattern and pick a different bass note each measure.
  • Step 5: Choose a chord progression and practice the picking pattern until you can play it at the speed of your choice.

Below you’ll find a diagram showing how to read our chord charts. Below are 4 chords you can use to create a fingerstyle chord progression.

Hot tips to keep you in this for the long haul:

  • If you’re stumbling through a pattern, you’re probably (definitely) practicing too fast. 
  • Take it slow, take it slow, take it slow
  • Use a metronome while practicing (we have a free online metronome you can use).
  • Only increase the speed when you can play a picking pattern perfection (and without tension) five times in a row.
  • If you’re feeling pain, you’re probably tensing up. 
  • Keep your fingers, hands, wrists, shoulders and neck loose. Take a deep breath.

Once you’ve got the T123 pattern down, you can experiment with the picking order of the high notes. Try out T321 and T213 patterns if you’ve got this down.

Fingerstyle picking pattern #2 – T12321

Here’s another one that you can use with a song in 6/8 or 3/4 time.

Fingerstyle Guitar Picking Pattern - 2

Fingerstyle picking pattern #3

If all of this feels super easy, try out this picking pattern. It incorporates a pinching motion where you pluck two strings at the same time:

Fingerstyle Guitar Picking Pattern - 3 in G

Using open chords to play fingerstyle guitar

Acoustic guitars shine when you let the strings and body of the guitar do most of the work. This means: 

  • Making use of chord shapes with open strings
  • Letting notes ring out as long as possible (or as long as they sound good with the rest of the notes you’re playing)

Now that you’ve learned a few fingerstyle exercises for beginners, try them out by mixing and matching these colorful open chord shapes. Here are some to get you started in the key of C:

If you want to play them in a different key, use a capo! It’s a common tool for fingerstyle guitarists and the easiest way to move the beautiful sounds of open chords up the fretboard.

What’s next?

There are different routes you can take from here. You could:

  • learn how to play folky thumbpicking patterns to incorporate lively basslines
  • learn how to add melodies to a picking pattern
  • learn more chords that incorporate open strings in keys other than C major

While learning fingerstyle guitar looks relatively easy on paper, the patterns can get pretty tricky real fast. The key is to build a solid foundation and to master the fundamental mechanics of fingerpicking before moving on to elaborate song arrangements

If you're looking to dive deeper and learn fingerstyle guitar step by step, check out a free 14-day trial to our Fingerstyle Learning Pathway. In this 3-month program, you'll learn everything you need to play solo guitar arrangements. Plus, you'll know exactly what to work on at every step of the way.