Easy Pickin' - A fingerpicking guitar lesson for beginners
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate
Easy Picking - The lesson explained.
There's always confusion between the terms 'finger style' and 'finger picking'. My view has always been that 'finger style' is a way of playing a piece using the thumb and fingers to express bass line, melody and chord fragments with no set pattern; finger picking is a repeating pattern of picking that acts as an accompaniment to either a voice or another instrument. This lesson is a look at the latter, finger picking.
The way the guitar strings and the human hand are laid out makes it easier to play certain patterns and be musical than others, but there are countless patterns and I don't really think any one could be called the 'standard finger picking pattern'. The one I use in this lesson is pretty common though, and the basic moves can apply to many tunes.
I've used a very familiar chord progression for this one, especially if you're a Beatles fan. It goes:
| C - - - | Am7 - - - | Em - - - | G - - - |
If you're getting familiar with the concept of related chords and Roman numerals, you'll see that this progression is from the key of C and goes | I - - - | vi - - - | iii - - - | V - - - |, so, all related chords. If you don't know what any of that means, don't worry about it!
I used these simple chords so that your left hand wouldn't be too challenged and you can concentrate on your right hand. I use my left hand ring finger to move between bass notes over the C chord but if you prefer to hold the full shape down using your pinkie on that bass string, feel free. You can see that changing from C to Am7 requires only that you lift your finger off the 5th string to let that A root ring out for the Am7; you'll also see that the Em shares a note with the G (the B note, 2nd fret-5th string) chord and you can leave that finger there as an anchor to make the change smooth.
There is just one simple pattern for the right hand, which you can see in the TAB: T R I M.
T=thumb; I=index; M=middle; R=ring.
You should be able to see on the animated fretboard how I'm just holding down the chord (the green dots) and picking out notes (red) in a particular sequence, that of the T R I M pattern.
The thumb is picking the bass notes, alternating between the two bass strings. Over the C and Am7, I'm playing the root and 5; over the Em I'm going the other way: 5 to root; over the G I'm going root to 3. Again, if you're not sure what that means, don't worry about it. All you need to know is that I'm using a couple of different notes from the full chord shape. So the thumb is always alternating between the two bass strings, but not in a consistent way. The first three chords keep going 5th string to 6th string; the G chord does the opposite ... 6th to 5th. So lock that into your muscle memory.
The other three fingers keep doing the same thing over and over without exception: R I M, always on the same strings, so that part is dead easy. The trick is getting all those fingers and thumb to keep the rolling pattern up smoothly.
Once you get it down for these chords, experiment with other progressions you like. Just remember that the thumb usually wants to hit the root first, then look for another note in the chord as the alternate bass note; the other three fingers use the T R I M pattern to pick other notes. In this example, they keep using the same strings, but they don't have to ... if you prefer the sound of a different set of strings, use that. There are no hard and fast rules, it's what sounds good to your ear that's important.
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.