24 Essential Fingerpicking Patterns Every Guitarist Should Know

The fingerstyle guitar technique is used in every style of music and if you’re looking to explore this technique or searching for some warm-up exercises then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article we’re going to take a look at 24 essential patterns that will help you develop the right-hand coordination skills to tackle even the trickiest fingerpicking pattern.

If You’re Just Getting Started

For those of you that are new to this technique then we need to begin by defining what fingerstyle and fingerpicking mean. Both of these terms are used interchangeably. That is, they both mean exactly the same thing, using your fingers instead of a pick to pluck the strings of the guitar.

Right-Hand Notation

In most cases, you’ll find an indication as to which fingers you should use to pick a particular string. This system of notation was adopted from the classical guitar system which has existed for hundreds of years—incidentally, the TAB system that has become so popular in modern guitar notation existed, in a primitive form, that was used to notate strum patterns and lute music during the Baroque period.

The right hand:

P = Thumb

I = Index

M = Middle

A = Ring (from the spanish, “anular” or “anillo”)

The left hand:

1 = Index

2 = Middle

3 = Ring

4 = Pinky

If You’re Just Getting Better

One of the beautiful aspects of learning and playing the guitar is that you’re never quite finished.

There is always something new to learn, something old to master, and so much yet to be discovered. If you’re simply continuing your guitar-playing odyssey then start out with some listening.

Below is a list of classic rock tunes that should inspire and motivate you.

Some classic tunes that use the fingerpicking technique are:

“Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)

“Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)

“Blackbird” (The Beatles)

“Tears in Heaven” (Eric Clapton)

“Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)

“Friend of the Devil” (Grateful Dead)

“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” (Led Zeppelin)

“Sounds of Silence” (Paul Simon)

“Fire and Rain” (James Taylor)

“Classical Gas” (Mason Williams)

These are just a few songs that should inspire you and make you aware of the endless possibilities that this technique will offer.

Related: 50 Excellent Guitar Songs for Beginners

For you more ambitious souls who really want to dig deeper into the world of fingerstyle guitar, I’ll share some thoughts in the closing section of this piece. But, first…

The 24 Fingerpicking Patterns

I’ve broken down these etudes into 24 patterns for the right hand, and, I’m certain that I’m not the first one to do so; however, I find that it’s important to look at the big picture.

Oftentimes, as guitar instructors, we provide part of the lesson or part of the technique, with the intention of going back and filling in the blanks later, yet, later never seems to happen.

That being said, there are four fingers that we’ll focus on: the thumb, index, middle and pinky.

If we look at developing fingerpicking patterns where the fingers do not repeat, we arrive at 24 different combinations. There are six different possible combinations beginning with each finger: six combinations beginning with the thumb, six with the index, six with the middle and six with the pinky. Take a look at the table below:

ThumbMiddleIndexPinky
P I M AI P M AM P I AA P I M
P I A MI P A MM P A IA P M I
P M I AI M P AM I P AA I P M
P M A II M A PM I A PA I M P
P A M II A P MM A P IA M P I
P A I MI A M PM A I PA M A P

We’re going to apply this to the following two-chord progression: C–G/B. Take a look at the diagram below. Notice that we’re not going to play the 6th and 1st string for either chord.

Fingerpicking Pattern Diagram

A general rule to follow, for fingerpicking purposes is to assign a finger to a string. For the purposes of these 24 patterns we’re going to assign the:

P (or thumb) to the 5th string

I (or index) to the 4th string

M (or middle) to the 3rd string

A (or ring) to the 2nd string

Again, the 6th and 1st strings are not going to be played. In this manner, you don’t need to look at your picking hand. “Feel” for the strings and develop this technique by learning to not look at you picking hand.

For the left (or fret) hand: This is a typical chord movement that appears in many songs, and, I also feel that it’s important to practice these fingerpicking patterns (or etudes) while switching between chords. I’ve chosen C–G/B but you can choose and two-chord combination that you like.

Patterns Beginning with the Thumb (P)

Take a look at the example below. Notice that we’re holding each chord for one measure while playing an 8th-note pattern. The fingerpicking pattern last for two cycles per measure. In the first example it’s: P–I–M–A (2x) then switch chords and P–I–M–A (2x).

Fingerpicking Pattern - Thumb

Patterns Beginning with the Index (I)

Fingerpicking Pattern - Index Finger

Patterns Beginning with the Middle (M)

Fingerpicking Pattern - Middle Finger

Patterns Beginning with the Ring (A)

Fingerpicking Pattern Ring Finger

Applying these Patterns to Other Chord Combinations

Now, that you have these patterns under you fingers (pun intended); then, the next step is to use other chord combinations. Just follow this simple two-step approach to get started.

  1. The I–M–A fingers get assigned to a stringset (the 1st–2nd–3rd strings or the 2nd–3rd–4th strings).

  2. The thumb (P) is free to bounce between the 6th, 5th and 4th strings. This creates the illusion of more than one guitar player; e.g., bass and guitar, or two guitars.

Closing Comments

For those that are new: Keep at it and you’ll discover a whole new love and appreciation for playing guitar. And, for those that are continuing: Every style has its own set of fingerstyle rules, conventions and techniques.

Some of you may be thinking, “That’s great, but where do I go from here?”

Well, if you’d like to take your fingerstyle chops to whole new level then I would suggest the 120 Right-Hand Studies by Mauro Giuliani.

There’s also some fantastic fingerpicking wizards that offer online lessons in contemporary styles; such as: fingerstyle jazz, traditional and contemporary blues, country, bossa nova, flamenco, as well as styles yet to be discovered.

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Ed Lozano
 

Ed Lozano is a professional guitarist, instructor, producer and published author. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and lives in the Andes mountains.

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