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Fingerpicking is a method of using your fingers, instead of a pick, to play the guitar. While a pick is generally much better for strumming chords (as you might do around a campfire), or for playing riffs on a few adjacent strings, fingerpicking can take a simple chord progression and give it a much more melodic feel. At the same time, using five fingers instead of the one pick allows for playing some things that are simply impossible otherwise. Play two strings at the same time without playing any of the ones in between, or move from the 1st to the 6th string without the delay usually required to lift the pick that small distance.

This is important in a variety of styles of music, including (but not limited to):

Some examples of fingerpicking off the top of my head are:

How to fingerpick:

  1. Hold your hand so that your fingers are perpendicular to the strings, pointing downwards. Your thumb should be jutting out the the side, so that your whole hand looks like an upside-down L. This will seem somewhat awkward, but it will help keep your fingers from running into each other.
  2. In general, your ring finger should be used to play the 1st (bottom) string, your middle finger the 2nd string, your index the 3rd, and your thumb should be used for the top three strings. This is more a rule of thumb than an iron law. In some cases, it might be best to use your index finger for the 4th string, if your thumb is alreayd playing the 5th, etc. Once you've got the hang of it, feel free to use your own judgement.
  3. That's it for the basics. Like most of guitar playing, the bulk of it is just practice. Below is a basic pattern for you to work on.

The Travis Pick:
The Travis Pick is a simple pattern that has been used in a variety of songs, including Dust in the Wind by Kansas, Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary, and Julia, by the Beatles. Hold any chord, and play the pattern. If done right, it will take exactly one measure in 4/4 time. Shorten it to 2/4 (or if there are two chords in a measure) by just playing the first half. Take pretty much any chord progression you already have, and instead of strumming it, try it with the Travis Pick. C Amin D G might be a good one to use at the beginning.

It is shown below in standard tab format, with one difference: Whereas normally the fret to play is listed, here there will be a letter denoting which finger to use. The ring finger is not used. Rythym is shown above the tab.

T=Thumb
I=Index Finger
M=Middle Finger


For 4 String Chords, such as D:

     1    +    2    +    3    +    4    +

1----M------------------------M-------------------------
2-------------------I-----------------------------------
3--------------T-------------------T--------------------
4----T-------------------T------------------------------
5-------------------------------------------------------
6-------------------------------------------------------


For 5 String Chords, such as C and A:

     1    +    2    +    3    +    4    +

1----M--------------------------------------------------
2-----------------------------M-------------------------
3-------------------I-----------------------------------
4--------------T-------------------T--------------------
5----T-------------------T------------------------------
6-------------------------------------------------------



For 6 String Chords, such as G and E:

     1    +    2    +    3    +    4    +

1----M--------------------------------------------------
2-----------------------------M-------------------------
3-------------------I-----------------------------------
4--------------T-------------------T--------------------
5-------------------------------------------------------
6----T-------------------T------------------------------
That's it!