Beginner FAQs and Finger Selection
Finger selection (knowing what finger to use to pluck each string) is something that all newbies struggle with when first learning to play fingerstyle guitar. In this first step of this 10 Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking series, you'll learn exactly what finger to use to play each of the six strings. We'll also go over some very common beginner FAQs. But first, let me fill you in on what this fingerpicking series is all about.
Learning to fingerpick on the guitar is a real challenge for all newbies; it's hard to know where exactly to start and how best to practise going forward. So many people get off on the wrong foot and create bad habits from the very beginning, which then take forever to iron out correctly. Trust me, you really don't want to be one of those people!
What You'll Learn From The Ten Steps
Throughout this series you'll learn all the fundamentals needed to get you playing fingerstyle guitar really well, really fast. We'll start at ground-zero and assume that you have absolutely no idea where to begin, and carry you through to truly mastering all the basics.
Each step builds upon the last and gives you something new to practice, a new goal to reach, a richer understanding of fingerstyle and more strength/dexterity in your right hand.
It's important to remember to really take your time as you work your way through these ten steps. Do not move on to the next until you've absolutely mastered the previous one. Remember to practise very slowly at first, focusing heavily on the accuracy of each note, then when you feel your technique growing, gradually work up the speed of each exercise.
Most of all though, enjoy it! It's supposed to be (and is) fun. If you feel yourself getting a little frustrated from time to time just take a little break, remind yourself that it's all part of the learning process and that it happens to us all.
If you have any questions along the way, just reach out to me either in the comments section below or by sending me a quick email.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoy this 10 Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking series and that it quickly becomes the catalyst that gets you playing fingerstyle guitar for many years to come.
Let's get to it!
10 Frequently Asked Beginner Questions
1. What guitar do I need/should I buy to play fingerstyle?
There is no right or wrong guitar for fingerstyle, you can do it on any style - steel strung, classical and electric are therefore all fine. It completely depends on what you are personally trying to achieve musically. It's very important to know what your goals are with your playing because from there you can decide which instrument is going to get you to reach those goals.
For most fingerstyle players who are into popular music, it's most likely going to be some kind of steel strung acoustic guitar that'll be desired. As far as what brand you should buy, I honestly have no idea what's right for you. You have to go out, try loads and find out for yourself. When you find the one that feels good in your hands and you like the sound of it, buy it! That's your guitar. Be unique from day one and don't buy an instrument just because someone you like plays it.
If you're strapped for cash, get the very best one you can afford. Save up a little longer if you need to, because having a poorly made guitar can (and often does) put perfectly good beginners off forever. They think they're rubbish, but really the guitar is virtually impossible to play and only sounds even remotely good in an expert's hands.
2. What strings should I use for fingerpicking?
My answer for this question is exactly the same as it was for the last. Simply try a whole different range of gauges/brands and then decide for yourself.
3. Do I need fingernails to be able to fingerpick?
No, you don't need fingernails to be a great fingerstyle guitarist. I have bitten my nails (regrettably) for as long as I can remember and it's never really been an issue with my playing. Just know that nails produce a brighter tone and flesh is warmer, that's the only difference.
4. Am I good enough yet to start playing fingerstyle?
Yes! Of course you are. As far as I'm concerned you can start fingerpicking from day one of playing guitar.
5. How long will it take until I can fingerpick well?
This is an impossible question to give an exact answer to. We're all different and we all learn at different rates, some people pick it up fast and others take a while to get moving.
If you find that you're not making much progress at the beginning and others are accelerating much faster than you, don't be put off. If anything be thankful! I've seen far too many people excel quickly at the beginning and then start to think they're better than they actually are. They can get complacent and think they don't need to practice as much, that is until a little further down the line when the people who were slower catch up and often overtake the 'better' players.
My advice is whether you learn quickly or slowly, if you want it bad enough and you practice consistently, you will get good in time. If you're naturally good please don't take it for granted, get your head down and practise even harder. If you're slow, just persevere and I assure you that you will get good with practice and patience. I've seen it countless times.
So how long exactly - heard of the 10,000 hour rule?
6. How much should I practise?
This question comes back to your goals. I'll stress the importance of having clear goals again - what do you want to get out of the guitar? Do you want to perform Recuerdos De La Alhambra to thousands or do you want to play purely for your own enjoyment?
Once you've clearly determined your goals, then you can start to think about how much you should be practising so you can eventually reach them. But for some rough guidance, as a beginner I would suggest starting with 30 - 45 minutes a day 5 - 6 days a week. If you can't do that much just do as much as you can, and if you want to do more then that's fantastic! Either way, the key is consistency. Do it each day, that way it's always on your mind and you'll get the best results, without a doubt.
7. Am I too old to learn to fingerpick?
Absolutely not, nor are you too young.
8. Will I need to be able to read music/TABS to follow these ten steps?
Knowing how to read at least the TABS is essential to understanding these steps.
9. When can I learn to play songs?
Once you've gone through each step in this course you'll be more than ready to start learning to play songs. You can even learn a tune or two whilst working on the steps. Just make sure you really master each and every step as well.
To help you on your way, I've got a catalogue of song lessons available here: Top 60 Fingerpicking Songs of ALL TIME
10. Why is fingerpicking worth learning?
Fingerpicking leads to endless possibilities for musical creativity. There are so many different techniques that you can learn across countless genres. Even if you just learn to play with your fingers a little bit, it will do wonders for your playing overall.
Fingers can produce a much wider range of tones than a single pick can. If you continue to pursue fingerstyle you will find your overall sound improving tremendously and you'll be playing things that you never thought possible. I know this because it's exactly what happened to me - once I went from solely using a plectrum to dabbling with fingerstyle a whole new musical world opened up to me. It honestly is one of the greatest things on the planet and I want you to experience the joys it brings.
Before you start fingerpicking, it's important to know what each finger is called on the picking hand and how to know which finger you should be using to play the string.
Let's first have a look at the names of each finger:
Now let's have a look at how to read which finger to use:
Thumb - p (pulgar)
Index- I (index)
Middle - m (medio)
Ring - a (anular)
Pinky - c/x/e (chiquito)
You can see the initials written next to each note on the stave in the sheet music:
Seldom is the pinky (c) used, in fact it's very rare to use it at all and you won't see it again in these steps.
Also, understand that these letter initials aren't always used. Very often they won't be in a score at all but throughout these steps I've added them to help you out. In time you simply won't need them anymore as you'll know exactly which finger to use on your own.
Which Fingers Play Which Strings?
I'm going to teach you a finger selection general rule of thumb (no pun intended). It's very important to learn it thoroughly when you're new to fingerstyle but at the same time know that this 'rule' is broken all the time.
Having said that, this rule does apply in many situations and it really is crucial that you understand it and practice it thoroughly. It will set you up very well and lead you to having great technique and mastering finger selection.
Finger Selection - The General Rule of Thumb:
In a nutshell, finger selection comes down to the thumb (p) playing the E, A and D strings. The index finger (i) playing the G string. The middle finger (m) playing the B string and the ring finger (a) playing the high e string.
Thumb - E/A/D
Index - G
Middle - B
Ring - high e
To begin with we will be following this rule, as it's important to train each finger to comfortably play its string/strings. We'll learn more about hand positing in a later step but for now know that you want to pick down your thumb and up with all your other fingers.
Now with your guitar in hand, start working your way through each finger and practising finger selection. Begin training each digit to know which string/strings it should play. You can listen to what the exercise should sound like below the score/TAB.
Finger selection is really quite challenging to get your head around. It takes time to build up the independence of each finger but just keep working on it and after a while it becomes completely natural.
10 Easy Steps to Get You Fingerpicking - Step 1 Summary
In this first step, we've answered ten very common questions amongst newbie fingerpickers and you've learnt all about finger selection. If you have any other questions please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
Make sure you've really got all of this down and don't underestimate the importance of really master finger selection. You absolutely have to get this right in order to develop good technique.
Learn all the essentials that you need to become a great fingerstyle player.
Over 80 fingerstyle video lessons.
If you really want to take your fingerpicking to the next level, consider taking one of my fingerstyle courses. In the school you'll find hundreds of in-depth video lessons, all aimed at helping you grow into a great fingerstyle guitarist.
If you have any questions or comments then please leave them below.