Fingerstyle guitar playing, not to be confused with chicken picking, is a difficult, but rewarding, way to play your guitar. When learning how to play the guitar, many musicians are attracted to fingerstyle guitar.
Because there are more rhythms, the fingerstyle guitar is perfect for solo playing. It is popular amongst bluegrass guitarists, folk guitarists, and more.
At Acoustic Life, we help you on your acoustic journey. Whether you’re learning to play guitar or you want to branch out into different styles, we have you covered. We have tons of free online guitar lessons, like this one, that can help you learn to play guitar.
In today’s lesson, we are going to cover the top 5 biggest mistakes guitar players make when fingerpicking.
If you’re looking for a more guided approach to practicing fingerpicking, be sure to check out Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. Built by guitar geeks, for guitar geeks, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge is a great way to learn the guitar and connect with other acoustic guitar players. Request an invite today to learn more!
Without further ado, here are the top fingerpicking mistakes fingerstyle guitarists make.
Originally published on May 23, 2019, this article was republished on August 5, 2022.
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Fingerpicking Mistakes to Avoid
Before we take a look at the exercises you can practice to get better at fingerstyle guitar, let’s look at a few things you can do to prevent developing bad habits from the start.
1. Hitting the Wrong Strings
This is a fairly simple issue that is easily fixed. By assigning each finger to a string for the fingerpicking pattern, you can create consistency and muscle memory. Without assigning specific fingers to specific strings, inefficient playing can lead to inaccuracies in executing the fingerstyle pattern.
One of the most common assignments is covering the low E, A, and D strings with your thumb. From there, you can play the G string with your index finger, the A string with your middle finger, and the high E string with your ring finger. Without consistency, your fingers may accidentally play the wrong strings.
2. Picking Hand Position
The placement of your picking hand is crucial to executing a fingerstyle pattern. Oftentimes, people feel awkward or uncomfortable using multiple fingers to pluck different strings. We want you to have an awesome technique to maximize efficiency and prevent sore wrists or arms.
The first picking hand position is similar to a traditional banjo position. Start by placing your pinky finger on the face of the guitar, just below the high E string. Some people object to this because it limits where you can fingerpick on the guitar, but it’s a great way to anchor your hand and learn to fingerpick on the guitar.
The second picking hand position uses the meaty part of your hand as the anchor. Place the area below the thumb joint just above the low E string. Both of these positions provide solid anchors for your fingers and will prevent fatigue and inaccuracies while playing. Try using both of these picking hand placements to see which one works best for you.
3. Flicking the Strings
When learning fingerstyle guitar, many players use too much force in flicking or striking the string. This motion will wear out your fingers and create wasted energy.
To remedy this issue, take advantage of gravity. For example, try letting your thumb naturally hang onto the string, and simply let it fall off the string. By using gravity, you can create an awesome tone while staying in control of your fingers and hand.
For the index, middle, and ring fingers, let the string indent the pad of the finger. From there, just move the finger off the string. This will conserve more energy than actively striking or flicking the strings.
4. Limiting Your Technique
There are almost limitless techniques used to play fingerstyle guitar. Each one offers specific advantages. While some favor agility and dexterity, others will create more powerful and sustaining notes.
One of the most popular techniques utilizes the pads of your fingers to pluck the strings. This creates a more rhythmic, thumping tone of the notes. Using the pads of your fingers is great if you’re playing blues or more rhythmic styles of music.
Another popular technique involves using your fingernails to pluck the strings. When you use your fingernails in fingerstyle guitar, you create a more delicate tone. The fingernails create a bright, articulate tone in your playing. If you’re playing with others and you need your guitar to cut through the mix, using your fingernails is a great way to diversify your fingerpicking tone.
5. Too Much, Too Fast
When you sit down to play a fingerstyle song, many players are overwhelmed at the pattern, the chord changes, and the tempo of the song. This can be dismaying, and many players abandon the fingerpicking project altogether.
To prevent this from happening, try to isolate patterns in the whole fingerpicking pattern. For example, try looking just at the thumb. See or hear which notes are being played on the bass strings. Again, focus just on the bass line.
From there, try isolating just the melody. Take note of the melody and see if you can play it with the correct fingers. Don’t worry about the thumb at this point. The goal is to isolate certain patterns and learn them individually before combining them all together.
Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises
While there are tons of fingerstyle guitar exercises you can find on the internet, this one is geared towards beginners. We wanted to create an exercise that proved fingerstyle guitar doesn’t have to be insanely difficult.
How to properly exercise fingerpicking:
- Grab any chord on the guitar.
For this exercise, let’s go with the C chord.
- Assign your fingers to the appropriate strings.
Your thumb will cover the A and D strings. Meanwhile, the index will cover the G string and the middle finger will cover the B string.
- Begin picking the A and D strings with your thumb
Alternate strings for every downbeat.
- Next, start by pinching your thumb and index finger and strike both strings simultaneously.
For the next beat, pinch your thumb and middle finger. Continue doing this until you feel comfortable with the pattern.
- Finally, stagger the fingerpicking.
Instead of playing notes simultaneously, strike the bass strings with your thumb on the downbeats. Then, strike the G and B strings with your index and middle finger on the offbeats respectively.
This exercise will hopefully help you gain confidence in learning fingerstyle guitar while giving you a simple and versatile fingerpicking pattern on guitar.
If you liked this lesson, be sure to let us know in the comments. And if you’re looking for more lessons or you’re stuck in a guitar rut, you NEED to check out our 3 Secrets to a Consistent Guitar Routine.
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