Six String Fingerpicking Courses and Lessons

What is Fingerstyle Guitar?

6 May 2024

Fingerstyle guitar is a style of playing the guitar in which you do not use a plectrum to play the strings, instead you use only your fingers.

People have been playing fingerstyle ever since guitars (and stringed instruments as a whole) were first invented, and it’s still a very popular way of playing today.

There are countless benefits of learning to play fingerstyle as it opens up many more possibilities than just using a pick. It allows you to create different tones, play many fingerpicking patterns, strum with your fingers, and even add percussive elements to your playing.

Like all techniques, it requires practice to become proficient but investing the time to master playing fingerstyle will yield tremendous returns on your overall guitar playing skills.

What’s the difference between fingerstyle and fingerpicking?

In my opinion, there isn’t really a whole lot of difference between fingerpicking and fingerstyle, and the two words are used relatively interchangeably. However, I personally think of fingerpicking more as the use of fingerpicking patterns. Think of songs like Dust in the Wind by Kansas or The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel.

I think of fingerstyle as pretty much playing anything with the fingers. For example, when you fingerstyle arrange a song you can play all the parts of the song just with your fingers (such as my arrangement of Sweet Child O’ Mine). If you listen carefully, in this arrangement you can hear the melody of the song being played on the top strings, there’s the chords being strummed and the bass notes being played to outline the chords, there’s even a light percussive element that is replicating the snare drum being played on the 2 and 4 counts.

This is what I consider fingerstyle to be – an endless list of possibilities all being played with your fingers.

How do I get started with fingerstyle?

The best way to get started with fingerstyle is to first learn which fingers you should use to play each string – this is called ‘finger selection’.

There is a general rule of thumb to follow here:

This rule states that you pick each string as follows:

Thumb (p) plays the E, A and D strings.

Index (i) plays the G string.

Middle (m) plays the B string.

Ring (a) plays the high e string.

Now, this is a general rule of thumb (pun intended!) and so you will frequently see it being broken. However, when you’re just starting out, following this rule sets you up really well to go on to develop great finger selection and ultimately better technique. Trust me, it will save you a lot of time trying to correct bad picking habits later on.

From there, I would recommend starting to learn some beginner fingerpicking patterns. There’s no limit to how far you can take fingerstyle and great players (such as Tommy Emmanuel and Mike Dawes) continue to push the limits of what’s possible today.

If you want to dive head first into learning how to play fingerstyle and you want to do it with perfect technique then why not sign up to my course – The Complete Guide to Fingerstyle Guitar: Beginner Level? You can even try it for free when you join the newsletter!

Do you need fingernails to play fingerstyle?

Despite what some might say, you absolutely do not need fingernails to play fingerstyle. The only difference is in the tone of what you play. If you play with nails you will produce a louder, brighter tone. Without nails you’ll achieve a warmer and richer tone, the choice is yours.

What type of guitar can you play fingerstyle on?

Typically fingerstyle is played on steel strung acoustic guitars but of course it is also often played on nylon strung classical guitars, and there is absolutely nothing stopping you playing fingerstyle on electric guitars either. There are no strict rules and you must remember that music is about creativity, trying new approaches and exploring the possibilities.

Do you have any tips for learning fingerstyle?

If you’re just starting out with fingerpicking here are a few simple tips that could save you years of frustration.

1. Master finger selection

As mentioned above, really take the time to develop good finger selection from the get go. Or you will spend a lot of time trying to correct your bad picking habit.

2. Anchor your pinky

When you anchor your pinky (typically when playing fingerpicking patterns) it stabilises your hand and wrist. This will help you play with more control, ease and accuracy.

3. Play the strings with good hand positioning

For a good all-round and balanced sound in your playing, try and do the majority of your fingerpicking over the back half of the soundhole. Here you’re going to achieve a good tone that’s not too bright and not too warm.

It’s very easy to be unaware of your picking hand’s position but it does play an important part in your overall sound.

As you progress and get more advanced, you can experiment by moving your picking hand positioning around to explore other possible tones.

4. Develop an independent thumb

The thumb’s main job is to outline the chords that you’re playing over – it plays the bass notes. To a great extent, it plays independently from your other fingers and so you will want to work to develop this skill. If you don’t, you’ll likely find it hard to control and it will often want to play the wrong string!

5. Get a private teacher

A good teacher is honestly worth their weight in gold. They’ll be able to spot all the mistakes that you can’t see but will inevitably be making. They’ll keep your playing on track and your progress will be much faster than learning solely on your own.


Fingerstyle is an ancient style of playing the guitar that continues to be developed and pushed further today. To play fingerstyle is simply to play the guitar using your fingers and not a plectrum.

Once mastered, it opens up a vast array of possibilities and allows you to play freely across the guitar. It’s a beautiful, timeless art, and I believe that all guitar players should at least dip their toes into it as they’ll learn invaluable techniques that can be applied to their playing.

If you’d like to learn how to play fingerstyle yourself then I’d encourage you to sign up to The Complete Guide to Fingerstyle Guitar: Beginner Level. This course will set you off on the right track to ensure your technique is great from the very start, it contains a tonne of helpful tips, exercises, study pieces and even duets to play with me or with a friend. If you’ve got any questions on it then just let me know!

Author: Chris Murrin

Chris Murrin is a British guitar teacher who has dedicated his adult life to helping students master the guitar. A few years ago, in 2018, he founded Six String Fingerpicking so that he could help experienced and budding guitarists the world over to realise their fingerpicking goals.

Enjoyed this and want to invest in your fingerpicking future?

Check out all of our fingerpicking courses on the Academy where there's something for everyone - complete beginner right up to advanced level. Whatever stage of playing you're currently at, there's a course that'll take your fingerpicking to the next level!