Fingerpicking can appear unapproachable for the beginner. I mean, there are a lot of complex picking actions, and it’s all happening simultaneously… and it can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be, though. In fact, if you have a good teacher, it isn’t overwhelming at all. If you want to learn fingerpicking for beginners, these are the top three lessons to check out.
A quick thought exercise:
Can you imagine if, when we spoke, our brains had to process letter-by-letter. If I had to think, “h-e-l-l-o” just in order to get out the word “Hello!”? It would be impossible!
Our brain handles this complexity by a process called “chunking”. We chunk together smaller parts into a single larger unit. The letters h-e-l-l-o become a single remembered word: “hello”. And even words get chunked together into larger parts. For example, think about how automatic it is to say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. You don’t have to think through creating that sentence at all.
Fingerstyle guitar is similar. Instead of combining letters into words, we combine chords and picking patterns. First you start off learning the chord shapes. And you go through the sheer grit repetitiveness of practicing fingerpicking patterns. But once you have those small parts in place, it becomes easy to combine them into the style of playing that we call “fingerpicking” or “fingerstyle” guitar.
FYI: “Travis picking”, if you’re familiar with that term, is a very particular (and popular) version of this. In Travis picking, the strumming hands thumb plucks the bass notes of the guitar (the low ‘E’ and ‘A’ string), and the 1st, middle, and 3rd fingers pick in the higher strings in a repeating pattern. This type of playing shows up everywhere from Paul Simon to John Denver to Tommy Emmanuel. It forms the basis for most of what we think of as “fingerpicking” guitar.
If you want to learn fingerpicking, and in particular Travis picking, here are the three lessons you should check out:
Fingerstyle With Don Ross
Don Ross does the best job here of walking you through the mechanics of Travis picking. Don’s teaching style is articulate and patient, and a perfectly paced explanation of fingerpicking for beginners. Highly recommended.
Tommy Emmanuel’s Fingerstyle Milestones
Tommy has a unique approach to fingerpicking because he uses a thumb pick. And his performances are blistering fast. The concepts and mechanics are the same, though, and Tommy breaks his technique down to the basics in this course to walk you through it. Perhaps most importantly, he provides a series of exercises and practice riffs to get your fingers moving in the right patterns.
GuitarTricks is an online video lesson provider. They specialize in delivering a “curriculum” approach to lessons. Instead of just teaching an isolated technique, they provide a pathway of lessons that develop your skills over time. If you want to incorporate fingerpicking into a larger learning journey, this may be a great fit for you.
There are lot of lessons out there on Youtube and other platforms as well.
So if you have some other lessons that you would recommend on fingerpicking for beginners…