Learning fingerpicking guitar (or “fingerstyle guitar” as it’s also called) can be overwhelming. You see YouTube’s of people like Andy McKee or Tommy Emmanuel and you think, “not me”. But playing this kind of music is like the journey of a thousand miles – you have to start with a single step.
So where to start?
Choosing Easy Fingerpicking Songs
If you search around for easy fingerpicking songs or tab, it’s obvious that the 1960’s and 70’s were a golden age for this genre with folks like: Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and, of course, the Beatles.
Based on that era, and more modern fare, I’ve compiled a list of 10 great fingerpicking songs that:
- Are perfect for beginners of all background.
- Are easy and well known.
- Cover different genres.
- Represent the “most often recommended” songs for those genres.
A special thanks to reddit, Guitardomination.net, and posts here and here, for providing some great lists as inspiration. If you want to see some more ideas, make sure to check out their posts. You can also check out one of my earlier posts for general acoustic guitar songs for beginners.
Also, if you’re just getting started on fingerpicking, I highly recommend checking out Don Ross’s “Fingerstyle” Guitar Course*.
He does an excellent job breaking down basic fingerpicking technique – including Travis picking, hand placement, etc. – so that you can quickly get up and running. He’s a patient teacher and has great presentation.
If you’re just getting starting playing from scratch, you might also check out this list of songs for absolute beginners.
The Beginner Fingerstyle Song List
1. Blackbird (The Beatles)
Key of G, melodic, beautiful. Destined to be your first fingerpicking song.
Video Lesson: Marcelo Berestovoy has some good “intro to fingerstyle” lessons to get you started here.
2. Dust In The Wind (Kansas)
This song does double duty. Use the same picking and chord patterns to play “Landslide”, by Fleetwood Mac.
Video Lesson: Don Ross’s lessons on Travis picking are a great starting place for learning this one.
3. Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)
“I know, I know, I know, I know, I know…”
Video Lesson: Steve Eulberg’s lessons on “House of the Rising Sun” are helpful here.
4. Nothing Else Matters (Metallica)
The rhythm guitar parts fall into the “beginner” category, the lead acoustic guitar…well, not so much.
So pretty, and so simple, no lessons needed here.
5. Shape of My Heart (Sting)
A bit obscure, but a really beautiful song well within the reach of someone just getting into the world of fingerstyle guitar.
Video Lesson: The chord shapes are the hard part on this one (those “6” chords!), but you could check out Marcelo’s lessons for some basic fingerstyle guidance if needed.
6. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright (Bob Dylan)
The nice thing is that you’ll be able to play this as good as Bob in about 20 minutes. (But he did it while playing harmonica and spouting poetry like a Norse god.)
Something tells me you sound more like Bob when you don’t worry too much. Skip the lessons, just jam.
7. Good Riddance (Green Day)
Video Lesson: You can actually do this with a pick or fingers. But if you’re juuuust getting started with acoustic guitar, you can check out David Isaacs lessons.
8. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)
Video Lesson: Same thing here, you can actually do this with a pick or fingers. But if you’re juuuust getting started with acoustic guitar, you can check out David Isaacs lessons.
9. Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley)
No, this song was not written for Shrek. And Jeff Buckley’s version is best. Look it up.
Nice and slow, just take your time.
10. The Boxer (Simon and Garfunkel)
Everything Paul Simon does is beautiful. His early work is the most perfect combination of songwriting, guitar style, and vocal performance ever known.
Video Lesson: Again, Don Ross’s lessons on Travis picking are super helpful here.
Follow the Spotify Playlist:
The truth is, there’s so many great beginner fingerstyle songs to choose from. Here are a few more suggestions pulled from comments, recommendations, and further contemplation.
11. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
The obligatory joke song from Wayne’s World. The truth is that it’s actually a great fingerstyle guitar piece. The chords are a bit tricky, but worth the work.
12. Everybody Hurts (REM)
Yes, it’s a sad, sad song. And true. But it’s great for very beginner fingerpickers.
13. Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton)
This song is a classic for wedding slow dances. The lyrics are great, the melody is great, and the fingerpicking patterns are simple and beautiful
14. Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
A slightly different take on fingerpicking – Chapman doesn’t do the traditional rolling picking pattern. Instead, it’s a unique acoustic fingerpicked riff that drives the song (pun intended…).
15. House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
Frankly, I’m surprised this didn’t make more people’s lists. It’s a classic tune who a number of people have covered. And in every cover version, the bedrock of the music is that guitar picking pattern.
16. Don’t Cry (Guns’n’Roses)
If you’re at a party with anyone over the age of 40, just play this song. Watch their eyes light up with the memories of high school parties in days long gone. A great straight ahead fingerpicker.
17. Love Yourself (Justin Bieber)
Moving right along from the 40-year olds to the 14-year olds. Bieber’s “Love Yourself” is a great, addictive riff.
18. Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Just a beautiful song, with really nice fingerpicking patterns. If you’re not familiar with it, check it out. That chorus will be stuck in your head for days.
19. Hotel California (The Eagles)
The original version is picked, but the picking pattern is actually perfect for fingerpicking. It goes from the Low E to the High E and back, just rolling through the chords. An ideal song for beginners.
20. One (Metallica)
And, finally, for the metalheads. This song’s intro fingerpicking is slow, and the chords simple, but the result is an iconic riff. The latter part of the song gets into traditional Metallica heavy metal, so just focus on the beginning. And don’t listen to the words – it’s really depressing.
Got suggestions? Add them in the comments below!
You Want to Know How to Put Those Fingers to Good Use? Here’s How.
Tommy Emmanuel offers a number of fingerstyle guitar courses. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s considered one of the best (or the best) acoustic guitarist in the world. He’s certified C.G.P. and rocks a thumb pick like no other.
So if you’re interested in learning the ways of the Jedi Master (when it comes to fingerstyle guitar, that is), then check out these course below.
He’s a personal hero of mine – he plays flawlessly, teaches endlessly, and generally makes you feel better about life after you’ve heard him. Can’t recommend him enough.
More Courses from Tommy Emmanuel:
* (Heads up, if you click through that link and end up signing up for his course, a few bucks will come back to support this site. Thanks in advance! Additional lesson recommendations are included below that are more specific to each song.)
Further reading: Top 25 Fingerstyle Guitar Players