Fingerstyle Guitar – Patterns, Exercises and Technique
I think you’ll agree that fingerstyle guitar is a technique that sounds great, but is also intimidating to the beginner player.
There seems to be countless fingerpicking exercises to work on even before you can play your first fingerstyle song on guitar.
This leads to frustration, and more often than not, guitarists avoiding fingerstyle all together, even though they really dig that sound.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this lesson, you’ll focus on essential fingerstyle exercises, over both chords and single lines, and learn to comp and solo over songs.
By working specific exercises you cut through the clutter and focus on exactly what you need to learn fingerstyle guitar.
As well, learning to comp and solo over tunes with fingerpicking gets these exercises into a musical situation right away.
That’s a win-win musical situation for sure.
Check out these exercises and have fun with the tunes in your studies.
Even if you never become a full-time fingerstyle guitarist, having these techniques down will make you a better player, not matter what style you prefer.
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Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises (Click to Skip Down)
- Fingerstyle Picking
- Fingerstyle Warm Up Patterns
- Easy Fingerstyle Exercises
- Fingerstyle Song – 12 Bar Blues
- Intermediate Fingerstyle Exercises
- Fingerstyle Song – Minor Blues
- Advanced Fingerstyle Exercises
- Fingerstyle Song – Summertime
- Fingerstyle Scales
- Fingerstyle Arpeggios
- Fingerstyle Licks
- Fingerstyle Solo – Solar
Before you dive into the material below, let’s look at exactly what fingerstyle guitar is.
Though fingerstyle means different things to different players, it boils down to one definition:
Fingerstyle guitar is music played with picking-hand fingers not with a plectrum (pick).
Though you can mix pick and fingers, called hybrid picking, this lesson focuses on pure fingerpicking technique.
When doing so, you give each finger a name to make it easier to know which fingers to use on each note.
Here are the picking-hand symbols used in this lesson, and in any fingerstyle song where fingers are indicated.
- Thumb = p
- Index = i
- Middle = m
- Ring = a
Now that you know what fingerstyle guitar is, you’re ready to learn five fingerstyle warm up exercises.
Fingerstyle Warm Up Patterns
Before you dive into the exercises in this lesson, here are five warm up exercises that you can use in your practice routine.
Each of these exercises gets all of your picking-hand fingers moving and develops specific fingerpicking skills.
The first exercise has three variations, which you can see in the tabs below.
Each of these variations warms up your alternate fingerpicking, such as im and ma.
Go slow, use a metronome, take this pattern to other strings, and focus on each note sounding at the same volume.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-2
Here, you move up and down each string as you bring your thumb into the picture.
Aim to have every string ring with the same volume as you focus on picking-hand control over these strings.
If this exercise becomes easy, add chords to challenge your fretting hand with this pattern.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-3
In this pattern, you alternate your thumb and each finger on one open string at a time.
Shown on the D string, you can do this exercise on any string for variation.
The goal of this warm up is to get each note to sound like it’s plucked with the same finger.
If you can do this, you have control over your picking hand when working the exercises below.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-4
You now alternate your thumb with m and i as you work open strings with this warm up.
Go slow, get every note to sound even, and nail the rhythm before moving on to the next variation of this exercise.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-5
The final warm up alternates your thumb with a and m as you play up and down the open strings.
Again, aim for even tone and timbre, as well as being rhythmically secure to get the most from this exercise.
If you want to take this further, add chords to your fretting hand.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-6
Easy Fingerstyle Exercises
Now that you know how to warm up, you’re ready to develop picking hand technique with these first five exercises.
Each exercise is written over a C chord; so work them over other chords and progressions to expand them in your studies.
As well, always use a metronome to get the most out of these exercises in the practice room.
The first pattern is a straight C chord, which seems easy, but challenges your picking hand to play evenly.
The goal of this exercise is to play every note with the same tone and volume, setting yourself up to add accents later on.
If you want a challenge, play the lowest or highest note of the chord louder than the other notes.
This works on finger independence, something that’ll be developed throughout this lesson.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-7
Now that you can play the chords evenly, you break up the chord into two parts.
Here, you play the lower note with p, then the upper three notes with ima as you highlight the bass note of the C chord.
This prepares you to play bass lines later on in your studies, as well as works finger independence in your picking hand.
When you’re comfortable with this pattern, take it to other chords and songs in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-8
You now separate the melody from the lower chord as you pluck the top note followed by the lower notes.
This exercise is essential when working towards playing solo guitar, chord melody, or other melodic guitar styles.
Use a-pim for the picking hand on this exercise, and take it to other chords and progressions when you feel ready.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-9
You now break up that C chord with this ascending fingerpicking pattern.
Use p-i-m-a for each ascending chord, and add in the accents to challenge your picking hand further.
To add the accents, you play one note louder in each bar, marked with the accent symbol above the tab.
Adding accents is easy on paper and tough on the fretboard, so take your time with this fingerpicking technique.
Get all the notes to ring evenly first then add accents when ready.
Adding accents to chords is the best exercise for finger independence at the beginner, or any, stage.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-10
The final beginner exercise reverses the previous one, as you now descend each C chord.
There are accents included so you can take this exercise to the next level in your studies.
As well, work a-m-i-p for each descending chord.
Lastly, take this exercise to other chords and progressions to get the most out of this pattern in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-11
Now that you’ve worked on fingerpicking exercises alone, you bring them to a practical situation.
In this case, you play the chords to a 12-bar blues in the key of G.
Working fingerpicking over songs is essential to bridge the gap between the practice room and performance.
Plus, it’s plain ole fun to learn songs on guitar. Exercises get boring after a while.
Once you can play this chord study, put on the backing track and make it your own.
Change the rhythms, add new chords, change the fingerpicking, etc., whatever keeps the form while personalizing the comping.
If you have trouble learning the whole song at once, not to worry, that’s totally normal.
Start by learning one bar, then two, then three, until you’ve got the first line down.
Repeat that process with the second line, and then the third.
At that point you’re ready to play the whole song together.
Backing Track g-blues-backing-track
Click to Hear fingerstyle-blues
Intermediate Fingerstyle Exercises
Moving on, you challenge your picking hand further with these intermediate exercises.
Each of these exercises takes the beginner patterns a step further, as well as introduces new patterns to your vocabulary.
This first intermediate pattern alternates outer and inner notes of the C chord.
Here are the fingering variations to work with this exercise.
Once you can play this pattern comfortably, take it to other chords, keys, and full progressions to expand it in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-12
You have a few picking hand options with this exercise. Work each of these over the C chord to challenge your picking hand.
- Alternating p-i
- Alternating p-m
- Alternating p-a
While working these patterns, take this exercise to other chords and full progressions in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-13
There are a few fingerpicking options for this exercise. For each four-note group, work these picking hand options.
As well as working these variations, take this exercise to other chords, keys, and progressions.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-14
The next exercise features a p-i-m-a ascending and a-m-i-p descending pattern over a C chord.
Start with that pattern then change up your picking hand to explore further options with this exercise.
Also, start with a C chord then move on to other chords and full progressions when ready.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-15
The final intermediate exercise reverses the previous one; as you now descend then ascend each C chord.
There are accents included so you can work your picking hand further with this pattern.
Start on C, then take this fingerstyle pattern to other chords and full progressions as you expand it in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-16
Fingerstyle Minor Blues
You now apply the techniques in this section to a song, in this case comping the chords to a minor blues.
Work each phrase, or even bar, one at a time in the beginning.
Then, when those small sections are comfortable, bring them together to play the whole study.
It’s important to work fingerstyle technique alone, but it’s also important to apply it to musical situations.
Here, you challenge your picking hand by playing the chords to a popular musical form.
After you’ve worked out this study, put on the backing track and come up with your own accompaniment for this minor blues song.
Transitioning from exercises to songs is hard, but it’s studies like this that make it easier to bridge that gap in your playing.
Backing Track minor-blues-backing-fingerstyle
Click to Hear fingerstyle-minor-blues
Advanced Fingerstyle Exercises
The last group of exercises is for guitarists that can play the intermediate and beginner patterns with relative ease.
These patterns mix faster rhythms, two-hand coordination, and speed bursts to get your chops to the next level.
If you find you can do some, but not all, of these exercises, go back and review the previous two levels of exercises.
Then when ready, return to this section to tackle these tougher exercises with stronger fingerpicking chops.
The first advanced fingerpicking exercise breaks up a C chord into two, two-note groups.
On the first beat you play the 5th and 3rd strings with p and m, then you play the 4th and 2nd strings with i and a.
This seems like a simple exercise, but it challenges your coordination, especially when adding accents.
Begin by playing this exercise with an even tone for every note.
Then, accent one note at a time, such as the open G-string, every time you see that note in the bar.
From there, take this fingerpicking pattern to other chords, progressions, and full songs to expand it in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-17
You now mix rhythms as you practice a speed burst exercise over a C chord.
Here, you play two beats of 8th notes followed by two beats of 16th notes, using p-i-m-a for both rhythms.
Changing speeds like this, getting faster later in the bar then resetting back to the slow rhythm at the start of the next, is an excellent chops builder.
Go slow with this exercise, use a metronome, and make sure you play exact rhythms with a metronome, not just slow vs. fast notes.
When ready, take this pattern to other chords and progressions to push it further in your practicing.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-18
You now descend the previous exercise as you continue the speed burst drill.
Use a-m-i-p for each chord in your picking hand, and feel free to experiment with other fingerings if you want to be creative with this exercise.
As well, take this pattern to other chords and progressions to get the most out of your practice routine.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-19
You now mix three different rhythms as you ascend to different chords in this exercise.
Notice the B moving to C on the second string between the first two arpeggios.
This brings focus to both hands, elevating the difficulty of the exercise and building your coordination in the process.
Use p-i-m-a for each chord in this arpeggio exercise.
Once you have this pattern down, take it to other chord shapes and full progressions in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-20
The final advanced exercise is a reverse of the previous one, where you now descend each chord.
Remember to change the shapes in your fretting hand, moving between the open B and C notes on the 2nd string.
For your picking hand, you use a-m-i-p on each descending chord shape.
When you have this pattern down, alternate it with the previous exercise, as well as apply it to other chords and chord progressions.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-21
One of the most popular, and fun, fingerstyle techniques is walking and comping chords at the same time.
Being able to cover the bass and guitar roles in a group is one of the reasons fingerstyle is so effective, and efficient.
In this study, you learn a bassline and chords to the Gershwin song Summertime.
Though the technique is the same throughout, bass and chords, your picking hand gets a workout with this tune.
This is especially true at faster tempos.
Start with just the bass notes with this study, adding in the chords later on when you feel ready.
After you’ve worked out the study as written, put on the backing track and add your own chords, and even notes, to this bassline.
Knowing how to walk basslines and comp chords is an invaluable skill for any modern guitarist.
Not only does it sound sophisticated, it allows you to cover two parts in a band, something that opens new gigging opportunities if you’re out there playing.
Backing Track summertime-backing-fingerpicking
Click to Hear fingerstyle-summertime
As well as working fingerstyle chords and harmonic techniques, you can use fingerstyle techniques with single notes.
When doing so, you focus on three musical concepts, scales, arpeggios, and licks.
To begin your single-note studies, here are six different fingerstyle scale exercises that you can use in your practicing.
There are two for each performance level, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Each exercise is written out over a C major scale, so make sure to apply each exercise to other keys and scales.
To begin, here are two exercises over a C major one-octave fingering.
Learn this first exercise in the given key, then take it to other keys in your studies.
As well, take the fingerpicking variations to any scale you’re working on in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-22
In the next scale exercise, you play down then up a C major scale, reversing the previous exercise.
Run this exercise with all three fingerpicking variations to get the most out of your time in the practice room.
As well, go slow at first, as seeing scales from the top down takes time to become comfortable in your playing.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-23
Moving on to the intermediate scale exercises, you now work two-octave scales in your studies.
Begin with this C major scale, using the three fingerpicking variations to expand your technique.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-24
You now reverse the previous exercise as you work down then up the C major scale.
Don’t forget to work each fingerpicking variation to get the most out of this, or any, exercise.
Also, keep track of how fast you get this exercise in your practice journal each day.
Then, aim to beat that tempo each week as you progress with your fingerstyle guitar technique in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-25
To create advanced versions of this exercise, add rhythmic variety to the two-octave exercises you just practiced.
In these examples, you use an 8th note followed by two 16 notes as you work up and down a two-octave C major scale.
As well, you alternate your thumb plus two other fingers in each variation.
After you can play this exercise with a metronome at a comfortable speed, take it to other keys and other scales in your practice routine.
You can challenge yourself further by coming up with other rhythmic groupings to practice with any scale you work on.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-26
The final scale exercise reverses the previous example as you now play down then up a C major scale.
When doing so, you keep the same advanced fingerpicking technique you used in the previous example, alternating p-m-i and p-a-m.
Once you can play this exercise over a C major scale, take it to other keys and other scales in your practice routine.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-27
You now shift your focus to arpeggios as you expand your fingerstyle guitar technique.
In these patterns, you learn two beginner, intermediate, and advanced level exercises.
Work each exercise in the given key at first, with a metronome, before taking it to other keys in your studies.
As well, each of these exercises can be applied to any arpeggio, such as m7, m7b5, dim7, mMaj7, etc.
Work each fingerpicking variation to get the most out of these exercises, and for a further challenge, add accents to each shape.
The first arpeggio exercise ascends then descends a Cmaj7 one-octave shape.
When doing so, you have three fingerpicking options, which you can see written above the tab.
Work each option with a metronome, slow at first and speeding things up over time.
From there, take this arpeggio to other keys, and then apply the fingerpicking variations to other arpeggios, such as 7, m7, and m7b5 shapes.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-28
To challenge your picking hand further, reverse the previous exercise by starting at the top of the arpeggio and working down.
When doing so, you only bring your thumb into play half way through the exercise.
Make sure to use your thumb on that lowest note in order to get the most from this exercise.
If you’re daydreaming a bit, or focusing too much on your fretting hand, it’s easy to forget to use your thumb on that lower C.
To avoid this, go slow, even working without any tempo at first if needed, before speeding things up when ready.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-29
Moving on to the intermediate arpeggio exercises, you now work on two-octave shapes.
Here’s an example of how to fingerpick a two-octave Cmaj7 arpeggio, which you can then take to other keys in your practicing.
Work this arpeggio with a metronome and with the three picking variations in the tab to gain the most benefit from this exercise.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-30
You now reverse the previous exercise as you play down then up a Cmaj7 arpeggio.
When doing so, the thumb comes into play half way through, rather than at the beginning as in the previous example.
Make sure to run this arpeggio with a metronome at different speeds, as well as take it to other keys.
Lastly, take this and any arpeggio exercise to other fingerings and chord qualities, such as 7th, m7, m7b5, and dim7 arpeggios.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-31
Moving on to the advanced arpeggio exercises, you now add rhythmic variety to a two-octave Cmaj7 arpeggio.
Adding rhythms not only works your musicianship, it challenges your picking hand in both control and coordination.
In these examples, you play an 8th note followed by two 16th notes on each beat.
After you can play this rhythm comfortably, create your own variations by using other rhythms over arpeggios in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-32
In this final arpeggio exercise, you reverse the pattern from the previous example.
Though it’s only a reversal of a pattern you know, working down then up arpeggios is tough on your picking hand.
Because of this, go slow, work with a metronome, and take this pattern to other keys as you expand it in your practicing.
Once you can play this pattern, work arpeggios with different rhythms as you challenge your picking hand further in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-33
Fingerstyle Guitar Licks
Now that you’ve worked arpeggios and scales on their own, it’s time to bring them together in musical phrases.
The following licks are divided into three sections of two lines each, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Though they use techniques from each of those experience levels, you can work any of these licks even if you’re a beginner.
Start with the first phrase and work down the list from there, as each gets progressively more difficult.
If you get stuck on a lick, not to worry, go back and work on the technique exercises until you’re ready to tackle that tough lick in the practice room.
If you’re an improvising musician, take these licks into your solos as well as use them to build technique.
While you don’t want to only run licks in your solos, having a solid vocabulary is essential when learning how to play lead guitar.
The first fingerstyle lick alternates arpeggios over a ii V I progression in C.
When doing so, you use your thumb in several places, alternating i and m the rest of the way.
Starting arpeggios with your thumb is something you’ve already worked on, but not in a musical phrase.
If it’s awkward at first, go slow, use a metronome, and isolate the Dm7 and Cmaj7 notes to focus on that picking technique.
When it’s comfortable, bring the whole line together in your studies.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-34
In this line, you descend the first arpeggio, before alternating your way through the chords from there.
Again, there’s a suggested fingering below the notes that you can start using.
If it fits, stick with it. But if it’s uncomfortable, change the fingering to something better suited to your hands and musical tastes.
Same goes for every lick and solo in this lesson. The fingerings are there to get you started, but aren’t one size fits all.
Try them out and then alter where necessary to get the most out each lick in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-35
In this fingerstyle riff, you mix scales and arpeggios over a minor ii V I progression.
Though these are techniques you’ve studied, scales and arpeggios, moving between them in a lick is tough.
Take your time with this line, work it in sections, and focus on the transition where you switch from steps to leaps in the phrase.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-36
In this fingerstyle lick, you run up several arpeggios, and jump around an arpeggio over D7alt.
There’s a double thumb pick at the end of the first bar and beginning of the second bar, where you play two notes in a row with your thumb.
More on this in the next lick, but for now, experiment with that fingering and see if it makes sense to you.
If not, you can alter your picking hand for those notes to make it more comfortable.
If so, work that technique so it’s available when needed in future musical situations.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-37
In this ii V I lick, you use a double thumb to start the line, which is a new technique for you at this point in your development.
If you’re going to double any finger when picking, it’s the thumb, and only twice in a row to avoid any technical issues.
Here’s an example of when it makes sense to double your thumb.
The line starts with an arpeggio over Am7, and the first two notes are on the same string.
Rather than play p-i, or i-m, there, which would make the rest of the arpeggio awkward to pick, you play p-p.
You might not double pick your thumb very often, but when you do it’s important to have that technique in your repertoire.
Lines like these prepare you for just those musical situations.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-38
This final lick uses a number of arpeggios over each chord in the progression, including both 3 and 4-note shapes.
Because of this, your thumb is highly involved during this minor ii V I line.
Go slow with this lick, work it with a metronome, and then when ready, bring it to the audio below.
From there, take it to other keys to expand this idea in the practice room.
Click to Hear fingerstyle-guitar-39
Fingerstyle Solo – Solar
To get your fingerpicking licks onto the guitar, here’s a solo over the tune Solar that uses material from this lesson.
Work each phrase one at a time to begin. Then, when ready, bring them together to form the whole solo.
I’ve included a sample picking-hand fingering to get you started with these lines.
But, make sure to work on different fingerpicking variations to get the most out of this study.
There’s also a backing track to solo over with your own lines as you improvise over this tune in the practice room.
Backing Track solar-fingerpicking-backing-track
Click to Hear fingerstyle-solar
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