Throw Away Your Pick! - 6 Essential Fingerstyle Workouts

In 2002 I did something that I never thought I would do; I threw away my pick and moved to playing fingerstyle exclusively on guitar. 

I really wanted to become a fingerstyle player, so for me, the best thing to do was to go 100% all-in on the technique, and the results were amazing

Within a year I could play faster with fingers than I could with a pick, and fingerpicking allowed me to play lines and chord phrases I couldn’t with a pick

A whole new guitar world was opened up to me when I ditched the pick

Now, you don’t have to go all-in as I did and only play fingerstyle. 

But, ditch the pick for a portion of your practice sessions to bring this essential and exciting guitar technique into your performances. 

In this lesson you learn how to play perfect fingerstyle technique, then you begin to explore or reinforce that technique in the exercises below. 

Start by checking out this video lesson, then have fun diving into the exercises below.

Now that you’ve checked out the intro video and know how the lesson works, time to grab your guitar and get started!

To begin, you learn about fingerpicking fundamentals and start applying fingerpicking to open-string exercises. 

As fingerpicking is a skill that takes time to learn properly, there’s no rush to get through this or any fingerstyle lesson. 

Work on an exercise until you feel you have it down or run into a wall and aren’t progressing further. 

At that time, move on to another exercise and progress from that point forward. 

Have fun with this beginner fingerstyle lesson as you dive into the wonderful world of fingerpicking!

Fingerstyle Lesson Goals

Here are the goals for this lesson so that you can organize your practice routine and know when to move on to more advanced material. 

Introduce fingerpicking techniques to your playing. 

Learn the names of the picking-hand fingers.

Learn fundamental chord exercises

Learn fundamental note exercises

Develop dexterity and endurance in your picking hand. 

Now that you know your goals, time to aim for them in your studies.

Picking Hand Fingers

To begin, you learn the symbols used for each picking-hand finger

Here are those symbols for each finger

- P = Thumb

- I = Index

- M = Middle

- A = Ring

For now, you don’t use your pinky finger, that will come into play as you advance in your fingerpicking studies. 

When playing chords and broken chords, the rule of thumb is as follows in regard to which finger plucks which string. 

- P = 6, 5, and 4

- I = 3

- M =2

- A = 1

Here’s an example of open strings that use each finger on the proper strings. 

Give this exercise a go before moving down to the more involved workouts below. 

Over time you will adapt your fingerpicking to include variations of this approach, but in the beginning, it’s best to start with this approach to plucking strings.

Open String Fingerpicking Chord Exercises

To begin your fingerpicking workout, you explore open-string exercises that use different string combinations in your picking hand. 

Start by plucking these chords using the given fingers above, so thumb on low 3 strings and 1 finger per string after that. 

Go slow, make sure every note is even, and pluck each string one at a time if you want to take the exercise further.

Moving on, you now pluck the bass notes for each chord first, then the top notes of the chord from there. 

With each of these bars, you play thumb on the bass note, then I M A on the other notes in the chord.

The final intro exercise in this section has two bass notes followed by the top of the chord from there. 

For the bass notes, you use the thumb on both, then I M A on the other notes above. 

Once you have this exercise down, go back to the first pattern in this lesson. 

From there, add your own chords to these exercises, such as D, E, A, G7, E7#9, Bbsus, etc. 

These patterns can be applied to any chord and any progression. 

Start with the open strings to focus 100% on your picking hand. 

From there, take these exercises to other chord shapes when ready. 

Open String Fingerpicking Note Exercises

You now work on arpeggiating chords as you pluck each note one at a time. 

The fingerpicking is written below the notes, so you can use that as a guide for each variation of this exercise. 

To begin, here’s an exercise with open strings that uses all strings and fingers in the four-bar phrase. 

Work this with a metronome, then take it to chord shapes in your studies when comfortable. 

Here’s a variation that will be a tongue twister for your fingers at this point in your development. 

Go slow, use a metronome, and memorize the pattern, so you can focus on the notes and not on the page, as soon as possible. 

Again, take this exercise to other chords when ready. 

The final pattern is another finger twister, so go slow, start on your own and use a slow metronome when ready for this exercise. 

If you want to expand on this exercise, make the bass notes a little louder than all the other notes in the pattern. 

This introduces your picking hand to accents, which you can explore more as you continue your growth as a fingerstyle guitarist.