First Steps for Fingerstyle Guitar

So you’re interested in playing/arranging some fingerstyle guitar? You’ve come to the right place. Here are some steps that will put you on the right track.

Get Comfortable With Finger Picking

Finger picking is a great technique and really helps every other aspect feel smoother. The incredible Ian Thornsley talked about it as something along the lines of “My fingers are already there, might as well use ’em”. I think that’s the best reasoning there is for it. The biggest thing here is to use more than just your thumb and index finger. I use all of my fingers at some point or anything, but I’d say you’re thumb, index, middle and ring must be used to have a fluid fingerstyle technique

Watch this video of mine (Finger Picking Overview) to get a grip on finger picking as a whole. To really have it seep into your playing though, try some hybrid picking where you use both your pick and your fingers. I talk about it in this video (Country Guitar Techniques).

Learn the Melody

So you think your ready to start playing/arranging fingerstyle guitar songs. Start with the melody first. Learn the melody in a way so that you’re staying as close to one position as you can. Most of the time the melody will do a few jumps, either up or down, and that’s okay as long as the bulk of the melody is around one position.

Also try to keep the bulk melody around the 2nd or 3rd string. This then gives you room to move up or down if need be.

Practice the timing and treat the melody as it’s own piece. Be able to play the melody fluidly before moving on.

Learn the Chords

So this part is probably one of the easiest, learn the chords! Start getting comfortable with finger picking the chord progression of the song you’re working on.

Combine the Melody and the Chords

This is the hard part. You know the melody, you know the chords… now we have to start combining them. Hopefully if you practiced the melody enough and the chords enough, it won’t be that difficult.

Start by playing the chord once and playing the melody. See how you kept the melody around one position can start to benefit you. You want to strum the chord up to the first note of the melody. The trick is, to always have your melody be the highest note played. Never have any note of the chord be higher than the melody.

Once you get familiar with playing the chords once and having the melody follow, you can start arpeggiating between the melody notes. I really don’t have any rhyme or reason behind where you arpeggiate, use your ears to what sounds best to you.

I have video lessons of me running through “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” by Elvis and the Outro of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes as great beginner fingerstyle songs that go through each of these steps with an example. Hopefully these steps make it easier for you to arrange and practice any song as a fingerstyle song.