In order to achieve a great fingerpicking sound from which you can create incredible music, you need to have a mix of technique verse creativity.
Too much technique and not enough creativity will have what you play sound dull, boring, and uninspiring.
Too much creativity and not enough technique will leave you feeling frustrated due to the fact that you cannot get what you are hearing in your head out onto your guitar.
In this lesson, I will first take you through some everyday common fingerpicking patterns on your guitar. These alone will sound fairly unremarkable to you, as they should without being applied musically in any way.
Next I will take you through an otherwise unremarkable chord progression.
It sounds ok, but nothing too special.
Then the magic will begin!
I am going to show you the ingredients needed in order to create an incredible fingerpicking sound on your guitar. We will take the fingerpicking patterns and apply them to this chord progression in a variety of very cool ways.
This is where you will realise the importance of the role of your fretting hand in achieving a great fingerpicking sound.
Yes, of course your picking hand is important. However no matter how many patterns you install into this hand, no matter the speed and fluency at which you can execute these patterns, they won’t make for a great fingerpicking sound if you have nothing creative to apply them to.
I am going to begin here by showing you 3 common fingerpicking patterns.
In isolation these patterns won’t do much for you. In order for them to sound musical we need to apply them, which we will be doing shortly in very creative ways.
The first pattern I am going to show you is a banjo roll. Banjo rolls make for great fingerpicking opportunities on guitar. Here is one to get you started:
Banjo rolls like the one above can be applied in all kinds of creative ways to your fingerpicking guitar playing. Bare with me and I’ll show you just what can be done with these very shortly.
The second pattern I am going to show you is perhaps the most common of all. It can be heard in literally thousands of songs and will become an extremely useful pattern for your own fingerpicking.
It can be called different names. I like to call it the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern. Even though it is not the clawhammer technique that is associated with the banjo, it helps distinguish this pattern from travis picking, which is another name some people like to call this pattern, though it is not travis picking strictly speaking.
Whatever you call it, it’s just a great pattern to get under your fingers because of its extensive use in the fingerpicking world.
The clawhammer pattern centres around your thumb plucking bass patterns on the lower three strings of your guitar, while your fingers pluck notes on the top 3 strings in various combinations.
The thumb is always playing notes on the beat. The notes you pluck with your fingers on the higher strings can be on and off the beat.
Here is a version of the clawhammer pattern to get you started:
This third fingerpicking pattern doesn’t really have a name, at least that I know of. It’s a little more generic, but can sound mind blowing when applied in certain ways to your fingerpicking.
I use this pattern and versions of it a lot with fingerpicking solo lines that use open strings, so I will refer to it as the open string pattern.
Here it is ascending:
And here it is descending:
Our Chord Progression for the Fingerpicking Patterns
Throughout this lesson I am only going to be using one chord progression to apply each fingerpicking pattern.
Here is that chord progression:
By using just one progression you will see just how different we can make it sound with our patterns. However it’s more than the patterns at play here that contribute to the great sounds we will be getting from this progression.
First up is the banjo roll pattern.
Here is one way it could be applied to our progression:
Aside from the pattern in the example above, you will also notice I am using different chords to play the progression than the standard open and bar chord shapes.
Remember when I said there is more at play than just fingerpicking patterns contributing to the sound of our progression.
Well, this is what I was meaning.
Your fretting hand has as much to do with how great your fingerpicking may or may not sound as your picking hand does.
Having a variety of ways to voice the chords out to a progression will allow you to showcase your fingerpicking skills on a much higher, more impressive, and expressive level.
If all you know are open and bar chords, then you really don’t have much of a platform from which to apply your fingerpicking skills, such as the patterns we are looking at in this lesson.
Too many people focus on the picking hand only when working on fingerpicking. Don’t underestimate what your fretting hand can bring to the party.
Next is an example of our clawhammer fingerpicking pattern applied to our progression:
Notice how the bass notes plucked with your thumb always fall on the beat. This is crucial for this pattern to work. These bass notes create a reference point for what your fingers are doing on the higher 3 strings.
To help you see this I have highlighted each bass note in the example above.
There is a lot more that could be said about the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern here, however it is beyond the scope of this article to do so.
Learning the variation of the pattern I have provided you here and the application of that pattern is a great start though.
In this the third example of applying a fingerpicking approach to our chord progression, we aren’t even going to play the chords. You will however still hear the harmony of the progression (ie. the chord changes).
Here it is:
In the example above I am creating a solo line through the chord progression. I am targeting tones of each chord as they occur and is why you can hear the progression even though there are no chords actually being played.
The overall sound is very unique due to the fact that I am mixing fretted notes with open strings outside of the open position of the guitar. The open string pattern, while not strictly applied, is used throughout.
Sometimes you will feature fingerpicking patterns rather than use them in isolation. You need to be able to adapt them to each musical situation you find yourself in.
The following etude mixes all 3 approaches to our chord progression that we have covered in this lesson:
Hearing these approaches combined back to back in the one example helps highlight the variety you can bring to a single chord progression with a few simple fingerpicking patterns, and some creative approaches as far as your fretting hand is concerned.
I’ve chosen to start with the clawhammer approach, followed by banjo rolls, and finish with the open string fingerpicking solo lines. You could really put them in any order you wish and the etude would still work.
I could create hundreds of pages on any one of the 3 creative applications presented to you here in this lesson, but this is not the point of the article.
Rather it is about taking a few fingerpicking patterns and extracting every square inch of creativity out of them via a single chord progression.
Learn everything you need to know in order to easily and effortlessly fingerpick your guitar.
Living in Melbourne, Australia, Simon Candy is a guitar instructor with over 25 years of teaching expertise. Specialising in the acoustic guitar and styles including blues, jazz, rock, and fingerpicking, Simon also helps people learn acoustic guitar online