How would you like to develop the ability to effortlessly play your way through thousands of fingerpicking songs by adopting one simple pattern?
While there does exist many patterns for fingerpicking your guitar, there is one that is used more than any other. Today I will show you this pattern from the ground up, giving you access to the thousands of songs that use it, as well as how to apply it to your own playing.
Check out this article on how to develop the technique of fingerpicking guitar if you are new to this way of playing.
It’s important you do this first to develop a grounding for the technique. You can then return to this lesson with a much better understanding of what it is we are going to be covering today.
The pattern we will be learning can be heard in songs such as “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas, “The Boxer” by Simon And Garfunkel, and “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, as well as thousands more!
Travis picking and the clawhammer are two names often given to this particular fingerpicking pattern. While there are elements of travispicking to this pattern, it is not travis picking per se. The clawhammer reference is derived from a banjo technique that is similar, but not the same.
Call the pattern whatever you like, it really doesn’t matter as you will soon see it’s just a great pattern that has been used over and over again, many many times, in many, many songs.
I will be calling it the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern throughout today’s lesson.
The place to start with this fingerpicking pattern is the bass. This is because it consistently falls on the beat and is a very useful reference point for the other notes that you pluck to complete the pattern.
Your thumb will pluck the bass component to the clawhammer pattern throughout.
Let’s begin with a C open chord, and a typical bass approach you might use:
The above is what is sometimes referred to as a 5 4 5 4 bass pattern. This is in reference to the strings that are being plucked, and in what order they are being plucked.
Once you have the bass sorted, you simply add some higher strings of the chord in-between the bass notes on the offbeats. Here is one example of doing exactly that on the C open chord:
There you go! You now have under your fingers one of the most commonly used fingerpicking patterns there is. Of course there are variations, but let’s concentrate on getting the basic pattern down first.
Notice in the example above, the bass is always on the beat, acting as the driving force behind the pattern, as well as a great reference point for the other notes our fingers are plucking on the higher strings.
Let’s now look at a slight variation that is often applied to the bass of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern.
Here it is:
The above is known as a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern, again in reference to the strings being plucked and the order in which they are plucked. In this case we are adding the 3rd fretted note (G) on the 6th string to the bass of our C chord.
This brings a little more movement to our clawhammer fingerpicking pattern as you can hear in the example below:
Whether you go with a 5 4 5 4 or 5 4 6 4 bass pattern doesn’t really matter in most cases. It’s up to you, however you may find one suits more than the other in certain situations.
Now you have the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern under your fingers, you can go to town applying it to any chord you like. While you may need to make some minor alterations to the pattern to suit the chord you are applying it to, it’s essentially the same.
Here is the clawhammer pattern applied to a G open chord:
Because the root of our G chord is on the 6th string (the root for our C chord was on the 5th string), we need to apply a slightly different bass pattern. This is because we are wanting to always start the bass from the root note of the chord.
So for G we have a 6 4 6 4 bass pattern. Another possibility for the bass on our G chord would be a 6 4 5 4 pattern like so:
In both examples above the remainder of the clawhammer pattern remains the same, only we have some different notes of course because we are fretting a different chord.
The next step is to apply the clawhammer pattern to a chord progression. Before doing so however, be sure you have got the pattern down with isolated chords first, as demonstrated above.
Assuming you have, here now is one example of applying the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern to a progression:
Learn the above example well, but don’t stop there. The key is always in application, so take this fingerpicking pattern you have learned today and apply it over and over again to all sorts of different chord progressions.
In doing so, you will truly master the pattern and develop the ability to effortlessly use it in your own guitar playing.
Learn more acoustic guitar fingerpicking patterns
About the author:
Simon Candy is a highly experienced, successful, and sought after guitar instructor from Melbourne, Australia. He specialises in a number of styles of guitar including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking to name a few. In addition to teaching out of his own music school, Simon also provides acoustic guitar online lessons