Basic Fingerstyle Exercise

In this exercise you will place your fingers on strings 1, 2 and 3, with your 1st finger plucking the 3rd string, 2nd finger plucking the 2nd string and 3rd finger plucking the 1st string. Your thumb will alternate between the sixth, fifth and fourth strings.

Ditch the pick

This is just an exercise to get your fingers working. We'll put them into proper patterns in the next stage!

Your thumb will alternate between the 6, 5 and 4 strings.


  1. Thumb then down 3-2-1
  2. Thumb then up 1-2-3
  3. Thumb 1-2-3-2-1

People with a long enough little finger use it as an anchor near the edge of the soundhole (on an acoustic guitar), and this helps keep the fingers in the right place. My little finger is too short to do this and though I would love to use this anchor the rest of my fingers are just too cramped if I do. So I have to ‘float'. It makes finger picking a bit harder but with practice you will be able to judge where the strings are and get your hand to stay in roughly the same place. If you do have a long enough little finger I would recommend using the anchor technique, the vast majority of great fingerstyle players use it!

As you may have noticed, I use fake nails (acrylic or gel) because I play guitar a lot, and my natural nails would just wear out with all the playing I do. But I think I like the sound of natural nails a bit better. It is 100% totally fine to use the flesh of your finger tips, too. The great guitar player Dominic Miller (who plays with Sting and as a solo artist) told me once he was cutting his nails and using flesh because it sounds better, and it sure works for him because his sound is amazing. So if you have nails, look after them and use them. If not, be happy to use the flesh, it will be fine.

Getting the volume consistent for each note is one of the hardest things to learn when playing fingerstyle so don't get discouraged if your notes are all unevenly loud of soft. Sometimes you will find that one finger seems to be making one of the strings too loud. The remedy for this is much more likely to be simple practice than any kind of complicated technical issue.

A very cool exercise you can do once you are getting all the right strings confidently is to do the above exercises, but focusing purely on volume. Try to play as loud as you can for a few times through, and then as soft as you can for a while. You will almost certainly notice that you start missing notes. It's very good practice but don't stress about it too much, because it's pretty tricky!

Moving On...

Next up we're going to be looking at a good way to get into alternate picking.