Video Lesson – Acoustic Fingerpicking

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Instructor: Lisa McCormickSquareCropXperimentReduce

Speciality: Acoustic Fingerpicking

 Website: Guitar Tricks

This 4-step finger-picking pattern is a powerful learning block for finger-style guitar.

In this pattern, hit the sixth string (Low E) with a downward pick of your thumb. Next, hit upwards on the first string (high E-string) with the middle finger. Next, pluck downwards on the third string (G string) with the thumb. And last, hit upwards on the second string (B string) with the index finger.

This pattern of four steps constitutes one half measure of music in 4/4 time. The count is: One And Two And. To complete a full measure, simply play the pattern again, with this count: Three And Four And.

Repeat this pattern over and over, trying to maintain a consistent rhythm, and gradually building up your speed.


Q: I see you are only using your thumb, index, and middle fingers? but I’ve seen other players use three fingers, and the thumb. Which way is correct?

A: There is no true right or wrong to this. You’ll hear opinions for both sides of the aisle. My personal preference is based on the tradition called “Travis Picking” named for guitarist Merle Travis. I personally feel this pattern of finger moves, which uses the thumb twice within the pattern, opens up more rhythmic possibilities as you get into more advanced techniques.


A: The signature “Travis” move is that alternating thumb beat – the fact that your thumb does double-duty, alternating between the bass note, and the third string (or a variation of that) of the guitar. That provides a steady rhythm against which you can then add ornamentations, syncopation, melody, etc. Some students ask why they can’t do these same patterns using three fingers, and the thumb on the bass note only. Technically you may be able to, but in so doing you compromise that steady “thump thump” of the Travis-style thumb beats.

Q: Is it necessary to have long fingernails to play fingerstyle guitar?

A: No. My personal preference is to have long-ish nails on the thumb, index, and middle fingers of my right hand. However, many players prefer to play with short nails. There is a difference in tone when using nails vs. not using nails. With nails, the tone is a bit crisper, without nails, it is a bit more muted. It’s a matter of personal preference.


This lesson is part of a tutorial called Acoustic Fingerpicking for Beginners, Level 1. These lessons were designed to be followed sequentially, with new skills and practice exercises building one upon the next.

The Acoustic Finger-picking video guitar lesson series builds sequentially, from Level 1 to Level 2, and so on. If you are new to finger-picking, this series will take you from the fundamental basics, and all the way through to a solid foundation of finger-picking skills useful in playing folk and popular music.

You should feel free to proceed at your own pace, and to jump around within the tutorials, as you wish. You may want to return to various lessons from time to time to make sure you are on the right track before moving to more advanced skills.

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