Fingerstyle Guitar – Easy Guide For Beginners 2023

Fingerstyle Guitar

This guitar lesson focuses on a technique used in many styles of music (blues, jazz, rock, flamenco, pop, bossa nova, etc) called “Fingerstyle” which is to play the strings with the fingers (thumb, index, major and annular) instead of a pick.

What Does PIMA Mean?

First, you need to know what does the acronym P.I.M.A mean.

These four letters refer to the initials of the fingers that are used to pluck the strings (the right hand for most of players).

Notice that they come from the classical guitar, the original names are in Spanish :

  • P for pulgar (thumb).
  • I for indice (index finger).
  • M for medio (middle finger).
  • A for anular (ring finger / annular).
  • C for chico / chiquito (pinky finger).

These letters are displayed in lower case (p, i, m, a) near or below the notes of the staff.

What Fingers Are Used For Plucking Strings?

The thumb is used to play the three lowest strings, E (6th string), A (5th string) and D (4th string). The other fingers (index, major, annular) are used to pluck the three highest strings G (3rd string), B (second string), E (1st string) :

  • Thumb (E, A and D strings). Notice that you can also use a thumb pick.
  • Index (G string)
  • Major (B string)
  • Annular (E string)

The pinky finger (chico in Spanish) is almost never used.

Fingerstyle Guitar
Fingerstyle Guitar

What’s The Difference Between Fingerstyle And Fingerpicking?

Basically, these two words describe the same technique that involves the fingers instead of the pick. However, the term “Fingerstyle” is broader, generally used to describe any type of music (classical, bossa nova, flamenco…) that use this technique.

The term “Fingerpicking” or “picking” usually refers to the technique used in country, folk and blues music (Travis picking, pattern picking, etc).

What Is Flatpicking?

The “Flatpicking” technique requires the use of a pick to play the strings of the guitar.

What Is Hybrid Picking?

Hybrid picking is the combination of using the fingers (for the highest strings) and a pick instead of the thumb (for the lowest strings). The pick being hold between the index and the thumb while the other fingers pluck the other strings.

Thumb Workout

The thumb (p) has a very important role in guitar fingerstyle playing. Indeed, it is used to play the bass lines (on the 6th, 5th and 4th strings) while the melody is played on the top three strings with the index (i), major (m) and annular (a).

Here are five basic exercises for beginners for practicing basic bass lines with the thumb.

Exercise 1

This first thumb picking exercise is to play the three lowest strings (E-A-D) on each beat.

Fingerstyle Guitar  1
Fingerstyle Guitar 1

Exercise 2
Here, the basses are alternated by pairs of two.

Fingerstyle Guitar  2
Fingerstyle Guitar 2

Exercise 3
In this one the E and D strings are alternated, the A string is not played.

fingerstyle Guitar 3
fingerstyle Guitar 3

Exercise 4
This pattern consists of alternating the 6th (E), 4th (D) and 5th (A) string.

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Exercise 5
This last thumb picking pattern alternates the E, A and D strings.

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Adding The Melody

Now let’s add a basic melody to the bass lines inspired by the previous thumb exercises. These melodic lines are played with index (i), major (m) and annular (a) on the three highest strings.

All the following examples imply a basic E major chord, don’t hesitate to experiment your own fingerpicking patterns with the chords of you choice.

Exercise 6
This fingerpicking pattern implies the G (index), B (major) and E (annular) strings on the first beat of each measure while the bass line is played with the thumb (p).

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Exercise 7
In the first two bars, the melody is played on beats 1 & 3, then on each beat in the third bar while keeping the same bass line alternating E and B.

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Exercise 8
This fingerstyle pattern is the same as the previous, except the bass line which alternates three notes instead of two on the E, D and A string.

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Exercise 9
Let’s insert eighth notes in the melody over a thumb picking line alternating two strings (E and D).

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Exercise 10
This last exercise implies the same bass pattern and four eighth notes in the melody.

fingerstyle Guitar
fingerstyle Guitar

Fingerpicking Blues Study
Here is a basic 12-Bar blues study in E

fingerstyle Guitar


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