Basic Finger Positioning for Notes

Learn Fingerstyle Guitar: Zero to Guitar Fingerpicking

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Today we’ll take a look at one of the most popular techniques that every guitarist out there should master at some point of their lives. Of course, I am speaking of fingerstyle guitar!

How many times have you seen a solo from a guitarist in a band – his or her fingers are just flying all over the guitar riff! We’ve all dreamed to do something like this and maybe even spend a few hours trying to. Well, I’ve tried.

After a couple hours, however, I gave up – there is no way I can do it. Little did I know – the band member spent years and years practicing fingerpicking before he could do his famous solo.

No matter how much talent I had, dedicating more than 2-3 hours in total to master fingerpicking would’ve been a more productive idea. 

Much of learning to play the guitar is focused on the left hand, which is the one you fret the strings with to get your notes (assuming you are right-handed). But learning to use the right hand is equally important.

Your right hand is what makes the strings vibrate and so make music, so it’s essential to get the action just right. You can strum, you can use a plectrum (pick), or you can use your fingers and fingernails to do some picking — and your thumb, of course. You can also use a plastic fingerpick.

When using your thumb for fingerpicking, the motion will be downward one.

When using the other four fingers, it will be done in an upward motion. Rather than moving your fingers and thumb, the action should emanate from the arm.

Your arm and hand should be held comfortably over the guitar so that your fingers are just over the strings. Now stretch out your fingers and see if you can touch a string with each of them. The trick when finger picking is to catch and release the string in one clean movement. If you don’t do this, the sound will be muted.

If you accidentally brush against any other strings, it will spoil the clear sound. Your movements need to be fluid, not jerky, so keep your hand and shoulders relaxed. When practicing, you should attempt to maintain a constant rhythm between all the notes that you are picking.

Even though it will take a bit of practice to master a proper fingerpicking technique, keep at it because you will often want to use it.

While it is more commonly seen with classical, Spanish and acoustic styles, it can be used in many others. Before you start to practice fingerpicking, make sure you can do a few smooth chord changes, then you’ll find that your over-all style will be significantly enhanced with finger picking.

One simple finger picking exercise is this one across an E major chord.

  • Place your left-hand fingers on the E chord shape. Get your right hand ready over the strings.
  • Use a T123 pattern to play the strings with your right hand — T= thumb.

Not all fingerpicking must be played in a pattern, but it is helpful for beginners to do so.

There are many finger picking patterns so don’t just focus on the one, but when you are learning, repetition is crucial. It helps to burn that sound and movement into your brain, and before long you’ll be able to do it without even thinking.

Start slowly and be sure you are not making mistakes. It takes real effort to unlearn them. Keep practice session short — about fifteen minutes is enough at one time.

Basic Finger Positioning for Notes

Learn Fingerstyle Guitar - Zero to Guitar Fingerpicking

The first time you try to play chords and notes, you may find it frustrating.

This is because your hands and fingers are not used to being used in this way and it may take a while to build up the right muscles and increase suppleness. And if you do a long first practice, your wrists and fingers may feel a little stiff the next time.

Don’t let this stop you. It won’t be too long before your fingers are strong and agile enough to tackle the most difficult riffs and licks.

Notes differ from chords in that only one single tone is produced from one string.
If you are playing chords, then you usually use three or more notes to produces the tone.

When playing a note on a piano, you press one key; when playing a note on a guitar, you push down one string onto the fret.

  • If you pick the low E-string without fretting, you will play the E note — assuming your guitar is tuned correctly.
  • When you use the first fret with the E-string, you will produce an F note.
  • The second fret will give you an F# (# =sharp).
  • The third fret on the E-string gives you the G note; the fourth fret G# and so on up to the B note.

Note that there is no B# or E#. There are many ways in which to produce each specific note on the guitar, so it’s a good idea to learn to read the tablature format or guitar tab.

This is a way of writing guitar music that is easy to read, as it resembles the strings of the guitar.

writing guitar music

The guitar tab shows which fingers to use on frets. To hold your fretting hand in the correct position for playing notes, you need to start with your thumb.

The ball of the thumb should be positioned flat on the back of the guitar neck like you were trying to make a really good thumbprint on it. Curl your other four fingers around and up over the strings, touching the topmost (thickest) string lightly.

Get them to feel comfortable without allowing them to brush against the bottom (thinnest) string. You can change your thumb position now to make it the most comfortable. When fretting, don’t place your fingers directly on the fret.

Use your fingertip to push the string against the fret, but keep your finger slightly to the topside of the fret. Practice this by holding all four fingers just on the topside and above the first four frets on the top (sixth) string.

Pick the sixth string, then lower your index finger onto the fret (just above it, remember) and pick the string again, noting the difference in the sound. Use the other fingers in a similar manner. Remember, it gets easier with practice.


As you can see – fingerstyle guitar isn’t as hard as it seems – all you have to do is practice. Don’t forget that even if you practice for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – you won’t get to the same level as your favourite guitar player in a month – unless you are a prodigy, of course.

Nothing is impossible!

However, you have a much higher chance of succeeding at something if you are persistent – that’s how you naturally reach success.

So give it a shot! There is only one way to find out, am I right? 

Maybe one day you’ll be able to play like the guy in the video below – some source of inspiration for you here!


If you like this tutorial, there are many more here on Blue Buzz Music – make sure to check them out!