When a guitarist begins to feel at home with the pick, he or she often shies away from learning to play fingerstyle because it feels like starting from scratch. This sentiment is certainly justified; it is very much like starting over again.
It should be noted that many players prefer the use of a thumbpick when playing fingerstyle. Whether you choose to try one or not (they can be quite handy in moving between fingerstyle and strumming quickly), all the exercises in this lesson will still apply just the same.
Perhaps the most common technique employed within the fingerstyle world is Travis picking. Popularized by country legend Merle Travis, the technique usually involves the thumb alternating between two bass notes while the fingers fill in the holes on the treble side.
This example demonstrates a basic Travis picking pattern that should help you get a feel for the technique. Note the fingering indications for the right hand: T = thumb, 1 = first finger, 2 = second finger, etc.
The next example mixes it up a bit more, including simultaneously struck notes on beat 1 of each measure and a bass line that skips a string during the G chords.
This next example moves through a progression in G. Here we see the third finger of the right hand come into play.
In this example, we discover how melodies can be incorporated into the technique. In this bass/melody style, it’s common to slightly mute the bass notes with your palm to accentuate the separation between the two parts. Use your pinky finger for the G-to-F# move, and keep the rest of your left-hand fingers planted on the A7 chord throughout.
Moving through a progression in D, this next example has a definite Beatles flavor to it. You may want to experiment with the fingerings in the left hand to facilitate the smoothest shifts. For instance, I use fingers 2, 4, and 3 (low to high) for the first G chord, which allows me to easily move to fingers 2, 3, and 1 for the following two chords.