Don’t be afraid to embrace the freedom of playing fingerstyle—and the myriad tones that it produces.

Chops: Intermediate/Advanced
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Experience the sonic and practical benefits of attacking the strings with your picking-hand fingers.
• Learn different picking patterns and strategies.
• Create fluid rhythm and lead phrases. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

When most of us start learning steel-string guitar, we typically reach for a pick when we grab our instrument. This early habit can continue for decades, and even after we’ve become seasoned players, it can cause us to form misconceptions like playing sans pick is limited to “fingerpicking” in the Chet Atkins tradition or the singer-songwriter and folk realms. In reality, putting down the pick opens up new tones, patterns, and creative possibilities, no matter what musical style we play. Just as the pick offers inherent advantages, so do the fingertips. In this lesson, we’ll explore fingerstyle steel-string guitar in a variety of musical settings to see if we can discover a common thread between them.

I’ll never forget meeting Mark Knopfler when I was 19. After I asked him about his right-hand touch, he extended his hand and showed me it was all the flesh of the fingertips and then told me to talk to Richard Bennett if I wanted to know about nails. You’ll want to experiment to find what works best for you. So much of the guitar is a delicate balance between touch and mechanics. Tone is in the touch and fluidity is in the mechanics.

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