There’s nothing like listening to a musician plucking intricate patterns of notes on the guitar with only their fingers. A gorgeous human quality can be expressed when a guitarist who knows what they’re doing plays in a fingerpicking style. This style masterfully combines rhythm and lead playing into one cohesive sound. It can take years to master the art of playing the guitar in a fingerpicking style, but there’s a wealth of beginner fingerpicking songs you can learn to help get you started. We’re going to walk you through how to play some of popular music’s most simple fingerpicking songs, but first let’s talk about what exactly a fingerpicking guitar playing style is and how you can get started.

beginner finger picking
Improve your technique by practicing these beginner fingerpicking songs!

 

The Fingerpicking Technique

 

 

The fingerpicking style, which is also called fingerstyle, is a guitar technique where the guitar is played strictly using nails and fingertips. When a guitarist uses a pick in their playing it’s called flatpicking. The fingerpicking technique can be used in virtually every genre of music imaginable. Guitarists who employ this technique bring new and exciting sounds to their instrument that they could never get from playing with a pick. The benefits of playing in this style stem from the fact that the fingerpicking technique gives us access to the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers of our right hand as opposed to the flatpicking style which narrows down your options down to playing with one pick.

 

Fingerpicking allows for more control while playing polyphonically. The left hand adds to the style by hammer-ons and pull-offs in a way that can sometimes make it difficult for the listener to be able to tell where each sound is coming from.

 

Fingerpicking Origins

 

An instrument centuries old, the lute is featured here in a painting titled The Lutenist by Hendrick Sorgh, painted in 1661

 

Fingerpicking got its start not on the guitar but on an instrument very similar to the guitar called the lute way back in the 15th century in countries like Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Early adopters of this style surely had no idea that the style of playing they were developing would go on to influence music for the next six centuries. The first musicians in this style developed a technique where notes are picked alternating between the right hand’s thumb and index fingers and this picking pattern is still prevalent in music today.

Fingerpicking Basics

 

If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, you probably know that the left hand fingers are notated with a series of numbers. In the fingerpicking style, the right hand fingers are notated with letters like this:

 

Thumb- p

Index- i

Middle- m

Ring- a

 

This form of notation is generally seen in the classical style of playing guitar, but can easily be adapted to beginner fingerpicking songs.

 

When learning how to play beginner fingerpicking songs it’s a good idea to start by playing the chord transitions with a simple fingerpicking pattern. Don’t try adding in anything other than basic patterns essential to the song to start. Generally, the thumb is responsible for plucking the lower notes while the other fingers generally stick to the higher ones.

 

“Everybody Hurts,” by REM

 

This song is the perfect introduction to fingerpicking and proves that music doesn’t have to be complicated to be complex. The fingerpicking pattern you’ll use to arpeggiate the chords in this song is as straightforward as it gets. Use your thumb to pick the root of each chord.

 

The pattern above is for the song’s verses but can be applied for the chorus and bridge sections.

 


[Verse 1]
                  
D                   G               D                       G    D
When the day is long and the night,    the night is yours alone
                              G                 D                 G
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life,    well hang on


[Chorus]

Em                  A  Em                  A       Em
Don’t let yourself go,        everybody cries
               A               D    G    D    G
and everybody hurts sometimes


[Verse 2]
                          D    G                          D
Sometimes everything is wrong,     now it’s time to sing along
                          G                   D
When your day is night alone             (hold on, hold on)
                         G                   D
If you feel like letting go              (hold on)
                             G              D                 G
When you think you’ve had too much of this life,     well hang on
[Chorus]

Em               A  Em                                A       Em
    Everybody hurts,        take comfort in your friends
           A
Everybody hurts,


[Bridge]

F#                   Bm        F#    Bm     F#                    Bm
  Don’t throw your hand,      oh    no,        don’t throw your hand
C                                     G     C                              Am
    when you feel like you’re alone,       no, no, no, you are not alone


[Verse 3]

D                         G                D                               G
   If you’re on your own    in this life,    the days and nights are long
D                                G                    D              G
   When you think you’ve had too much, of this life,    to hang on


[Chorus]

Em                        A      Em
   Well everybody hurts,   sometimes
                A    Em                    A       D      G
Everybody cries,           everybody hurts,   sometimes


[Verse 4]
                   D      G         D/A       G        D
But everybody hurts   sometimes so hold on, hold on, hold on,
       G        D        G        D        G
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on,
         D       G   D   G
Everybody hurts
D                 G   D   G   D   G
You are not alone

 


House of The Rising Sun,” by The Animals

 

The fingerpicking pattern in this song is similar to the one in “Everybody Hurts” except that it’s sped up and played in a different time signature.


  
The rest of the song features the fingerpicking patterns above played over different chord progressions.

 

[Verse 1]

     Am   C        D          F
There is a house in New Orleans,
     Am       C      E
They call the “Rising Sun”,
    Am       C       D           F
It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy,
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
And God, I know, I’m one.

     Am   C        D          F
My mother was a tailor,
     Am       C      E
She sewed my new blue jeans,
    Am       C       D           F
My father was a gambling man,
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
Down in New Orleans.

     Am   C        D          F
Now the only thing a gambler needs,
     Am       C      E
Is a suitcase and a trunk,
    Am       C       D           F
And the only time, he’s satisfied, is when
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
He’s on a drunk


[Solo]


[Verse 2]

     Am   C        D          F
Oh, mother, tell your children
     Am       C      E
Not to do what I have done –
    Am       C       D           F
Spend your lives in sin and misery
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
In the House of Rising Sun

     Am   C        D          F
Well, I’ve  got one foot on the platform,
     Am       C      E
The other’s on the train,
    Am       C       D           F
I’m going back to New Orleans,
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
to wear that ball and chain.

     Am   C        D          F
Well, there is a house in new Orleans
     Am       C      E
They call the “Rising Sun”,
    Am       C       D           F
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy,
   Am     E         Am    C    D    F
And God I know I’m one

 

“Wonderful Tonight,” by Eric Clapton

 

This is a beginner fingerpicking song that combines simple arpeggiated chords, plucked chords, and melodies played on one string.

 

[Intro]

G   D   C   D   G   D   C   D


[Verse 1]


G                   D
It’s late in the evening
C                         D
She’s wondering what clothes to wear
G                  D
She puts on her make up
C                   D
And brushes her long blonde hair


[Chorus]

C               D
And then she asks me
G      D        Em
Do I look alright
             C             D           G     D  C  D
And I say yes, you look wonderful tonight


[Verse 2]

G           D
We go to a party
C                D
And everyone turns to see
G                 D
This beautiful lady
C                   D
That’s walking around with me


[Chorus]

C               D
And then she asks me
G         D   Em
Do you feel alright
          C           D           G
And I say yes, I feel wonderful tonight


[Verse 3]

        C
I feel wonderful
  D               G         D   Em
Because I see the love light in your eyes
        C           D
And the wonder of it all
            C             D
Is that you just don’t realize
           G        D  C  D  G  D  C  D
How much I love you

G                   D
It’s time to go home now
C                          D
And I’ve got an aching head
G                     D
So I give her the car keys
C                   D
She helps me to bed
C              D
And then I tell her
G       D        Em
As I turn out the light


[Outro]

         C                 D           G     D  Em Em
I say my darling, you were wonderful tonight
      C                 D           G   D  C  D  G  D  C  D  G
Oh my darling, you were wonderful tonight

 

“Ain’t No Sunshine,” by Bill Withers

 

This song is a bit more challenging than the other three beginner fingerpicking songs we showed you today. Like in the other songs, your thumb will pick out bass patterns but your middle and ring fingers will play in unison for parts of this song.

 

                                                                  

[Verse 1]

Am                           Am     Em G Am
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.
Am                        Am        Em G Am
It’s not warm when she’s away.
                            Em                              Dm
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, and she’s always gone too long,
                 Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.

Am                           Am     Em G Am
Wonder this time where she’s gone,
Am                      Am       Em G Am
Wonder if she’s gone to stay
                            Em                                 Dm
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, and this house just ain’t no home,
                 Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.


[Interlude]

N.C.
And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
N.C.
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
N.C.
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
N.C.
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
N.C.
Hey, I ought to leave the young thing alone


[Verse 2]

                                 Am      Em G Am
But ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
                                 Am      Em G Am
But ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
Am                  Am      Em G Am
only darkness everyday.
                            Em                                 Dm
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, and this house just ain’t no home
                Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.
                Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.
                Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.
                Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.
                Am      Em G Am
Anytime she goes away.

 

If you need extra help learning these beginner fingerpicking songs, we recommend finding an experienced guitar teacher in your area that knows how to play in this style. Focus on mastering transitioning between chords in this style before you move on to learning entire songs. For more helpful articles about the world of music, check out the Musika Lessons blog.

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