Fingerstyle Guitar Exercises

by Michael Black
Finger-style guitar requires dedication and patience to learn properly.

Finger-style guitar requires dedication and patience to learn properly.

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In fingerstyle guitar, strike the strings with your fingers as opposed to a standard guitar pick. Playing fingerstyle guitar allows you to hit notes on two non-adjacent strings simultaneously, play complicated multiple-string rhythm patterns and provides greater control over muting the individual strings. Like any guitar technique, fingerstyle guitar takes significant practice to learn. Using a few quality exercises will help speed up this learning process.

Thumb Patterns

In most types of fingerstyle guitar, the thumb is responsible for hitting the bass notes and the pointer, middle and ring fingers are responsible for hitting the higher notes. One of the first fingerstyle exercises you should work with is playing bass lines with your thumb. Ignore the other fingers until you are comfortable using your thumb to pick out a bass line. Start with simple quarter and eighth note bass lines and work toward the more complex patterns. Play bass lines from real songs in order to spice up this process.

Finger Patterns

Once you have a grasp on some bass patterns, it is time to practice adding higher melody and harmony notes on top of them. Again, start with simple bass lines in which you only strike a bass note once every beat or two. In between these bass notes, practice using your other fingers to hit notes on different strings. At first, assign each finger a specific string, but eventually you will want to play with some patterns that require you to use different fingers for different strings. In order to simplify this exercise, fret a single stationary chord until you are comfortable with some of these patterns.


Although fingerstyle guitar is more about picking individual notes that striking chords, it is still important to be able to strum the strings with your fingers when a song calls for it. Use your thumb for this, or use your fret hand fingernails instead. Practice various strumming techniques until you find one that works for you. Start by strumming basic quarter and eighth notes and once you have found a technique you are comfortable with, add strums to your finger pattern exercises. Replace every forth measure in your pattern exercises with a measure of strumming to help you get used to switching between the two styles of play.


Finger-style guitar allows you to mute individual strings with your picking fingers. This technique can help you greatly when attempting to play complicated fingerstyle guitar riffs. Learn the basic of this technique by striking a few finger picked notes and then muting specific strings -- while letting others ring out -- with the fleshy pads of your fingers. Then apply muting techniques to certain notes in the finger pattern exercises as well.


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