Wed. Oct 14th, 2020

    Are you ready to learn how to fingerpick on the guitar? This article is the foundation of fingerpicking I learned when I first began to play guitar. By the end of this post, you will have the roots of basic fingerpicking set to grow into the finger stylist you wish to be! Tune-up your guitar and find a Foot Stand. Here we go!


    What Finger Picking Is

    To ‘fingerpick’ is to rhythmically strike individual notes or chords on a stringed instrument. Guitar, bass, and banjo are commonly used instruments to fingerpick, here in the US, and Finger Picking is the core of fingerstyle. It is prevalent across various styles of music including blues, rock, classical, Spanish, folk, and country. The spread-out striking of notes, common in fingerpicking, creates a piano-like tamber to your musical play. The thumb is used to play bass strings (E, A, and sometimes D string) while your other digits play the remaining strings. There are numerous styles and techniques associated with fingerpicking including cascading harmonics, tap harmonics, body percussion, and many more. The applied use of these techniques is what makes fingerstyle.

    A couple of my favorite finger stylists that employ an expert level of fingerpicking ability are Tommy Emmanuel and Sungha Jung. There are numerous other finger pickers out there I implore you to explore for each have a distinct style. Tommy and Sungha are simply my personal favorite due to their range of composition and fingerstyle expertise. If you care for a bit of inspiration feel free to check out my recommendations and other finger pickers on YouTube to see for yourself!


    Different Types of Finger Picking Preferences

    By now you understand a bit about what fingerpicking is, you’ve checked out a couple fingerpicking artist, and have begun to understand what it means to fingerstyle. Just as the name implies, fingerstyle is the artist’s style of applied fingerpicking techniques. A finger stylist’s fingerpicking preference may differ from song to song, it may evolve over time, or it may follow very unorthodox styling in order to embellish or create authority.

    The most common difference in fingerpicking style is the use of the pinky. Many finger pickers rarely use the pinky to strike the strings; often opting to use it for stability by ‘planting’ it on the body. By ‘anchoring’ or ‘planting’ your pinky on the body of the guitar you assist the creation of defined muscle memory. Your hand becomes familiar with returning to the same place when fingerpicking and your subconscious understanding of which strings are where becomes second nature. What is most important is that you set a part of the hand to stabilize your fingerpicking digits.

    The orientation of picking that uses the pinky to stabilize will be called style #1; it will not use the pinky to pluck a string and instead will be used to stabilize the right-hand on the body. Style #2 describes how to apply the TIMIRIMI patter to a five-finger picking-preference if you would like to try it for yourself and see which you prefer; it uses the palm of the right-hand to stabilize on the saddle of the guitar.

    My personal preference is style #2: the use of all five fingers with fingerpicking. I keep the Thumb to the E and A string with each subsequent finger assigned to each subsequent string. So my Index finger plays exclusively the D string; my middle plays exclusively the G-string; the Ring finger plays exclusively the B string; the Pinky plays exclusively the bottom e string. I took on this hand orientation at the same time I started using a foot stand. But many great finger stylist use the pinky to stabilize and play the guitar both.

    I suggest using whichever style feels the best to you!


    The TIMIRIMI Pattern

    Let’s begin by understanding the acronym, TIMIRIMI.

    • T = Thumb
    • I = Index
    • M = Middle
    • I = Index
    • R = Ring
    • I = Index
    • M = Middle
    • I = Index

    So the TIMIRIMI pattern is an acronym that denotes the use of your picking hand. If you’re using a standard right-handed guitar, this is what your right-hand does. If you’re a left-handed guitarist then your left hand will follow this pattern.

    This fingerpicking pattern assumes each finger plays its own string. In this example, we will not play any chord shape at all.

    Try One of These Two Style

    1. Four Finger Finger-Picking: Put your Thumb on the E string; your Index on the G-string; your Middle Finger on the B-string; your Ring Finger on the little e-string. You can place your pinky on the body of the guitar to help stabilize your hand and begin building muscle memory.
    2. Five Finger Finger-Picking: Put your Thumb on the E string; your Index on the D string; your Middle Finger on the G-string; your Ring Finger on the B string, and your Pinky on the little bottom e-string. Rest your palm on the Saddle of the guitar to help stabilize your hand and begin building muscle memory.

    Notice there are 8 letters in the acronym TIMIRIMI. That would make each note a half-beat in standard 4/4 timing. Instead of counting ‘One and Two and Three and Four andcount to yourselfThumb Index Middle Index Ring Index Middle Index‘. If you are in position, plucking each finger as you go you will be fingerpicking the TIMIRIMI Pattern!

    Your Thumb will play the bass note of the chord you’re playing, in our case, we’ll be playing the topmost string E. Your next three fingers will play G, B, and e if you’re trying the first style or D, G, B if you’re playing the second style. The note you’re playing isn’t as relevant as what feels most fluid and comfortable to play.


    Style #1

    The video does not show my hand because I’m not holding any chord shape. We are playing the Em chord, but not plucking the A or D string where fingers are placed to play an Em. So this proper chord is a great starting point to practice. Once you get the pattern down and you are fingerpicking!

    Style #2

    Because I’ve placed my Index, middle, and ring on different strings, this playing sounds different. Notice instead of stabilizing my hand using my pinky I rest my palm on what’s known as the saddle of the guitar. This also helps me establish a consistent point of reference to build muscle memory.

    I’m very curious about which style you like best! Please leave a comment below and let me know which style you’re having success with!


    How This Carries Forward

    You’ve now learned how to fingerpick guitar! It takes dexterity, patience, and practice to fully master this pattern. Going forward, familiarize yourself with a few common chord shapes such as G, C, and D. Once you’re comfortable transitioning between those chords, use the TIMIRIMI pattern instead of strumming each chord.

    If you really want to give yourself a challenge, try this in the dark!


    Before we Part…

    Fingerpicking is a free-styled art. Whether you’re interested in classical play, casual play, or simply adding technique to your repertoire; enjoy the music as much as you focus on the punctionality and sound. Learn it well and speed will come.

    Feel free to click here to sign up for the howtofingerpick newsletter for more finger styling lessons, reviews, and more!

    Until next time!

    By DJ

    DJ has been playing guitar for 17 years. He has focused on fingerstyle guitar for the past 10 years and is very passionate about learning. Some of his fingerstylist idols are Tommy Emmanuel and Sungha Jung.

  • I also like music very much. Although I have never played guitar, I like ukri. I think the music played with fingers is really good. If I have the chance to learn string music systematically, I will be specialized in finger playing! Thank you for sharing anyway

  • Hi DJ! I learned alot through this one article that I feel I can actually pick up the guitar myself and start practicing.

    While reading this article, I’m reminded of a Bahamian artist who was an exellent guitar player who I think you might like. His name is Joseph Spence. He not only finger picks each note, but he also place the chords along with it. He was famous back in the day because when ever he played he sounded like several guitars. Check him out and let me know if you liked his style 🙂

  • As someone who really enjoys the sound of finger-picking when it’s played, I found your article really interesting. It’s a skill that looks like it requires a lot of practice and I greatly respect any musician that is good at it. I play the ukulele and it seems like I might be able to apply some of the same finger picking techniques to improve my playing as well!

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