Learning how to make the most of your right hand when playing the guitar is fundamental if you want to be a versatile guitarist. Having a wide selection of fingerpicking patterns gives you an advantage in many scenarios you’ll find yourself in.
Simply by knowing different patterns, you have multiple options to choose from when composing a song, without having to change the chords, add embellishments, etc.
Sometimes, a simple change of the picking pattern can introduce a completely new atmosphere to the song, especially if you combine patterns that go well with each other.
Since this guide focuses on the patterns and not the chords we’re applying them to, all the examples will have the same chord progression. This way, you can focus on building muscle memory in your right hand, which is the most important aspect of learning new fingerpicking patterns.
You can use any of the patterns you’re about to learn with songs that you have already learned – try them out and see how they change the feel of the original song!
These patterns work on open chords and barre chords as well.
After learning some of these examples, you can try to come up with your own unique fingerpicking patterns.
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Check out our ultimate guide to music theory to find more jumping off points.
Fingerpicking Pattern 1
The first pattern on this list is also going to be the simplest.
It is on 4/4 time, which means that there are 4 beats per bar.
The chords are:
- C Major
- A Minor
- E minor
- G Major
Check out the following chord diagrams if you need a quick reminder on how to play these chords in their open positions:
Note that it is also possible to play G Major with an open B string, instead of playing the note D on the 3rd fret.
In some of these patterns, one might sound better than the other, but it ultimately comes down to personal taste.
You will play one chord per bar, and pluck each one’s notes with your fingers as the following tab indicates:
An important tip: the thumb of your right hand is the only finger that changes strings (twice on the A string, and twice on the E string).
Your other fingers (index, middle and ring) should play the G, B and high E strings, respectively.
There is no need to start playing this at a fast tempo; you will benefit more from starting slow (about 60bpm) and working your way up as you get better at each pattern.
Fingerpicking Pattern 2
The second pattern is very similar to the first, but there is one major difference – it is played in 6/8 instead of 4/4. This means that there are 6 eight notes per bar, as opposed to 4 quarter notes.
On the other hand, the fingering is almost the same as the previous pattern, apart from two extra notes on each chord.
This pattern works great on slower tempos, such as in a ballad.
You can also play each chord twice instead of changing on each bar!
Fingerpicking Pattern 3
The key difference of this pattern, when compared to the previous ones, is that after you play the bass note on the E or A string, you will start playing the higher strings with your ring finger.
Remember; use your index, middle and ring fingers for G, B, and E strings, respectively.
After practicing the previous examples, it might feel a little tricky to lead with that finger, instead of just rolling down the strings in order, which feels more natural.
However, this is great to build up your right hand’s finger independence.
Fingerpicking Pattern 4
In order to play this pattern comfortably, you’ll need to be very precise with your right hand’s fingers.
For instance, on the C chord, play the 5th and 4th strings with your thumb (or thumbpick), the 3rd string with your index finger, and the 2nd string with your middle finger.
This way you can build up speed and transition better from one chord to another.
You’ll need to make minor adjustments on your right hand as the chord progression loops, since not all of them use the same sets of strings.
Practice each chord individually, and then practice putting them together. This will have you mastering this pattern more efficiently.
Fingerpicking Pattern 5
This is definitely a classic pattern that you’ve surely heard many times on folk and pop tunes.
It works well at a medium tempo, keeping a nice pace throughout the song.
For the first time in this list of patterns, we’re playing two notes at once on each chord, precisely on the first beat of each bar.
Once again, be methodical with the fingers that you use for each string in each chord.
The thumb will always play the bass notes on the 6th and 5th string.
On the first chord (C), play the 5th string with your thumb and the 2nd string with your ring finger.
Then, play the 4th string with your thumb and the 3rd string with your index finger.
Fingerpicking Pattern 6
The following pattern introduces a percussive element to it.
The notes you see as “X” in the tablature mean you should play a percussive “slap” on the strings, without actually plucking any of them.
This technique is very popular among folk guitarists who usually accompany themselves while singing, as it has more rhythm to it.
Also, notice that in this tab and in the next ones, the chords are changing twice as fast, but you can always stick to playing 4 bars with one chord each.
Fingerpicking Pattern 7
Just like the last one, this pattern also incorporates a slight percussive tap on the strings to add a rhythmic element.
This pattern is similar to the one that John Mayer plays in his song “Stop This Train”. Listen to that song to better capture the feel of this example.
You still play the 6th and 5th strings with your thumb only.
Your index finger plays the 4th string, the middle finger plays the 3rd string, and the ring finger plays the 2nd string.
Fingerpicking Pattern 8
This is a great pattern to create some movement, as it is played entirely using 16th notes.
The motion is pretty straightforward in comparison to some of the previous examples. Your thumb keeps playing all the bass notes, on the 6th and 5th strings.
Then, since you’re really only using 3 more strings, play them with your index, middle and ring fingers.
This pattern also works well if you play a sequence of 4 bars with one chord in each of them, as opposed to playing two chords per bar.
Fingerpicking Pattern 9
You should also know a pattern in 3/4 time, and this is the simplest example you can start off with.
Each bar has 3 beats instead of 4, and the pattern consists in playing the bass note on the first beat, and the rest of the notes on the remaining two beats.
Your right hand fingers should work exactly as on the last example: thumb on the 6th and 5th strings, and your index, middle and ring fingers on the 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings respectively.
Fingerpicking Pattern 10
This next example is in 6/8 time, which gives it a different type of motion and allows you to organize notes differently.
In this pattern, you always play the same sequence for each chord: 2 notes plucked simultaneously, and a group of 3 individual, faster notes.
Play the two simultaneous notes with your thumb and index finger.
It is great to get used to playing in different time signatures, as that opens up our musical perception and increases our vocabulary.
Fingerpicking Pattern 11
We’re back to 4/4 time and to having one chord per bar, but now there’s a major difference in the way you should play this pattern.
If you look closely, you’ll see that you play the high E string in between every other note of each chord.
To play it properly, your thumb should play every note, changing strings with each note, except for the high E string, which you should play with your middle finger.
It is a quite different approach than the previous examples, but it is worth practicing to build your dexterity.
This one sounds particularly good at a slightly faster tempo.
Fingerpicking Pattern 12
The final fingerpicking pattern is essentially the same as the previous one, but flipped over.
In the previous one, you were alternating your thumb in between each of the repeating notes.
In this pattern, you keep playing the root bass note, and your other fingers will be alternating across other strings.
To play this properly, your thumb should play the bass notes on the 6th and 5th string.
Then, on the first two chords, your index, middle and ring fingers play strings 3, 2 and 1.
On the last two chords, your index, middle and ring fingers should play strings 4, 3 and 2.
As a guitarist, you’ll be at a serious advantage if you can play with a pick and also with your fingers, as you never know what someone might ask of you in a real world situation such as a recording session.
Being able to play chord progressions using several different fingerpicking patterns opens you up to a huge palette of sounds and feelings, especially since a new pattern can introduce a completely different feel and vibe to a previously existing set of chord changes.
Practice the patterns that you can hear on songs from your favorite artists, try to diversify as much as you can, and by learning from different sources, you will start developing the skill necessary to come up with your own original fingerpicking patterns.