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Different Styles of Fingerpicking?

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Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

Basically, as the thread's name goes, I'm wondering if there are any different styles of picking besides Travis-style?

If so, can you provide the names of the picking style with an example of a song or a tab --- highlighting the general pattern. The most helpful would be having a standard tab:


With 0's for each note (open string for each note):


Or whatever works best for you. :D

Also, if there's no name for the style of fingerpicking, but it's a widely used form or REALLY cool. Please tell. I just want to know some fingerpicking styles that have some kind of logic to them, not completely random notes.


Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472

Most times, there are no names of different patterns. And, judging from what you wrote you are mistaking (or at least interchanging) "patterns" and "styles." If you pick up a book on Travis style, for instance, you'll see numerous patterns.

A lot of people play fingerstyle according to their own Idiosyncrasies. For instance, people who play with just thumb and index finger may not to play patterns that a person well-versed with using the thumb, index, middle and ring finger can. And vice-versa.

Many songs, for instance, use a "pinch" pattern, where you grab the root note and a note on one of the top three strings at the same time (think Dust In The Wind), but the pattern has to change according to (a) where the root note of the chord happens to be and (b) what note is going to be emphasized on the high strings. Both those choices depend on the chord voicing one uses. You play the arpeggio that begins Creedence Clearwater Revival's Born On The Bayou with an E7 chord in open position (022130) or use a C7-shaped chord up the neck (076750) and have to totally change your pattern depending on which chord voicing you use.

As far as "logic," most people who create patterns do so in order to have specific sounds, to have specific notes follow one another. And, again, this may make the pattern change with each chord, so you can't truly use one pattern for an entire sequence.

A great example of the this is the lesson here at Guitar Noise on Scarborough Fair. The "theme," or main musical motif, uses a specific pattern of strings even while the chords are changing. But this is only a fraction of what goes on in the song. The pattern is continually interrupted by bits of Travis style, straight arpeggios and other musical nuances.

I'm not sure this is being helpful, but I simply want to suggest that you don't look at styles or patterns but rather at looking how best to produce the sound you want. Sometimes it may be copying something someone else has done and then you can certainly use their "pattern" ("recorded performance" would be a better term, no?) as a guide. But the less you look for something set in stone, the more you'll be able to play.

Incidentally, people who only strum have the same obsessions with patterns and it often hinders one's ability to learn and be creative.

Also, if you're very gung-ho for this sort of categorizing, be sure to check out the heavens-knows-how-many books that are full of fingerpicking patterns out there.


Active Member
Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

Thanks a lot David Hodge.

I actually did read and had practiced your article on Scarborough Fair a while ago [months ago]. I recently [yesterday] printed off the Julia (by the Beatles) article, too. Haven't gotten started on that, though. Just wanted to see if I could make sense of it by learning more logic to fingerpicking. Really enjoy the song (Julia). Even if it doesn't make complete sense. :)

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
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David's advice is very good.. when I first started looking at fingerstyle, I also wanted to categorize patterns. I think this is because it is easier on your mind when you start to think that there is some underlying components that you need to learn, and then "you will get it". But over time, I have realized that even books that use patterns (like Brian Hanson's "Travis Picking" book) use that as a teaching aid, and the pattern centric view disappears as you go deeper into the book.

Also, I have recently watched several well know artists on video (thanks to HDNet) and each one has a very different style, and many of them create great music with just thumb and one finger. One thing I've generally noticed is that many of them seem to use a lot of open strings with unusual chord voicings .. but again, I'm sure there's plenty of exceptions.

(Just as a footnote, I kind of gave up on fingerstyle sometime along the way, but I'm starting to do more of that again..)

"Life is either an adventure or nothing" -- Helen Keller

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
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I have to admit that I approach finger-picking with a sense of dread. But I think sometimes it's because of the fear of not being able to duplicate exactly what David wisely calls the recorded performance pattern. A while ago, I decided just to wing it on "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and was delighted to discover that it's easier to duplicate the sound than I thought. The band is also doing "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers. Again, once I decided to "wing it", I found it much easier going than I'd anticipated (especially since I don't have to play the solo). Obviously, there are more demanding finger-picking songs, but sometimes the patterns do appear to be open to a bit of interpretation -- much to my relief!

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon

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I agree with Tim -- thinking about it too much just makes it more difficult. Practicing patterns will help you develop the requisite coordination and an ear for the arpeggiated sequences. But not all tunes stick to strong, patterned fingerstyle formula. For those, start by getting down the chord changes and the moving notes (melody, harmony, bass, passing tones, interval movements and/or standout flourishes) and often you will find your picking hand will (eventually) "find its way." After a while, you will also develop a locked-in coordination between your hands, so when you decide to add in your own little flourishes with the fretting hand, your picking hand will nail the notes with the correct timing and dynamics on the correct strings.

-=tension & release=-

Trusted Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 49

While we are talking about names and patterns for fingerpicking styles, I seem to recall one pattern that has a specific name but I can't for the life of me remember what it is. Usually fairly quickly, you play low note, high note, mid note, high note and repeat. For example if you were playing a D chord in the pattern, you would play as follows:


Does anyone know the name?

There was another technique that has a name which I also can't remember (I should learn to remember things :-P). It is when you are finishing playing something that has lots of fingerpicking and at the very end you strum a chord. For example, at the end of the bon jovi song "wanted dead or alive", they play the final run and finish up by strumming a D chord. Many years ago, before I started playing guitar, someone told me what that technique is called (it is named after a person I think) but I forgot it. Thanks!

Prominent Member
Joined: 19 years ago
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Most of the time I do a Travis style pick.

There times I do what I call a backwards pick which starts from the bottom string & works it's way up. Then there are times I do what I call a forward pick, which is the opposite from top strings to bottom.
then I use mixtures of any two or all. That's all just for rhythmic stuff. Melodic is different.

Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 129

Well, there's classical guitar picking style…

The way I was taught was the Thumb plays the 3 lower strings, E A D and the index plays G, middle plays B, and ring finger plays the high E. Of course this is just your starting point and the fingers mentioned are not permanently assigned to those strings, like the index can help out the thumb by playing D or A. Or the thumb can play higher strings, point is to get used to coordinating the thumb to play base notes or root notes,

I'm pretty sure this is so because most chords and arpeggios we play have their root notes on those lower strings.

Hope this helps


Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 108

If you want to try something different, you can try Charley James as tabbed by Stefan Grossman

It's uses a monotonic bass technique which I dampen the bass strings with my strumming/picking hand to just give a sense of the rhythm (I'm getting out of my comfort zone here when it comes to properly explaining music). I believe Hey Hey by Big Bill Broonzy is another example (as an example listening to the version on Eric Clapton's Unplugged album).

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Joined: 20 years ago
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While we are talking about names and patterns for fingerpicking styles, I seem to recall one pattern that has a specific name but I can't for the life of me remember what it is. Usually fairly quickly, you play low note, high note, mid note, high note and repeat.

Does anyone know the name?"Twilight Zone?"

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."

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. . . and the band played on . . . .

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.

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Joined: 18 years ago
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I love fingerpicking.

You just have to pluck the strings and move your hands on the fretboard in a fashion so that you are able to create music. And this can be done in 'n' number of ways.

But, for starting, you can use the basic technique - thumb on the bass strings and index, middle and ring fingers on the trebles.

And as Gnease said, practice more, think a little less.

Good Luck.