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Learning to play fingerstyle guitar can be quite challenging, even if you’ve already been playing guitar for a while.

That’s how it was for me at least. For a long time I played guitar with a pick almost exclusively, with some rudimentary fingerpicking thrown in… Just enough so I could play Stairway To Heaven and a few other songs.

When I got seriously into the acoustic, I decided to take some classical guitar lessons. That’s when I realized how weak my fingerstyle technique really was.

It took me years of trial and error, along with some guidance from my then teacher Joe Rogers, to get it to a decent place. Here are some tips that will hopefully get you there a lot quicker.

1. It’s all about placement

How you place your right hand and arm on the guitar is probably the most important part of playing fingerstyle. It’s the foundation of your entire technique.

There are a few different approaches to this, but the most important things to keep in mind is that your hand should always stay relaxed and your wrist should be relatively straight…or at least it shouldn’t bend in an uncomfortable way.

2. Learn to keep your hand relaxed

As stated above, keeping your hand relaxed is really important. The problem is that tension can creep up on you, and before you even realize what’s happening, your hand is all cramped up.

That’s why it’s important to memorize how the hand and arm feel when they’re in a relaxed state. Let your right arm hang loose and try to relax it, even if it doesn’t feel tense. Now tighten it and try to get it as tense as possible, then relax again. Switch back and forth between the two states a few times to really get a feel for relaxing the arm quickly.

Pay attention while your playing as well, especially when you’re playing a difficult part. That’s where tension creeps in since the body naturally tenses up when it’s getting ready for a challenge…but since we’re playing guitar and not moving boulders, that defense mechanism doesn’t really help us.

3. Focus on your ring finger.

Did I mention it’s really important to keep the hand relaxed?

Another cause of tension is a hand that’s out of balance because some fingers are weaker than others. In most cases, that means the ring finger.

At least that’s how it was for me. Whenever I had to use my ring finger a lot, my hand would tense up and my hand would go out of position, causing me to mess up.

So use that ring finger as much as possible. Here is a simple exercise that helped me a lot.



Watch out for the letters next to the notes, those are right-hand fingering indications: p=thumb, i=index, m=middle and a=ring. Practice it at a steady tempo and repeat for as long as you can. I still use this exercise a lot for warming up before a gig or recording…it’s great for getting your fingers moving!


These are just a few pointers to get you started with fingerstyle technique. Of course there’s a lot more to get into, but hopefully these tips will get you on the right track.

Are you new to fingerstyle? Are there any difficulties you’re running into? Let me know to see if I can help!

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