How to Position the Fingerpicking Hand and Fingers? | Hub Guitar

How to Position the Fingerpicking Hand and Fingers?

(And other tips for beginning fingerstyle players)

How to Play Fingerstyle Guitar

  1. For any given chord or moment, each of the picking hand fingers is assigned a string.
  2. The thumb, being more dexterous, sometimes plays two or even three strings.
  3. Keep the thumb moving towards the fretting hand; avoid curling it behind the fingers as it normally would in a grasping motion.

Most learners can develop fingerstyle skills on the guitar fairly smoothly, with a few caveats.

We are accustomed to using our fingers for many motions, and playing the guitar strings with them will soon feel familiar.

Many learners, including those with previous musical experience (such as piano), or who can type effectively on a keyboard, find this transition can be made with quite easily. But few struggle with it.

First Area of Difficulty: Underusing Fingers

Some guitar learners attempt to play fingerstyle with just the thumb and index finger, which puts them at a disadvantage. Others overuse the thumb, using other fingers only when absolutely necessary. Fingerstyle guitar requires the use of the picking hand thumb (p), index finger (i), middle finger (m), and ring finger (a). In addition, the pinky is sometimes used—although rarely. These fingers must all be working together, in coordination. They must all be conditioned so that you feel comfortable using all of the fingers to play the strings.

Second Area of Difficulty: Poor Thumb Technique

The beginning fingerstyle player often starts off with poor technique of the picking hand thumb.

Open YouTube and search for any great fingerstyle player: (Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee, Muriel Anderson, and many more names come to mind). You will notice that these players almost invariably play with their picking hand thumb pointed out and towards the guitar fretboard.

In otherwords, beginners tend to use the thumb the way it is used in all other aspects of life: to grip objects and to act in opposition to the other fingers. However, when playing fingerstyle guitar, the normally opposing digit is now spread out and away from the hand. With patience and practice, this affords the thumb a greater amount of independence and its own individual plane of motion on which to operate.

Third Area of Difficulty: Anchoring the Right Hand on the Soundboard

This comes in two quasi-legitimate forms: one is that the knife edge (karate chop) of the picking hand will rest on the guitar bridgeThe typically dark mahogany-colored piece of the guitar fixed to the body of the guitar. The saddle and bridge pins are mounted on it. and another is that the picking hand pinky will stand alone on the top of the guitar, near where the pickguard is often found.

Other habits, mostly regarded as bad: resting multiple fingers on the sound board, resting the hand on the sound board.

This technique is controversial among guitar teachers. Although many guitar educators advise against this technique, preferring to teach a free-moving hand, there are contradictory examples of some of the very best guitar players in the world who play using this method to some extent. However, they can probably play both with it and without it. In addition, most techniques, even less desirable ones, can practiced until they are at a very high level. Given the choice, it’s best to choose good, proven techniques and build good habits.

The disadvantage of this method is that it can limit and restrict your range of motion. The part of your hand resting on the guitar will be anchored there permanently, leaving you unable to play with the freedom of a hand that can move around.

The advantage, for the learner, is that the anchored hand provides a fixed point of reference; with the hand floating above the strings, it is difficult for the picking hand fingers to remember exactly where each string is. With an anchor fixed on top of the guitar, suddenly this gets easier to remember.

If you find it necessary to learn this way, keep in mind that it’s a good idea to practice fingerpicking without touching the guitar as well. Then you will be able to play the strings accurately, without always relying on the comfort of an anchoring finger.

How to Practice

Learn a simple, beautiful song on fingerstyle guitar, going slowly and patiently.

Practice your basic fingerstyle techniques, keeping the above technical suggestions in mind.


Fingerstyle guitar comes naturally with time, but you will learn faster if you think about your overall technique while you practice the fundamentals.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

©2018 Hub Guitar. All rights reserved.