What is Fingerstyle Guitar? The Essential Guide For All Guitarists

what is fingerstyle guitar

People often get confused about what is harder between piano and guitar. But no one can disagree with the fact that the guitar is the most versatile instrument.

The versatility of the guitar reflects in its different styles of playability. You can play and sing simultaneously using a pick, which is a beginner-friendly way. You can also play using the tips of your fingers. This is another widely used guitar technique called fingerstyle.

Guitar with fingertips sounds easy, right? But you need skill for that.

So, let’s kick start learning what is fingerstyle guitar.

What is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Fingerstyle guitar is a style where you use your fingertips or fingernails to play the guitar.

This is one of the creative methods of playing guitar. Playing notes and chords with this technique requires skill. You need mastery in fingerstyle if you wish to learn and add a unique touch to bass guitar.

Brief History

Fingerstyle is the oldest way of playing string instruments. It all started from blues in the 19th century when blues guitarists tried replicating the famous ragtime piano music. They considered the pianist’s left hand a thumb and the right the remaining fingers.

This was the beginning of fingerstyle being largely used in the US.

The style was primarily created for nylon string guitars and classical guitars. Nylon strings guitars were made for fingerstyle playing. Later it received considerable popularity. From classical and spanish genres to today in jazz, musicians started experimenting with steel strings.

Now, with consistent practice, fingerstyle with different types of guitar strings is smoothly achievable.

Did you know the first guitar was believed to be developed during 15th century?

Learn more about Guitar History and Origin.


Basics of Fingerstyle Guitar Playing

Sticking to fundamentals is essential to learn and grasp a skill. Though you just have to pluck the strings with your fingers, it requires proper technique. But before that, these basics play a vital role.

1. Posture

You must maintain proper posture while playing any guitar style. Sitting position should be comfortable and ideal for playing. Concentrating can be difficult as you have to maintain the correct posture and pluck the strings simultaneously.

Correct Posture Tips

  • Make sure your right-hand elbow is completely resting on the guitar.
  • Your wrist must be free without any strain, as it can affect playing.

A wrong posture can cause significant back pain and overall strain. It can impact playing. So, take care of it.

2. PIMA: Right-Hand Terminology

Fingerstyle guitar is heavily influenced by Spanish style, which has been adopted by western classical music. It shares an interesting terminology called PIMA.

Don’t worry, no rocket science. PIMA is nothing but Spanish names for fingers.

Spanish names for fingers

  • P (Pulgar) – Thumb
  • I (Indice) – Index
  • M (Medio) – Middle
  • A (Anular) – Ring

The little or pinky finger has some Spanish names like Extremo or Mignolo. This finger is less used than PIMA, but some fingerstyle guitarists use it.

So, place your fingers accordingly if you see any PIMA letters above a note in the guitar tab.

3. Finger Positions

Finger placement in fingerstyle is the foundation to learning the method correctly. In particular, the right-hand position matters the most in fingerstyle.

Finger Placement

  • Assign your thumb to the 6th (high E), 5th (A), and 4th (D) strings  .
  • Put your ring finger on the first (low E), middle finger on 2nd (B), and index finger on 3rd (G) strings.
  • Ensure you are pressing the strings properly with the tips of fingers which play a major role in fingerstyle.

Finger position can be a task for beginners. It changes from person to person. Hence, protecting fingertips is necessary.

4. Picado Technique

It is a technique used in flamenco or classical playing style. In picado, you play the strings alternately with your index and middle finger. This is similar to how you learn down up, down up strumming patterns. This technique is an excellent exercise for fingerstyle guitar.

Take up any scale, for instance, C major, and pluck the strings using the index and middle finger to play the scale.Try making different patterns and progressions. This way, you can activate the muscles and get a good grip over the strings.

5. Thumb Exercise

This exercise is entirely dedicated to the thumb. Let’s take the E major scale, for instance. When you play individual notes, you will have to play the last 3 strings (E A D) where the thumb is allotted.

If you follow it as an exercise and play it repeatedly, your thumb gets used to it. Regular finger exercises improves agility and smoothness.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Fingerstyle Guitar Playing

Fingerstyle comes with several advantages that can induce you to learn this style. But, I will not lie here. The beautiful fingerstyle has another side as well. Read this before you start learning.


  • No need to carry a plectrum or pick.
  • You can play arpeggios and beautiful melodies solo.
  • A range of soft and loud musical expressions is possible.
  • Non-adjacent or different strings can be plucked and played.
  • You can play chords with required strings only, without muting the strings.


  • Fingertips and nails must be protected and maintained; otherwise, they can get injured.
  • Though the notes sound richer, the softness can be a barrier to getting the appropriate sound for loud songs.
  • Inconsistent sound can be produced by not pressing the strings properly.
  • It gets challenging to manage the speed and play fast songs.
  • Tip tends to lose its softness and develop calluses and bumps too.

So, if we sum up all the learnings, a proper technique learned with consistent practice can bring out the best for a fingerstyle-guitarist.

Are Fingerstyle and Fingerpicking Same?

To some extent, both deliver the same meaning. However, their use in guitar practice is a bit different.

In fingerstyle, you use fingertips or thumb pick to play. In contrast, fingerpicking is a technique where you only pluck the strings using fingers rather than a thumb pick.


Is fingerstyle hard to learn?

Everything seems hard when you learn it for the first time. A beginner guitar player might struggle as the fingerstyle technique is complex. In fact, any level guitarists can struggle if they are habitual to flatpicking only.

The key is regular practice and, of course, patience.

What should I learn first between fingerstyle and playing with a pick?

I recommend first learning to use a pick because you must know basic guitar before trying your fingers on fingerstyle.

If you want to get introduced to natural playing first, you can think about fingerstyle. Else, you can go back and forth with both.

Can I play fingerstyle on electric guitar?

Yes, you can play fingerstyle on electric guitar. However, it might not sound as pleasant as it sounds on bass, classical, or acoustic guitar. Because the amplifier gathers a screechy sound on plucking the strings. So, the final output might not sound as good as you play holding a pick.   

What is the difference between fingerpicking and strumming?

In fingerpick, you use your fingers to pluck the strings and not any kind of pick. On the other hand, strumming is largely performed using a pick. However, you can use your fingers for strumming.

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It’s great to see justice being given to the guitar’s versatility. Fingerstyle guitar playing is one of the most loved styles. Most musical pieces are composed considering the pattern. Well, yes, there are plenty of fingerstyle patterns you can learn.

Nothing can be learned overnight. You have to practice and have patience. With proper guidance, you get better at guitar skills.

So, keep practicing till we meet again to learn another fantastic concept!

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