How to Play Guitar with Your Fingers - Video Guitar Lesson | StrumSchool
Lesson Summary: Playing the Guitar with Your Fingers
Here's a review of what was covered in this video lesson. Feel free to print this page out so you have something to review while you practice.
Playing the guitar using your fingers (without a pick). This is possible with any guitar but mostly used when playing a classical (nylon string) guitar.
Rest your right thumb on the 6th string, allowing your hand to stay in place over the strings. Try to keep your thumb reaching out towards the head of the guitar, so it doesn't collide with your other fingers when you use it to pluck.
Curl your fingers up so that your index finger rests on the 3rd string, Middle finger rests on the 2nd string and your ring finger rests on the 1st string. Try to avoid putting your pinky finger down to anchor your hand.
When your fingers pluck inward toward the palm of the hand to pluck a string and then follow through in a natural motion. Any finger can make a free stroke, including the thumb. When playing free strokes, try to keep your hand on the guitar. Free strokes are generally used when playing chords.
When you pluck the string by pushing the string downward into the face of the guitar, and the follow-through lands the finger on whatever string is adjacent. Rest strokes are generally used when playing a melody.
Alternating Fingers: Playing a note with your thumb, followed by a note with your finger.
Chording: Playing all notes at once.
Arpeggiating: Letting a note you play with your thumb ring out while you play a series of notes with your fingers.
Practice plucking with your fingers, while keeping your thumb totally still.
Practice alternating plucking a note with your thumb, followed by plucking all three strings with the index, middle and ring fingers.
Practice plucking all strings in succession. Start plucking with your thumb. Then pluck with your index finger, followed by your middle finger and then your ring finger. As each finger plucks, it hovers above the strings. Do not return the finger to the string you just plucked. When you get to the ring finger, begin the cycle again.
Try exercise #3 but this time as one finger plucks, the next finger immediately goes to rest on the string it will pluck. This way, there is always at least 1 finger touching a string, which provides stability and consistency for your hand.
FAQs: Playing the Guitar with Your Fingers
This is where we answer your questions so that everyone can read them. If you have a question, enter it into the Ask a Question box and we'll do our best to answer it.
Do I need long fingernails to play fingerstyle guitar?
When playing fingerstyle on a steel string guitar, a little bit of fingernail (5mm) helps but is not necessary. When playing a nylon string guitar, it is helpful to have a few millimeters (10mm) of fingernail as they will help you achieve a more classic tone.
What can I do about my fingernails, which are somewhat long (15mm) and tend to break or get jagged from the strings?
There is no way to assure that your fingernails won't break. That said, there are a few tricks that may help you. First off, don't use a fingernail clipper. Instead, of a clipper, use a file to shorten your nails and after filing them into shape, use a fine sandpaper (like 400 grit) to smooth out the rough edges.
Is it normal to have pain in my right hands/wrist/arm while playing the guitar?
Some mild discomfort is normal. If you have chronic pain, or a constant feeling of inflammation long after playing, that may be a sign that your pain may be something more serious. If you’re practicing more than an hour at a time, take 15 minute breaks every hour. If the problem persists an hour or two after you stop playing then you may want to consult a doctor.
What should I do if I’m getting blisters on my fingers?
Blisters can form periodically when you play the guitar. If you get a serious blister, it's probably a good idea to take a little time off and let the blister heal on it’s own. Also, not that we are experts on blisters but the general rule of thumb is to not pop blisters when they form. The good news is, if you let it heal properly, when your blister goes away, odds are you’ll develop a small callous that will help you avoid getting them in the future.
Resources: Playing the Guitar with Your Fingers
This is where you can find the resources that we mention in our videos. Check here to find important tools, articles and websites related to the video lessons.
We’ve talked about how to play the guitar with the pick, and there is a whole another approach to playing it. And that is called fingerstyle guitar. Fingerstyle guitar is a means of playing the instrument without any pick at all. Just using your fingers and/or your fingernails, which brings us to an interesting point. A lot of guitar players, who play a lot of fingerstyle, actually grow out their finger nails. That is certainly why I have them, it’s not a fashion statement. But, you don’t have to... However it is required, and if you have a Nylon String guitar, it’s definitely recommended. That is how the instrument is designed to be played.
Fingernails or not, we can move forward to techniques. The basic way that you want to play a fingerstyle Guitar, when you start out with, is to take your thumb and to rest it on the 6th string. Then just let your fingers fall down and relax. The index, middle, and ring finger - not the pinkie. We are going to leave the pinkie out of the equation. I am going to take these three fingers, and I am going to play some on the bottom three strings of the guitar. One string per finger. If I move the fingers around on the string, slide them around or maybe slide my thumb around, I can explore different angles and heights in my wrist, and different relationships between the thumb and the index finger, for that matter.
What you want to do is have the thumb be in front of the index, so that when thumb goes to play a note, for example, it doesn’t crash into the fingers. They should each be able to move independent of the other. So, I am going to place the thumb on the 6th string, fingers on the bottom three, and I am going to pluck a thumb note. [Plucks one string]. Just like that. Now, I am going to keep my thumb placed on the 6th string, and pluck up with the fingers. [Plucks up the bottom strings with the fingers]. Notice that with the hand I am not coming off the instrument, and if you keep the thumb still, it will actually help you make a nice, quiet motion with the fingers. The fingers are actually plucking up towards the palm. These kind of motions are called free strokes. A Free Stroke (Tirando) is basically when you pluck the string up like that. [Plucks the string up].
The other way that you can produce the tone on the Guitar with your fingers is a Rest Stroke. This is that free stroke with my thumb. A rest stroke [Plucks the string] is when you come downwards on to the next string. Now, if I were playing with my fingers, I would play up, like this.
The general way the finger style works, is if you were chording, you can pluck the chords with your fingers. [Plucks the whole chord with fingers] Or I can pluck the notes of the chords. [Plucks the notes of the Chord] Or I can play a melody by alternating the index and the middle finger, and typically I’ll use a rest stroke for that, and I can play my melodies. [Plays a melody riff]. You can also strum with your thumb [Strums once], and you can strum downward with your fingers, with your fingernails [Strums few times].There is all sorts of different ways. It’s a really big subject, so when you start out, you just want to be learning how to comfortably hold your hand, you want to avoid the temptation to put your pinkie on the instrument.
You certainly don’t want to take your wrist, and place it down on the Guitar. You do need to have some space between the body of the instrument and your wrist. At first, you might have to raise your wrist up, then you will find it might be too much, or it might not be enough, So, experiment with that.
The basic exercise that you can do, just to get this stuff going, is to first start alternating thumb - fingers [Plucks the thumb down, plucks the fingers up], thumb - fingers. In this case, I might pluck the thumb note, and put it back, then the fingers, put them back.
Or, I might sort of try that. I am going to pluck with the thumb, and when the thumb is up, I am going to move the fingers, then bring the thumb back. I might also pluck everything at once. [Plucks with the thumb and fingers at once]. This is great to make sure that the fingers and the thumb are not crashing into one another. It is kind of like unscrewing a bottle cap.
And then, the last exercise that you can do, is to pluck one after the other [Plucks the strings one after the other]. If you want to get real specific with that exercise, here is the ideal. All four fingers are down, I am going to pluck thumb, index, middle, and as soon as I pluck the ring finger, the thumb finger comes back. As soon as I pluck the thumb, the index goes down. When I pluck the index, the middle goes to its string. The basic idea [Plucks them all few rounds] is as each finger plucks, the next string goes to its string. Therefore, you always have something touching the Guitar, and you can be very stabilized, and you will know where you are in the relationship to the strings.
Fingerstyle guitar is a little bit involved. One thing that we don’t recommend, though, is... In the beginning a lot of people have a frustration playing with the pick. It’s awkward, falls out of your fingers, you don’t like the sound it makes. So you throw the pick out, and just start playing with your thumb, doing it in your own way. Not so recommended. If you want to play with the pick, we recommend you just stick with it, and try to get used to it. Fingerstyle is really intended for the styles of music that you can do with it. For example: Classical, Flamenco, certain kind of world guitar, folk guitar.
So, in the end, it is really about the style of music that you are in to. If you want to rock out, when you listen to heavy metal, most of those guys play with the pick. If you listening some delicate classical guitar music, most of those people are playing with their fingers and with fingernails. Consider the style of music you are after, and pursue the right training for that style of music.