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I've played guitar for 40+ years, but I'm a complete newbie to fingerstyle and this is my recent experience. 

After many, many years as just a simple strummer, I recently became determined to learn to play fingerstyle.  It took a couple of months of concentrated effort, but I have finally mastered the most rudimentary "Travis Picking" patterns and I can now play them instinctively rather than having to concentrate on each chord change.

This has been an epiphany of sorts for me.

I have found that all I want to do now when I pick up my guitar is just to take off and wander through the various chord progressions casually "Travis Picking."  Often, I don't even have a particular song in mind ... it's addictive!  And it's therapeutic as well. It relaxes me and I can do it for hours!

I wish I'd gone this route years ago, because I was always envious of those guitarists who played fingerstyle, but it just all seemed way too complicated.

Like most skills that are worthwhile, it wasn't easy at first.  It was sort of like patting your head with one hand while rubbing your stomach with the other. But, the more I did it, the easier it became and I feel like I'm getting better every day.  I don't particularly aspire to be an instrumentalist in the style of Tommy Emmanuel, but I do want to be able to incorporate fingerstyle to my vocal arrangements when appropriate.

I'm still a novice for sure, but I took my newly acquired skills on stage at open mic the other night and did a Townes Van Zandt number fingerstyle that I'd always strummed before.  It went well and it felt good!

Anyway, just wanted to say hello and to hear some of your stories.

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In 1964 Peter Paul and Mary hit me hard. Had been an electric guitar guy (mostly e-bass) up to that. Just had to learn it. We had a small folk group (2 boys, 2 girls) and sung and played mostly PPM. At that time, when you could pick "Puff the Magic Dragon", you were regarded as a guitarist. Had no teaching in guitar (strumming or fingerstyle), but listening and copying mostly Paul's picking, it gradually opened. Later I listened to Doc Watson, Josh White and many other fingestyle guitarists, and tried to learn from them. I play everything by ear.

I have no formal musical training, don't read tabs or music, only chords. In mid-seventies (as an adult) I had to learn to read music with mandolin, because the composer in our band composed too complicated things to be remembered in a recording session. Forgot it all by now.

Peter, Paul and Mary were my early influences as well, but I took more to Kingson Trio because they were into strumming which found much easier to master as a kid.

As a teenager, first songs I learned were Leonard Cohen from the book 'Songs Of' and all were in tab so had to learn it from day one! Couldn't imagine not doing it now. Glad to see you have the addiction, it gets worse and there's no rehab out there ;-)

I believe you! :-)

Excellent for you!

I am 61 now, and at 12, I sat in my garage in San Diego, without a radio, and just gravitated to "patterns" of picking, that fit the three or four chords I knew.

49 years later, like the root system of a still growing tree, the patterns have evolved, and blended into one another in a way that allows such a freedom of artistic expression, that I am still looking forward to the next practice, performance, or meditative exploration with new musicians.

I have 7 different "base" patterns that I draw from, mixed with pick-strums, breaks, and phrasing.

The combinations are endless, and the creative outcomes are very rewarding...your passion is fueled by the inspiration you are experiencing...To play for another 10, or hopefully 20 years, is a gift, from God...and who knows what the next age will bring?

Thank you for asking this encouraging question.

Great attitude!!  I feel like I'm not getting older .. I'm getting better!


When you say "Travis Picking", do you mean a picking pattern like that used for "Dust in the Wind" - where you only use the thumb and middle finger?  Or do you mean using 4 fingers (not usually the pinkie), with the thumb typically assigned to the low E - A - D strings, the index to the G, the middle to the B, and the ring to the high E?

When your Taylor 12 arrives, you may find that, for some songs, you may need to assign the G string to the thumb as well, in order to reliably get the octave G string to sound.  I have found this finger assignment (thumb for E - A - D - G, index and middle for B and E pairs, respectively) to be particularly useful with the 12 string guitar - and with the D - Dm - A - Am - F - C chord forms - which you can play with up and down the neck, and create beautiful 12 string fingerstyle music...

Oh, how did I become primarily a fingerstylist?  I initially played the viola which, as you hold it under your chin, is a pretty personal playing experience.  I guess I became enamoured with wood, and the feel of the strings and the vibration of the instrument.  One of the first fingerstyle parts I learned was the intro to Bruce Springsteen's "The River" - first complete song "Dust in the Wind" - and, at least for me, the direct contact of the fingers of both hands with the strings is a very organic - "woody" - experience - I like the feeling of the instrument coming to life due to my direct input.  I don't use any finger or thumb picks whatsoever in my fingerstyle play.

LOL ... Had to let my fingernails frow out a bit which is strange feeling for me.  I think it is primarily the "Dust in the Wind" type pattern, except I use thumb, index and middle finger.  The "pinkie" I rest on the top for support and stability.  Right now, I don't use the ring finger for anything.  Over the weekend, I have learned "Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zant ... quite proud of myself!  :-)


2 good, IMHO relatively easy to pick up fingerstyle songs - "Let it Be" and "Leaving on a Jetplane"...

Also, since I know you know this one already, try a fingerstyle version of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" - with or without the B7... ;-)

So, you try to "pluck" with your fingernails - you definitely get more sound that way - I use the flesh/tips of my fingers...

Ok, so can I ask you something I've been asking on another forum... I went down the nylon road and started on classical to expand my fingerstyle limits, and it's been good - but now that I'm coming back to steel fingerstyle, I'm having trouble making the adjustment.  I can't rock what looks on me like the right hand "eagle claw of death" look - plus it feels weird all day long and makes typing weird.  

So, do you have any pointers about how to attack the strings, especially that B and high E string? I swear that darn thin E string grabs any finger I throw at it and doesn't want to let go!  

Hi Jud,

It was great to hear your story about conversion from strummer to a fingerstyle player. I have been playing only 4+ years (I am 60 now), and I assume I am more like a fingerstyle “player” than a strummer (if any). But I surely like to learn that – and like to learn much better in the way I have started.

The only thing I knew before was the chord shapes and how the frets are mapped with scores (or other way round) - and instantly finding the right position for the left hand is now easier than when I started.

Strumming I think requires to have a better sense of rhythm patterns and when you are playing alone, it is perhaps not so fun as compared with when you are accompanying somebody’s singing.

I have experienced fingerstyle easier to adapt in accompanying while the strings work as “stepping stones” within the bar and there are not so long pauses between chords. It may also help to add some “solo” to a song, since the mode do not have to change so dramatically as compared with strumming - if you can just continue the same chord progression of the verse or chorus with just minor variations.

Some years ago we started to make some covers at and were surprised to have now over million listens – without knowing much about music or playing, and never got any lessons. The secret is the lucky fact that I have a great encouraging singer which I am permitted to accompany with my limited technique. Since YouTube verdicts are often biased, it would be nice to perform sometimes for a small audience.

What I have found it is much more demanding to be a solo player with guitar, although it would be necessary to have some regular exercise when the singer is not available. Therefore your link to “Travis Picking” exercises sounds interesting – just being afraid that I have learnt everything wrong and the burden of wiping bad habits may eat out the joy of random music discovering.

Thank you your great post!

Very, very nice.  I particularly enjoyed "Vincent: Starry  Night" by Don McLean..  Your fingerstyle accopanyment sounds very similar to what I have been working on.


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