Are you already familiar with a few chords and how to strum a guitar? If you like the sound of finger picked folk guitar, you’ll find it isn’t that hard to learn. You can try it with or without a thumb pick, and there are a variety of finger picks on the market. If you have really tough fingernails, you can let them grow out and use them as picks, but fingertips work great, too.
Some guitarists like to feel the strings with their fingers even if it’s a bit painful developing calluses. Others get accustomed to using picks. It’s sort of like gardeners that use gloves or gardeners who like to feel the dirt and the plants. It’s an individual decision. There are finger picks on the market that fit over the finger and under the fingernail, and are open at the pad of the finger, so the guitarist can feel the string but still have the benefit of a pick. Finger picks are often made of metals such as steel or bronze.
If you elect to use a thumb pick for your thumb but leave your other fingers naked, you’ll have to hold back on the thumb a bit because the pick will make these notes louder than the ones picked by your fingers. A plastic thumb pick will not be as loud as a metal one. If you choose to play without a pick on your thumb, you will eventually develop a nice little callus for plucking those bass strings.
To begin to learn to finger pick, finger a chord with the left hand. Now pluck your bass root note (for example, the sixth string if you are playing a G or E chord) with your thumb. Your index finger should next pluck the third string. The middle should then pluck the second string, and then your ring finger plucks the first string. This forms a four beat arpeggio. We’ll call the pattern, T-1-2-3, for thumb, finger 1, finger 2, finger 3.
Another pattern you might like to experiment with are T-1-2-3-1-2, which works for songs written in 3/4 or waltz time. For 4/4 time, add two more beats, and play them as eight notes – two notes for each beat of the song. A possible arrangement is T-1-2-3-2-1-T-2. If you’d like to make a calypso rhythm, try T-1-2-T-1-2-T-2. In this arrangement the fingers can be plucking only the highest two strings. When your fingers get familiar with playing like this, you can pluck the third string with your index finger and use fingers two and three at the same time to pluck strings one and two.
Have fun and take your time perfecting your finger picking skills!