Beginner Fingerpicking Songs

Interested in fingerstyle guitar? Check out these easy songs!

Different Styles of Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking, or fingerstyle, is a guitar style where the player uses his or her fingers to strike the strings of the guitar instead of a pick.  The standard way of doing this is to use the thumb and the index, middle, and ring finger, but not the pinky.  You can play single note melodies, pick out the notes in chords, and play chords using this technique.  The most common use of fingerpicking in popular music (i.e. rock and folk) is to arpeggiate chords. Some famous examples of this style of accompaniment are the intro to Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, and Blackbird by the Beatles.  I’m going to list some easy songs you can play in one of two categories: classical fingerpicking and blues fingerpicking.

Classical Fingerpicking

There are actually two styles of songs within this category.  The easiest kind of fingerpicking is the style in which you play one note at a time in a chord, picking strings sequentially starting with the thumb, then the index finger, middle finger, and finally the ring finger.  So for example, form a D major chord with your fret hand, and then with your other hand, pick the fourth string with your thumb, then the third string with your index finger, the second string with your middle finger, and the first string with your ring finger (see example 1 below).  You can also pick the strings in the opposite direction starting with the ring finger playing the first string (example 2), or up and down the strings (example 3).

Fingerstyle guitar example





Some songs that I like to show my students who are taking private guitar lessons include “Wreck of the Day” by Anna Nalick, “Last Kiss” by Taylor Swift, and “Who Will Save Your Soul” by Jewel.  “Wreck of the Day” is probably the easiest one of the three, as the chords all only require the use of two fingers.

The other sub category of this style of fingerpicking is one that involve playing two notes at a time with the thumb and one of the fingers (see example 4 below).  This is how “Blackbird” by the Beatles is played, and also classical pieces like “Bouree in E minor” by Bach.  Before you try a song like Blackbird, I would recommend trying something a little easier like “English Dance” from the book “50 Classical Guitar Solos” by Howard Wallach.

Classical Fingerstyle Guitar


Blues Fingerpicking

Blues fingerpicking, or “Travis” fingerpicking as some call it, involves using the thumb to play a simple bass line while the fingers play a melody.  In the first measure of example 5 below, a C chord is being played, and the guitarist is playing the 5th and 4th strings with his or her thumb while playing the 3rd and 2nd strings with his or her index and middle finger.

Travis Fingerpicking Example





This is the style of fingerpicking used in songs like “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas, “Landslide” and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, and “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel.  Before trying to learn those songs, though, try “We Are Going To Be Friends” by the White Stripes.  That’s definitely the easiest one to learn.  For more info on Blues Fingerpicking, check out one of my earliest blog posts on the subject.

Top Ten Easy Fingerpicking Songs

This is my recommendation of easy fingerpicking songs, in order from easiest to hardest.

1) “Wreck of the Day” by Anna Nalick

2) “We Are Going To Be Friends” by The White Stripes

3) “Fluff” by Black Sabbath

4) “If” by Pink Floyd

5) “Is There Anybody Out There?” by Pink Floyd

6) “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel

7)  “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin

8) “Dust In The Wind” by Kansas

9) “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

10) “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (the verses aren’t too difficult but the choruses are really challenging)