Mike Moxcey ©2005


Fingerpicking is most often done on the guitar, banjo, dobro and autoharp. But I have heard people do it on the mandolin and it doesn’t seem impossible on the ukulele. On the autoharp, you don’t try to pluck certain strings but you can use the fingers and thumbs to pluck specific areas of strings.

There are several different styles of fingerpicking. They each have a specific pattern of fingers plucking specific strings. A good pattern to start with is Thumb and Index, TI, back and forth. This gives you two different strings sounding on each stroke. Most folks also change the Thumb or the Index each time to generate a four-stroke pattern.
Finger: T I T I  T I T I   or   T I T I  T I T I   
String: 4 1 4 2  4 1 4 2   or   4 1 3 1  4 1 3 1

The first pattern alternates the Index finger between strings while leaving the Thumb on the same string. The second pattern alternates the Thumb on different strings.

Try these patterns on your favorite chords to see how they sound.

You can also add a third digit, the Middle finger.

Finger: T I T M  T I T M   or   T M T I  T M T I   
String: 4 2 4 1  4 2 4 1   or   4 1 3 2  4 1 3 2

Fingerpicking Rolls

The banjo (and dobro to some extent) use three finger rolls. The basic forward roll developed and popularized by Earl Scruggs looks like this:

Finger: T M T I M T I M
String: 3 1 5 3 1 5 3 1

It takes advantage of the short 5th string to make a neat-sounding syncopation. You can also use these rolls on any other instrument. If you want that sound on the banjo, you’ll need to study Bluegrass-style or Scruggs-style fingerpicking. Youcan use the same finger pattern: TM TI TIM on different strings, and you can mix it up doing TIM TM TIM or TIm TIM TM.

You can also
add additional fingers (flamenco style does this),
pluck multiple strings at once (Travis-style, blues guitar), and
strum sometimes and then pick (bluegrass, flamenco).
There are a lot of options.
Techniques Index