How To Create Great Music Using Fingerpicking Patterns On Guitar

Learn How To Transform Fingerpicking Patterns Into Incredible Sounding Music On Guitar

by Simon Candy

In any area of guitar playing a little technique can go a long way if you know how to apply it creatively.

Today’s article is all about doing this in the world of fingerpicking guitar. More specifically, I am going to present to you several commonly used fingerpicking patterns for guitar. The patterns themselves are not really that important, at least not in the context of this article. What is of upmost importance however, and the whole focus of this lesson, is the creative application of these fingerpicking patterns (to create music that sounds amazing!)

Sure you have a bunch of patterns in which to use to fingerpick your guitar, but does that automatically convert into amazing music every time you pick up your guitar to play?

Does fingerpicking technique alone make for great music?

The answer to these questions is a big and undeniable no.

Yes, developing great fingerpicking technique is important. Yes, having a variety of fingerpicking patterns from which to fingerpick your guitar is important. However, without the ability to apply these fingerpicking techniques and patterns in a creative way to produce actual music, it will all be for nothing I’m afraid.

In today’s lesson I am going to present to you a single chord progression to which we will apply, in several creative ways, some common everyday fingerpicking patterns. I will present these patterns for fingerpicking your guitar to you first, and then show you how we can maximise them to create amazing music.


Common Fingerpicking Patterns For Guitar

The following are 3 common approaches to fingerpicking your guitar. Each on its own will do little for your guitar playing. The key is in the creative application of these patterns which we will be doing very shortly.

The Clawhammer Fingerpicking Pattern

The following is perhaps the most common and useful fingerpicking pattern that you are likely to come across. I like to refer to it as the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern, although strictly speaking it’s not the clawhammer technique associated with the banjo.

This pattern consists of your thumb playing a steady bass line on the lower 3 strings of the guitar, while your fingers play combinations of the higher 3 strings on and in-between these bass notes.

Here is a basic clawhammer fingerpicking pattern on the open strings of the guitar:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Clawhammer Pattern



The Banjo Roll Fingerpicking Pattern

Next we have a forward banjo roll which is a common pattern for fingerpicking guitar:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Banjo Roll Pattern



These banjo rolls can be applied in all sorts of ways to your guitar playing. Some obvious, some not so obvious but equally amazing in sound.

Open String Fingerpicking Pattern

This third pattern for fingerpicking your guitar is a little more generic. It doesn’t really have a name commonly associated with it. However you will see shortly how I apply it to create some really cool solo fingerpicking lines involving open strings, hence the name I have given this pattern.

Here it is ascending:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Open String Pattern Ascending



And here it is descending:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Open String Pattern Descending



Fingerpicking Chord Progression

To highlight how much you can do with a little regarding our fingerpicking patterns above, I will be using the same chord progression for the creative application of each pattern.

I often like to do this when demonstrating mileage with various guitar techniques and approaches as it takes the emphasis off what you are applying your guitar skills to, and more on the skills you are actually applying and how much you can milk them.

That said, here is our chord progression to which we will be applying our fingerpicking patterns:




Creative Fingerpicking Application 1: Clawhammer Pattern

Below is an example of applying the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern to our progression:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Application Clawhammer



It is beyond the scope of this article to get into the finer details of this fingerpicking pattern here. However do notice how the bass note of each chord always falls on the beat. I have highlighted these notes so you can see this more clearly. The bass is at the foundation of all variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern.

This is just one cool way to approach our chord progression using fingerpicking. There is more we can do with our patterns without changing the progression.

Creative Fingerpicking Application 2: Banjo Roll Pattern

So how can we apply our banjo roll fingerpicking pattern to this progression?

The answer is many ways.

Here is one example:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Application Banjo Roll



Above, we are not only applying a totally different fingerpicking pattern to our progression, but also using completely different chord shapes. Knowing a variety of ways to play a chord progression on your guitar regarding the shapes you use will allow for you to apply your fingerpicking skills in even more amazing ways. There is absolutely no point in having great fingerpicking technique and a whole bunch of patterns under your fingers, if all you are able to apply these to are open and bar chords.

Back to our example above. You will notice I have had to adapt the banjo roll pattern to fit some of the chords I am using. Which string the lowest note of each chord is on, dictates where I begin the pattern. For example, I begin the pattern from the 5th string for the D9/F#, FMaj7, and Am9 chords, as each of these chords start from this string.

You may also notice I have made minor variations to the banjo roll pattern itself regarding the order of the strings. The overall sound is quite different to our clawhammer approach, but sounds equally amazing.

There is so much more you can do with the banjo roll pattern on your guitar, but let’s leave it there and move on to our third creative fingerpicking approach.

Creative Fingerpicking Application 3: Open String Pattern

This third application of our fingerpicking skills is quite different to our first two approaches. For a start we are totally abandoning our chords and instead, creating a very cool open string guitar fingerpicking riff that implies the harmony of our progression.

Have a listen:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Application Open String Solo Lines 


Notice that even though there are no chords played in this example, you can still hear the harmony of the progression. This is because I am targeting the tones of each chord as they occur in the progression. As was the case with our forward banjo roll, I am not exclusively using the ascending and descending open string patterns throughout this example, although they do feature heavily.

Combining Approaches Into A Creative Fingerpicking Etude

Let me present to you here a short etude that combines all 3 fingerpicking approaches from above. I think when you hear them all together, back to back, you will hear just how much variety in sound you can bring to a single chord progression with your fingerpicking skills:


Creative Fingerpicking Guitar Etude



I could write pages upon pages with hundreds of examples on each of the 3 fingerpicking approaches we have touched on here. However that is not the point of this lesson. What I do want you to see is the potential of what just a handful of fingerpicking patterns can bring to a single chord progression, and that it’s not how many fingerpicking patterns you know, or how great your technique is, but how well you can apply all this stuff to create actual music!

I also want you to be aware of the importance of what your fretting hand is doing and it’s role in showcasing your fingerpicking creativity skills. By this I mean the variety of chords you can play, ways you can harmonise a chord progression, riffs/melodies etc.

Learn how to truly master your fingerpicking on guitar once and for all, and gain the freedom to play whatever you want.