Thumb plucking a bass string on the classical guitar
Proper right hand placement for fingerstyle guitar is similar to classical guitar technique.

Are you looking for the correct way to use your picking hand, so you can start fingerpicking like a pro? Here are the steps to achieve the perfect hand position for fingerpicking on guitar.

For proper fingerstyle guitar technique, ensure that your wrist is flat or slightly bent while playing fingerstyle guitar. This helps avoid rest stroke and promotes efficient finger movement.

Next, pluck the string with your finger. Focus on the movement originating from the knuckle and make the fingertip swing towards your hand while plucking. Avoid moving your right hand away from the guitar as you play.

Finally, avoid using the same finger repeatedly on the same string, as it can lead to fatigue and sluggish performance. Practice alternate picking when playing fingerstyle guitar by working on scales or simple melodies. 

How To Position The Right Hand Wrist for Fingerstyle

For fingerpicking on the guitar, keep the wrist straight or just slightly bent. If your wrist is bent too much, you will perform rest stroke on the guitar.

Rest stroke involves plucking a string and having the fingertip rest against an adjacent string after plucking. Electric bass players and flamenco guitarists use rest stroke to play fast single note soloing. 

Right hand wrist position doing rest stroke on a bass guitar

Here is what the wrist and hand look like when the wrist is bent and the finger is performing rest stroke. Notice how sharply bent the wrist is and how the fingertip is resting against a string.

However, we want to avoid rest stroke when playing fingerstyle guitar songs. Rest stroke technique limits what we can perform in terms of arpeggios and chords with fingerstyle guitar.

What Is the Difference Between Rest Stroke and Free Stroke?

With rest stroke, the plucking finger completes the movement by resting against the adjacent string. With free stroke, the fingertip moves underneath the hand and never comes in contact with the string. It's impossible to perform rest stroke on the sixth string if you have a six-string guitar.

How To Position The Plucking Hand for Fingerstyle Guitar

When you perform correct plucking technique, the movement of the finger originates from the knuckle and the fingertip should swing towards the hand. Avoid using the middle joint of the finger when you pluck and don't use a huge finger movement.  When plucking the string, the tip of the finger should set the string in motion.

You can also grow your right hand nails to improve the contact of the finger with the string, or the tone of the guitar when you pluck it.

A bass player resting his pinky finger on the instrument while finger picking
This is the correct hand position for fingerstyle guitar. This player is resting his pinky finger against the instrument, using it as an "anchor" to keep his hand steady.

Where do you rest your hand when fingerpicking?

Unlike when you use a pick, you should not rest the palm of your hand against anything when fingerpicking. However, if you feel you must have some contact with the guitar body, some guitarists will place the pinky finger of their plucking hand right against the sound hole.

Generally, your hand should stay suspended above the strings in a neutral position when finger picking. Avoid moving the hand laterally towards the fretboard or towards the bridge, and don't anchor the palm of your picking hand on the guitar saddle.

How to Keep Your Picking Hand from Moving Away From The Sound Hole

If you find that you are pulling the string or the plucking hand away from the guitar, your finger is likely not plucking the string at the correct angle. You can fix this by adjusting your hand position to allow the entire finger to pluck the string, instead of just the middle joint. Bend the wrist slightly and allow the middle joint of your finger to move towards your hand, instead of away from the instrument.

If your right hand exits the guitar as you play, you will be constantly resetting your fretting hand position. If you are landing on the wrong strings when playing fingerstyle guitar, check that your hand maintains the correct placement at all times.

The best way to practice proper plucking hand exercises is with the songs that you will find in the complete online course for learning to play fingerstyle guitar, called Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!

How To Play Alternate Finger Picking 

Alternate finger picking in fingerstyle guitar involves using different fingers for a succession of notes on the same string. If you are playing a series of notes on one string, avoid using the same finger in secession. Doing this will cause a feeble sound and a sluggish performance. Instead, make a habit of using alternate finger picking when playing fingerstyle guitar.

To play alternate picking without a pick, practice alternating between your index and your middle fingers as you play a passage on one string. You can play a scale or a melody; just don't add anything with the thumb. 

Once you get comfortable with alternating your index and middle fingers (something called "walking fingers") next practice alternating between a bass string with the thumb and the index or the middle finger on one of the higher strings. You can practice this pattern in a song called the "Alternating Bass Blues", found in the online course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!

Can I Play Fingerstyle Guitar With Only Two Fingers?

Although you can correctly use two different fingers to perform alternate finger picking, I recommend learning to play fingerstyle guitar with the thumb and the three fingers of the right hand. 

To transform your fingerpicking from using only two fingers to using three or four fingers, practice a scale in finger picking. Pluck the first note with your index finger, the second note with your middle finger, and the third note with your index. So on and so forth.

A whole note scale tablature starting on A flat
The best way to practice using more than two fingers of the plucking hand is with this whole note scale pattern.

Another problem with only two fingers is that it requires you to sweep the finger across the strings, like sweep picking, when you are doing an arpeggio. Steer clear of sweeping fingers across strings, and use arpeggio picking patterns instead.

Arpeggio patterns involve using separate fingers of the picking hand, where each finger is assigned to one string. So, use the thumb to play the bass strings, the index to play the third string, the middle to play the second and the ring finger to play the first string. This will allow you to play a four note arpeggio pattern across four strings.

How To Improve Coordination Between Picking And Fretting Hands

Although your finger picking hand is responsible for plucking, an awkward finger placement in your fretting hand can seriously affect your finger picking. This is because it will take you more time to fret an awkward chord instead of a more comfortable or natural chord.

Consequently, this could hinder your ability to synchronize and coordinate the actions of both hands effectively. If you find that your fretting hand just can't keep up with your picking hand, see if you are using the best fretting hand position for the passage that you are about to play.

How To Avoid Common Fingerstyle Mistakes

The most common fingerstyle mistake is having the wrist of the plucking hand too flat. By lifting the wrist slightly away from the guitar, you will allow your fingertip to move underneath the palm of your hand. This will give you better tone quality and agility.

Another common fingerstyle guitar mistake is looking at both hands. You generally don't need to look at your plucking hand, because your fretting hand can move a much larger distance. Your plucking hand should stay over the same area.

Establishing a solid foundation with proper hand placement will allow you to navigate complex arrangements with precision and expressiveness. With Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!, you'll gain the tools and knowledge necessary to evolve your fingerstyle technique, breaking through any limitations that have held you back from reaching your full potential.