Finger picking is simple. It, however, is not easy.
It’s really tough to get your thumb pumping out a good solid bass line while pushing through the chords. Oh yeah, on top of that, you have to pluck out the melody.
This certainly seems complicated and for good reason. There’s quite a lot going on just to pull off even a bar or two.
The real magic of finger picking is trying to get all these components to sync up. My approach to getting these three parts down doesn’t involve magic (although that would help).
I tend to boil things down into core components and build from there.
Building a Solid Bass Line
In finger picking, the bass line serves as a foundation for the entire piece of music and is generally the thumb’s responsibility. The most basic skill that any finger picker needs is to pump out a solid quarter note “dead bass” thump on either the 5th or 6th strings.
This lesson provides an exercise that I used heavily when getting started to strengthen the thumb, build a sense of rhythm and begin to separate the thumb’s movement from the rest of the fingers.
Finger Picking Exercise for the Thumb
You want your thumb to have a mind of its own. By running through an exercise like this one a few hundred times, your thumb begins to gain enough muscle memory that you can almost forget about it. The goal of this lesson is to show you how to make your thumb picking automatic.
The main reason I advocate starting with a focus on the thumb is that establishing an automatic thumb will allow you to pick chords and melodies without getting twisted up with the bass.
Practice this with a metronome at a slower speed and work up to a faster tempo. When you’re making good solid contact with the string precisely on beat with the metronome, you’ll know you’re getting it.