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Just how difficult is acoustic finger style guitar?


So some of my absolute favorite guitar music is acoustic finger style (Andy Mckee, Antoine Dufour, Tommy Emmanuel Etc.) This is the type of music that initially got me into guitar playing and it was initially the type of music that I wanted to play. I've grown away from trying to learn this style of music in the 2.5 years i've been playing as I've gotten more into blues/blues rock music (Mayer, Hendrix, BB King). I'm beginning to think that maybe that's a mistake and I should pursue acoustic finger style more. I'm not finding playing blues stuff as enjoyable. It could also be that I'm playing by myself I don't have a band or anything yet. I'm just wondering how difficult it is to learn and become good at? It seems like its very technically difficult to play and something that the average guitarist who spends most of their time playing blues or rock or other styles couldn't play. I would also like to be a good electric guitarist too though, can these guys play electric well? I guess I could just split my time between the two, but I dunno. Thoughts?


Not really difficult, depending on what you want to learn. Blackbird is pretty simple fingerpicking, but if you want to play Classical Gas like tommy E it will take more time. it just depends on how much effort you are willing to put into your practice.


Easy to do poorly, hard to do well. It all depends on your particular talents.

The best advice is be well rounded, learn all you can.


Senior Member
Depends. Mostly I'd describe it as very difficult (it's easy to sound like ass, but it takes a lifetime to have good tone and expressiveness). But it's worth it.

Fu Schnickens

Senior Member
To start again with finger picking try playing what you already know with your fingers and no pick. Do it until it sounds good, then learn some new material. And away you go.


2-Voice Guitar Junkie and All-Around Awesome Guy
Find just one finger picking piece that you absolutely can't play, and obsessively learn it... then the rest will come easy.

I used this piece.

i bought the sheet music. It took weeks. I was a 500% better player when I was done, played nothing that piece, every single day...
Like most things musically it's impossible at first but then it gets easier the more you do it and the harder you practice. I think the syncopated finger style/travis picking is one of the hardest things Ive learned musically, and I am by no means an expert. Ive only recently gotten into travis picking and after a month or some of practicing I was able to finally play the head of a steve wariner fingerpicking song. His Chet Atkins dvd is a very good introduction/beginners guide to this style of playing IMO.

Im on tour with a guitarist who used to intern/open up for tommy emmanual and he is a thousand times better then I am at travis picking and he makes it look like the easiest thing in the world. Its a blessing picking his brain on the subject. His name is Jesse Snyder look him up if you get a chance


Fingerstyle isn't too terribly tough if you work at it. You need to get your right hand thumb and fingers to develop a rhythm when working together. Since the 1st grade, I've always had a strong habit of drumming my fingers on things (which my wife hates, naturally). When I started playing fingerstyle acoustic many years ago, I noticed this habit served me well when it came to fingerpicking. As a result, mastering fingerstyle acoustic came quickly and easily to me because of all those years of having my rhythmic dexterity already in place.

Scott Whigham

I switched from "solo electric" to "solo acoustic" about a year and a half ago (not on purpose - it sort of just happened naturally after I bought a great acoustic). After about six months, the pick was the problem - on recordings, I just hated the sound (clack clack clack). I switched to fingerstyle probably about a year ago. It's been a challenge, for sure!

First, it's natural for me since I was a hybrid-picking player to begin with. However, learning timing all over again is a pain. The timing required to be precise with fingerpicking is just different than with a pick (for me at least) and it requires intense practice to play in time.

Second, fitness was a major issue. At first, mright hand couldn't really handle long sessions - I was using muscles that I hadn't used before. It caused problems with elbow tendonitis. Eventually I learned to relax and I was able to move forward but that took a long time (and several breaks away from the guitar).

Third, striking with nails requires near constant thinking about my nails. I'm a year into it and I *think* I have my nail length down - but who knows. I broke my first nail in a year two weeks ago and have a nail tip on one now. That's no big deal BTW - local nail shop charged me $4. It looks goofy though - very unnatural.

Fourth, there's no cost to try! I love the sound and I love the intimacy of it. There's not a time that I've wished to go back to a pick.

After a year, I'd say I'm just starting to be comfortable with it. It's natural, and I think my practice routines are based on specifics rather than guessing what I should work on.


Gold Supporting Member
It's mostly in the right hand and basic coordination between the 2. A lot of practice! I find its easiest to take a tune you have known forever and make that happen fingerstyle. I do solo gigs. Have for years. I love that you can sound like a whole band alone sometimes.
So some of my absolute favorite guitar music is acoustic finger style (Andy Mckee, Antoine Dufour, Tommy Emmanuel Etc.)
Preston Reed was among the major influences for those guys. Kaki King studied with him. His instructional DVD is excellent - this is the same one Andy McKee said he studied:


As to whether it's easy to learn - it's kind of relative and depends on how your practice. I mean, it's a lot easier than learning how to play a cello with good tone and intonation. Be patient, don't try to do it all at once, work on one little thing every day, and you'll get somewhere.

If you get Reed's DVD, I would strongly advise going slow - learn each part of each song at a slow tempo, pay attention to the details he teaches, and get that one part right at a slow tempo before increasing speed.

Adam Rafferty also has some excellent DVDs if you have any interest in learning fingerstyle arrangements of Stevie Wonder or Jackson 5 songs.

Funky Monkey

Gold Supporting Member
You're not finding the blues stuff enjoyable because it's not what made you want to start playing and wasn't initially what you wanted to play. Very understandable.

I'm an average guitarist who spends most of my time playing blues or rock.

But my #1 inspiration for 20+ years is Michael Hedges.

Yet, in my 30+ years of playing, I've never attempted, nor do I think I could ever master (to my own satisfaction) "fingerstyle" like that. So I dare not even try. Still, I do LOVE playing my acoustic. And the three songs I've written that I'm happiest with and are most personally meaningful are instrumental fingerstyle acoustic pieces (just nothing like Hedges/McKee/Emmanuel, etc.)

So don't pick it up thinking about tackling the style and techniques of players like that. Pick it up because you've identified your current rut and what should get you out of it. Is what they play hard? Mostly, yes. Throw out all concerns about matching their level of difficulty and just play. Let them challenge your abilities and make you grow, NOT prevent you from picking it up at all. If I had let Hedges do that to me, I wouldn't have written the songs that I'm most proud of.
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Gold Supporting Member
How difficult? Is always a loaded question! Depends is unfortunately the answer!

Depends on how natural you are at doing it, the difficulty of the pieces you are starting with, etc...

If it were me, I would learn some basic classical pieces by Carcassi, Sor, and Brouwer to get my right hand together and have a starting point of reference for basic right hand technique. Also check out 120 studies for right hand development by Mauro Giuliani.

I know these are classical in nature, but I play some Hedges type stuff and a lot of country blues (and I'm an unapologetic fan of Lindsay Buckingham's playing). This approach helped me.

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