Introduction to Fingerpicking - with Video Tutorial

While the fingerstyle patterns shown in the video are called out by number of finger or string, fingerstyle patterns are normally described using the “p i m a” system. The p i m a system is derived from the names of the fingers and thumb as they are known in Spanish: 

  • p (pulgar) = thumb 
  • i (indicio) = index finger 
  • m (medio) = middle finger 
  • a (anular) = ring finger 

The thumb or p traditionally plays the bass strings or Low E, A, and D of any given pattern, while i, m, and a will play the treble strings or G, B and High E. 

The starting note of most fingerstyle patterns is also the string used when strumming.

A few examples:



C, A, Am, G/B, B7  5th string 
D, F (partial barre)  4th String 
G, E, Em, C/G, F (full barre chord) 6th String 

Do your best to keep the thumb positioned slightly away from the other fingers and relatively straight on the bass strings as you play. Having your thumb directly in line with the first finger congests movement across the strings and will make faster playing more difficult as a result. 

Check your hand every few measures to make sure the thumb hasn’t shifted in toward the fingers. If you are unsure of the placement of your thumb, try practicing in front of a mirror so you can watch your hand without having to look down at the strings. 

If you feel your fingers tripping up on the strings as you play, try using just the very tips of your fingers and remember that while yes, you are “picking” the strings, you should not be twanging them like a rubber band. Instead, think of the strings as rolling or gliding off the fingertip as you play. 

Keep the hand steady as you play and let the fingertips do the work. Start slow and take your time to make sure your hand and fingers are lined up correctly for each chord. 

Fig. 1a “p i m a” warm up 

Fingerpicking exercise graphic 1
Fig. 1b "p i m a"

Fig. 2 “p i m a m i” 
Fingerpicking exercise 2
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