Learn to Play Contemporary Guitar

Chapter 4: Fingerstyle Plucking

4.1 Let’s pluck!

To do some fingerstyle plucking, it is recommended that you leave your nails on your right hand slightly longer than usual. Plucking with the tips of your fingers causes undue friction and also produces a softer, muted sound.

Now let’s try some plucking using “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (in G major)

Position your fingers on the strings near the soundhole as follows:

p: 4th, 5th or 6th string
i: 3rd string
m: 2nd string
a: 1st string

Try playing the song using plucking patterns (1) or (2):

(1)p, i, m, a, i, m, a, i
(2)p, i, m, a, m, i, a, m

At the beginning, it takes a lot of conscious effort to “command” your fingers to move in a certain sequence. Again, use the strategy of playing very very slowly. Over time, your mind will become accustomed to the sequence and plucking becomes a breeze.

Another common question is: “How do I know which bass string to pluck? 4th, 5th or 6th?” In most cases, the bass note of a chord is the root note i.e.

ChordsBase NoteFingering
C, C7, Cm, Cm7C5th string, 3rd fret
D, D7, Dm, DmD4th string
E, E7, Em, EmE6th string
F, F7, Fm, FmF6th string, 1st fret
G, G7, Gm, Gm7G6th string, 3rd fret
A, A7, Am, Am7A5th string
B, B7, Bm, Bm7B5th string, 2nd fret

4.2 Guitar Tablatures

Tablatures (or tabs) are a simple alternative to traditional music scores and are widely used to showcase plucking patterns. Let’s take a look at section of a typical tablature:

How to read Tablatures:

  • - Tablatures are made up of 6 lines; the top most line represents the 1st string and the last line represents the 6th string. Sometimes the string names are represented on the left hand margin as above.

  • - The numbers on the lines represent the fret to play for that string.

  • - Play the notes from left to right.

  • - The chords are sometimes shown above the lines.

  • - A series of numbers, stacked vertically, indicate to play all the notes at the same time.

If it helps, the tablature above is for the first bar of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” using pattern (1).

4.3 More Practice

Now let’s try plucking “The Only Exception” which is played to a 6/8 time signature i.e. 6 counts per bar. A suitable plucking pattern would be:

         p, i, m, a, m, i

To assist you in playing, I have included the tablature for the first line of the song:

4.4 Slash Chords

In many songs, to add colour to the music, the bass note played is not the root note. In that case, the bass note is indicated after the chord separated by a slash.


ChordsBass NoteFingeringChordsBass NoteFingering

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