Proper Hand Position for Fingerpicking

Often when students first try fingerpicking, their right hand position is not quite right and causes trouble with their fingerpicking technique. There are a couple of very common problems I will address here:

1. They don’t place their fingers and thumb correctly on the strings. The most fundamental way to place the right hand for fingerpicking is the “classical” hand position. This hand position is the starting point, or foundation for your fingerstyle playing. Of course you may alter it at times based on the needs of the musical piece being played, but for initially building stability and coordination in the right hand, you want to start with this position (Figure 1).


A.The Thumb is assigned to the lowest 3 strings (the “bass” strings of the guitar), that is the low E string, A string, and D string. The Thumb is generally out to the side of the hand.

B.The Index finger (or “pointer” finger) is assigned to the G string, the Middle finger is assigned to the B string, and the Ring finger is assigned to the High E string. The pinky is not used.

2. Their right hand is rotated out of alignment with the direction of the strings. In order to correct this, imagine a straight line running across the back of your knuckles. This imaginary line should be parallel with the guitar strings (Figure 1). If this imaginary line across the back of the knuckles is rotated (Figure 2), it will cause multiple problems. The problems with a rotated right hand are the following:


A.The fingertips (or fingernails, if they are long enough) scrape across the strings at an angle, rather than simple plucking the string cleanly. You want each finger to contact the string cleanly, pluck and release in the most efficient way, which is straight across the string.


B.The fingers can get in the way of each other when crossing strings. By keeping the hand in-line with the strings, each finger has its own “lane” to pluck in, and don’t get entangled with other fingers.

3. Their right hand is too low (toward to the floor) or too high (away from the floor) in relation to the strings. It should be positioned so the fingertips come straight into the strings. The problems with this are:​​

A. If the right hand is too low (Figure 4), the fingers are curled and the fingertips are plucking upwards on the string (away from the front of the guitar) instead of across the string. This can cause a buzzing sound, and also make it difficult to play at faster tempos.


B.If the right hand is too high (Figure 5), the fingers will be reaching for the strings and plucking down into the face of the guitar, rather than across the strings.

About the Author


Craig Tuttle is a professional guitar teacher in Monroe, Wisconsin, USA. He has many years of experience playing and teaching various styles of guitar to students of all ages. Click the link for more info on guitar lessons in Monroe, WI with Craig!

Figure 1.jpg

Figure 1 Correct: Knuckle line parallel to strings

Figure 2.jpg

Figure 2 Incorrect: Knuckle line skewed angle to strings

Figure 3.jpg

Figure 3 Correct: Fingers straight in toward strings

Figure 4.jpg

Figure 4 Incorrect: Fingers curled into strings

Figure 5.jpg

Figure 5 Incorrect: Fingers reaching for strings