Flatpicking vs. Fingerpicking: Which One to Choose?

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Have you ever been in the midst of learning guitar and wondered if you should use flatpicking or fingerpicking? Both techniques offer unique advantages and disadvantages, making it a challenging decision for any guitarist. But fear not, as this article will break down the key differences between flatpicking and fingerpicking, help you identify which technique is right for you, and even provide some songs to learn and inspiration from pro guitarists. So whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, let’s dive in and explore the world of flatpicking vs. fingerpicking.

What is Flatpicking?

What Is Flatpicking?
Flatpicking is a guitar playing technique that involves striking the strings with a guitar pick held between the index and thumb fingers. This technique is often used in genres such as bluegrass, country, and folk music. Flatpicking produces a distinctive sound that is characterized by its bright and punchy tone.

One of the advantages of flatpicking is its ability to produce a loud and bold sound. This makes it an ideal technique to use in situations where the guitar needs to be heard over other instruments, such as in a bluegrass band. Another advantage of flatpicking is its ability to produce fast and intricate rhythms. This makes it a popular choice for guitarists who want to play solos or lead guitar parts in a band setting.

However, flatpicking does have its disadvantages. One of the main drawbacks is that it can be difficult to play accurately, particularly at higher speeds. This is because the guitar pick needs to be precisely positioned on the string in order to produce a clear and defined note. Additionally, many guitarists find that flatpicking can be hard on the wrist and fingers, particularly if they are playing for extended periods of time.

Despite its drawbacks, flatpicking is a popular technique among guitarists of all skill levels. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced player, there are many resources available to help you improve your flatpicking technique. If you’re interested in learning more about flatpicking, there are many articles and tutorials available online, including some helpful resources on flatpicking on electric guitar, how to use flatpicking in country music, and top flatpicking techniques on electric guitar.

Advantages of Flatpicking

When it comes to playing guitar, flatpicking is a popular technique with many advantages. One of the main benefits of using a flatpick is the speed and accuracy it allows for when playing intricate and fast-paced melodies. Whether you’re playing bluegrass, country, or rock music, using a flatpick can give you a more precise and defined sound that cuts through the mix. Additionally, flatpicking provides the ability to play complex solos and licks, which can be found in famous flatpicking songs in country music, making it a technique well worth exploring. To improve your flatpicking skills, you can check out some flatpicking exercises for electric guitar or some flatpicking tips to enhance your technique further.

Disadvantages of Flatpicking

Although flatpicking has several advantages, it also has some disadvantages. Let’s take a look at the cons of flatpicking:

  • Limited Note Articulation: With flatpicking, you are limited to using a pick to strike the strings, which means you may not be able to achieve the same level of dynamic control you can achieve with fingerpicking. This limitation affects both the volume and the articulation of the note, which could pose a challenge when playing more complex songs that require subtle shifts in volume and tone.
  • Less Versatility: While flatpicking is perfect for playing fast solos, it may not be as versatile as fingerstyle when it comes to playing rhythm. Flatpicks are thicker and heavier than fingers, which means they aren’t as well-suited to certain types of rhythm playing. Strumming, in particular, can be challenging with a flatpick.
  • Requires a Good Pick: A flatpick is like an extension of your hand when flatpicking, so you need to find one that works for you to see real improvement, especially when it comes to speed, accuracy, and tone. If you choose a bad or inappropriate pick for your playing style, you might experience difficulty in achieving your desired sound.
  • May Cause Fatigue: Flatpicking demands a lot of wrist movement and can be quite strenuous, even painful, especially when you’re just starting out. Over time, you can increase your endurance and eliminate pain using specific exercises, but it may take some effort and discipline.
  • Not Suitable for All Genres: Flatpicking is often associated with genres such as bluegrass and country music, but is less commonly used in other genres such as jazz or classical music. If you’re interested in these genres, then you will probably find fingerpicking to be a more versatile technique.

While flatpicking has its challenges and limitations, it’s still a fantastic technique to learn and pursue, especially if you’re keen on playing bluegrass or country music. However, if you’re after more versatility and dynamic control, you might find fingerpicking to be a better choice. You might want to check out some exercises and tips to improve your flatpicking technique at flatpicking tips, flatpicking speed and accuracy, flatpicking exercises for electric guitarists, flatpicking licks and solos, or even explore some famous flatpicking songs in country music at famous flatpicking songs in country music.

What is Fingerpicking?

What Is Fingerpicking?
Fingerpicking is a guitar technique in which the player uses their fingers to pluck the strings of the guitar instead of using a pick. The technique involves the use of the thumb, index finger, middle finger or even the ring finger to pluck the strings. Fingerpicking is also known as fingerstyle playing or fingerpicking guitar. This technique is commonly associated with playing blues, folk, classical, and ragtime guitar.

One of the main advantages of fingerpicking is the ability to play with more dynamic flexibility than flatpicking. With fingerpicking, you can play notes and chords with more control and delicacy, which can create a more nuanced and emotive sound. Additionally, fingerpicking allows the player to play multiple lines of music at once, such as playing a bassline and melody simultaneously. This can add complexity and depth to a song.

One disadvantage of fingerpicking is that it can be more difficult to learn and master than flatpicking. The player must develop individual control of each finger in order to play with speed and accuracy. Additionally, fingerpicking may require a different guitar setup, such as having wider spacing between the strings or using a guitar with a wider neck.

Fingerpicking can be a great technique to learn for guitar players looking to add more dynamic control and complexity to their playing. It is especially beneficial for those interested in genres such as blues, folk, and classical guitar. To learn more about techniques that utilize fingerstyle playing, check out our article on /flatpicking-bluegrass-country/.

Advantages of Fingerpicking

If you’re looking to expand your guitar playing skills or add some nuance to your music, fingerpicking may be the perfect technique for you. Using your fingers instead of a pick can create a unique sound that is often characterized by subtlety and complexity. Fingerpicking allows for more variation in dynamics and tone, and can result in more intricate chord progression and melody patterns. In this section, we’ll explore some of the advantages of fingerpicking and why it might be the right choice for your playing style.

Disadvantages of Fingerpicking

While fingerpicking has its advantages, it is not without its disadvantages. Here are some of the challenges that fingerpickers may face:

  • Lack of volume: Compared to flatpicking with a pick, fingerpicking can produce a quieter sound, making it harder to cut through in a group setting or on a loud stage.
  • Difficulty with speed: For some players, fingerpicking can be more challenging to execute quickly and accurately than flatpicking with a pick. This can limit the complexity and speed of the songs that a fingerpicker can perform.
  • Less versatility: Some fingerpickers feel that they are limited in the styles of music that they can play with fingerpicking. While some genres, such as folk and country, lend themselves well to fingerpicking, other genres, such as rock and metal, may require techniques that are not commonly used in fingerpicking.
  • Need for strong finger calluses: Fingerpicking can be tough on the fingers, requiring time and practice to build up calluses that can withstand the pressure of frequent picking. This can be painful for beginners, but it’s an essential step in developing fingerpicking skills.

These are just a few examples of the challenges that fingerpickers may face. However, with practice and dedication, many of these difficulties can be overcome, and the rewards of fingerpicking can make it all worthwhile.

Key Differences Between Flatpicking and Fingerpicking

Key Differences Between Flatpicking And Fingerpicking
When it comes to acoustic guitar playing, there are two primary techniques used: flatpicking and fingerpicking. The primary difference between the two lies in the picking method.

Technique: With flatpicking, a guitar pick is used to strike the strings in a downward motion. This technique is similar to strumming, but instead of strumming all of the strings at once, the pick is used to strike each string individually. With fingerpicking, the fingers are used to pluck the strings, usually in a specific pattern or sequence.

Skill Level: Flatpicking is often considered to be easier to master than fingerpicking, as it relies on a simpler picking motion. However, both techniques require skill and practice to become proficient, and there are many advanced techniques that can be employed with both methods.

Sound: The sound produced by each technique is distinct. Flatpicking produces a bright, bold sound that is perfect for fast-paced, rhythmic playing. Fingerpicking, on the other hand, produces a more delicate, nuanced sound that is ideal for slower, more melodic playing.

The choice between flatpicking and fingerpicking comes down to personal preference and the musical style being played. Some guitarists prefer the traditional sound of flatpicking, while others prefer the more intricate sound of fingerpicking. However, regardless of personal preference, it’s worth learning both techniques to become a versatile and well-rounded guitarist.


When it comes to deciding between flatpicking and fingerpicking, one of the key differences lies in the techniques used. Each style requires its own unique set of movements and approaches to the guitar. Flatpicking involves using a pick to strike the strings and create a clear, sharp sound. On the other hand, fingerpicking involves using your fingers to pluck the strings and create a more layered, intricate sound. Let’s take a closer look at the techniques involved in each style and what sets them apart.

Skill Level

When it comes to deciding between flatpicking and fingerpicking, skill level is an important factor to consider. Each technique requires a different skillset and level of mastery. Here is a comparison of the skill levels required for both techniques:

Flatpicking Fingerpicking
Beginner Flatpicking is generally considered to be easier to learn for beginners because it primarily involves strumming or picking individual notes with a pick. It’s easier to maintain a consistent rhythm with a pick and there are fewer simultaneous movements required compared to fingerpicking. Fingerpicking involves using multiple fingers to pluck strings simultaneously, which can be challenging for beginners to coordinate. However, once the basic technique is mastered, fingerpicking can be easier to develop more complex and intricate rhythms and melodies.
Intermediate Intermediate flatpicking requires precision in picking and strumming patterns, as well as mastering techniques such as palm muting and string bending. It also requires the ability to play at different tempos and dynamics while maintaining accuracy and consistency. Intermediate fingerpicking requires the ability to simultaneously use different fingers for specific notes and chords in complex patterns. It also involves advanced techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Precision and accuracy are crucial in fingerpicking.
Advanced In advanced flatpicking, speed and accuracy in playing intricate solos and licks are important. It also involves the ability to improvise and play in different keys and styles. Advanced fingerpicking requires the ability to play complex arrangements with multiple simultaneous notes and chords. It also requires the ability to improvise and create variations in melody and rhythm. Precision in finger placement and timing is essential.

It’s important to note that mastering either technique takes time and practice, and there is no right or wrong choice. The decision between flatpicking and fingerpicking ultimately depends on personal preference and the style of music being played.


The sound produced by flatpicking and fingerpicking can vary greatly. The choice of technique can influence the overall tone and texture of a piece of music.


  • Produces a bright and strong sound that is ideal for playing lead or melody lines
  • Requires the use of a plectrum or pick, which can produce a more percussive attack on the strings
  • Often associated with bluegrass, country, and folk music
  • Allows for fast and intricate picking patterns
  • May lack the nuance and expressiveness of fingerpicking


  • Produces a warmer, more mellow sound that is ideal for playing chords and harmonies
  • Allows for more control over each individual note, allowing the player to emphasize melody lines
  • Often associated with blues, ragtime, and fingerstyle guitar music
  • Allows for a wide range of picking patterns and techniques, including thumbpicking and Travis picking
  • May be difficult to achieve a consistent tone and volume across all strings

Ultimately, the choice of technique should be based on the desired sound for the particular piece of music being played. Flatpicking may be better suited for fast-paced, intricate musical passages, while fingerpicking may be better for slower, more expressive pieces. Experimenting with both techniques and combining them can also create a unique and dynamic sound.

How to Determine Which Technique to Use

How To Determine Which Technique To Use
When it comes to choosing between flatpicking and fingerpicking, there are several factors to consider. Here’s a look at some key considerations that can help you determine which technique to use.

Musical Style: First and foremost, it’s important to consider what style of music you want to play. Flatpicking tends to be associated with bluegrass, folk, and country, while fingerpicking is more commonly used in blues, classical, and some types of rock music. However, there are no hard and fast rules here, and there are successful guitarists in both genres who use both techniques.

Personal Preference: Beyond the musical style, it’s also important to consider your personal preference. Some guitarists find that flatpicking feels more natural to them, while others prefer the more nuanced approach of fingerpicking. As with any aspect of guitar playing, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Technique Analysis: Finally, it’s worth taking the time to analyze your own technique and assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re already comfortable with one technique but struggle with the other, that may be a sign that you should focus on the technique that comes more easily to you. On the other hand, if you’re equally comfortable with both techniques, you may want to experiment with using them in different situations to see what works best for each song.

Ultimately, the best way to determine which technique to use is to experiment with both and see what feels most comfortable and natural to you. With practice and careful examination of your technique, you’ll be able to master both flatpicking and fingerpicking and use them to create a rich and diverse range of sounds on your guitar.

Musical Style

When it comes to choosing between flatpicking and fingerpicking techniques, one important factor to consider is the style of music you wish to play. The musical genre often dictates the optimal technique preference. For instance, if your goal is to play bluegrass, you will typically lean towards flatpicking, whereas if you want to play folk or classical guitar, fingerpicking might be the better option. Let’s dive deeper into how different styles affect your choice of technique.

Personal Preference

One important factor to consider when choosing between flatpicking and fingerpicking is your own personal preference. Some guitarists may simply prefer the feel and sound of one technique over the other.

Here are some things to think about when determining your personal preference:

Factors to Consider Flatpicking Fingerpicking
Speed: Flatpicking allows for faster playing, especially when playing single note runs or complicated solos. Fingerpicking is often slower, as it involves more intricate patterns with multiple fingers working together.
Sound: Flatpicking produces a brighter, more percussive sound that is ideal for certain genres such as bluegrass and country. Fingerpicking produces a softer, more mellow sound that is ideal for folk, jazz, and classical music.
Versatility: Flatpicking is versatile enough to be used in a variety of genres, but may not be as suited for certain styles such as fingerstyle or classical guitar. Fingerpicking is incredibly versatile and can be used effectively in a wide range of musical genres and playing styles.
Difficulty: Flatpicking can be more difficult for beginners to learn due to the need for precise picking movements and alternate picking technique. Fingerpicking can also be challenging for beginners, especially when trying to coordinate multiple fingers at once.

Ultimately, the choice between flatpicking and fingerpicking comes down to personal preference. It’s important to try both techniques and experiment with different playing styles to find what works best for you. Whether you choose to use one technique exclusively or to incorporate both into your playing, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the music.

Technique Analysis

When it comes to choosing between flatpicking and fingerpicking, it’s important to consider the specific techniques involved in each style. Here’s a detailed analysis of the techniques used in each style to help you determine which one is right for you:

Flatpicking Technique:

  • Uses a flat pick held between the thumb and first finger.
  • The pick is used to strike the strings in a downward motion, often following a strict up-down pattern.
  • Allows for faster playing and a crisp, defined tone.
  • Requires a degree of strength in the picking hand and arm.

Fingerpicking Technique:

  • Uses the fingers, rather than a pick, to pluck and strum the strings.
  • Typically involves alternating the thumb and fingers in a specific pattern.
  • Allows for more intricate and varied playing styles.
  • Can produce a softer, more mellow tone.

It’s important to note that both flatpicking and fingerpicking require different skills and levels of technical ability. Flatpicking relies more heavily on speed and strength, while fingerpicking requires dexterity and precision.

Additionally, it’s worth considering the type of guitar you have and whether it is suitable for flatpicking or fingerpicking. Acoustic guitars, for example, are often better suited to fingerpicking due to their natural resonance and softer tone, while electric guitars can be great for flatpicking thanks to their sharper, more defined sound.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to choose flatpicking or fingerpicking will depend on personal preference and the style of music you wish to play. It’s always a good idea to experiment with both techniques and see which one feels most natural to you.

Flatpicking Songs to Learn

Flatpicking Songs To Learn
If you’re considering learning the flatpicking technique, it’s important to find some songs that will help you hone your skills. Here are a few options that range from beginner to advanced level:

Beginner Level:
– “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show
– “Angeline the Baker” (traditional)
– “Wildwood Flower” by Carter Family

These songs all utilize basic chords and strumming patterns, making them an excellent choice for someone just starting out with flatpicking.

Intermediate Level:
– “Rocky Top” by The Osborne Brothers
– “Sitting on Top of the World” (traditional)
– “Deep River Blues” by Doc Watson

These songs require a bit more technical skill and finger dexterity, but are still manageable for someone with some experience under their belt.

Advanced Level:
– “Beaumont Rag” (traditional)
– “Black Mountain Rag” by Doc Watson
– “Jerusalem Ridge” by Bill Monroe

These songs are more complex in both their chord progressions and flatpicking patterns. They require a high level of proficiency and are a great challenge for advanced flatpickers.

Remember, when learning to flatpick, it’s important not to get discouraged if you can’t tackle a song right away. Keep practicing and take it one chord and one strum at a time. With enough dedication and perseverance, you’ll soon be able to tackle even the most challenging flatpicking songs.

Beginner Level

For those just starting out on their guitar journey, this section offers a variety of songs to practice with. These options all feature accessible chord progressions and melodies that are perfect for beginners. Whether you’re interested in flatpicking or fingerpicking, these songs will provide a solid foundation for your playing. So grab your guitar and get ready to dive in!

Intermediate Level

As an intermediate flatpicker, you may be ready to tackle more complex pieces. Here are a few flatpicking songs to learn that will help you hone your skills and take your playing to the next level:

  • “Salt Creek” – This traditional bluegrass song is a favorite among flatpickers. It features a fast-paced melody that requires strong wrist movement and alternate picking.
  • “The Entertainer” – This popular ragtime piece is a great exercise in syncopated picking patterns. It’s a challenging song that will help you develop finger independence and coordination.
  • “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” – This classic tune, popularized by fiddle legend Vassar Clements, features intricate flatpicking runs and crosspicking patterns. It’s a great song to work on your speed and accuracy.

As an intermediate fingerpicker, you may be ready to expand your repertoire beyond simple patterns. Here are a few fingerpicking songs to learn that will help you improve your skills:

  • “Black Mountain Rag” – This traditional tune is a favorite among fingerpickers. It features a complex melody that requires finger independence and dexterity.
  • “Tears in Heaven” – This Eric Clapton ballad is a great study in fingerstyle arpeggios and chord progressions. It’s a beautiful song that will help you develop your touch and control.
  • “Classical Gas” – This iconic tune, written and performed by Mason Williams, features intricate fingerpicking patterns and a wide range of techniques. It’s a challenging piece that will help you expand your repertoire.

Remember, as an intermediate player, it’s important to challenge yourself with new techniques and songs to keep improving. These songs will test your abilities and help you grow as a musician.

Advanced Level

For advanced flatpickers, there are some truly impressive songs that can really help take your skills to the next level. Some top options include:

  • “Black Mountain Rag” – A fast-paced tune that really showcases the speed and precision of the flatpicking technique. Many artists have covered this classic, so there are plenty of versions to check out.
  • “Whiskey Before Breakfast” – This song is known for its tricky chord changes and complex picking patterns that challenge even the most skilled players. It’s a popular choice for bluegrass jam sessions and competitions.
  • “Jerusalem Ridge” – This picky tune was composed by the legendary Bill Monroe and is a favorite among seasoned flatpickers. It’s particularly challenging due to the many variations and improvisations that can be added to the basic melody.
  • “Devil’s Dream” – Another fast-paced, energetic tune that requires lots of precision and fast fingers. It’s a popular song among both flatpickers and fingerpickers.
  • “Farewell Blues” – This classic tune has been played by many bluegrass greats and requires a mix of crosspicking, flatpicking, and chord changes for a truly impressive sound.
  • “Billy in the Lowground” – This tune is known for its fast, intricate melody that can be played entirely with a flatpick. It’s a favorite among bluegrass players and is often included in banjo or fiddle tunes.

For advanced fingerpickers, there are also some complex and impressive songs to explore, including:

  • “Classical Gas” – A true fingerpicking classic, this song by Mason Williams requires fast fingers, intricate picking patterns, and precise timing to pull off. It’s been covered by dozens of artists and is a staple of the fingerpicking repertoire.
  • “Little Martha” – Written by the Allman Brothers, this song features intricate fingerpicking patterns that create a beautiful, melancholy sound. It’s a favorite among acoustic guitar players of all levels.
  • “Angie” – This song by the Rolling Stones features a beautiful fingerpicking guitar arrangement that is both challenging and rewarding to play. It requires a mix of fingerstyle techniques, from arpeggios to hammer-ons and pull-offs.
  • “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” – The fingerpicking patterns in this Bob Dylan classic are deceptively complex, requiring a mix of fingerstyle techniques and some tricky chord changes. It’s a great option for more experienced players looking to improve their fingerpicking skills.
  • “The Blarney Pilgrim” – A traditional Irish tune that has been adapted for fingerstyle guitar, this song requires a mix of fingerpicking techniques and some quick chord changes. It’s a great way to challenge your fingerpicking abilities and add some Celtic flair to your playing.
  • “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton’s iconic ballad is another great choice for advanced fingerpickers. The song requires a mix of fingerstyle techniques, including arpeggios, plucking, and chord progressions that are both challenging and emotionally resonant.

No matter what your skill level, there are plenty of challenging and rewarding songs to learn in both flatpicking and fingerpicking styles. With practice and perseverance, you can master the techniques and create beautiful music on your guitar.

Fingerpicking Songs to Learn

Fingerpicking Songs To Learn
Learning fingerpicking songs on the guitar can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here are some great options to get you started:

Beginner Level: If you are new to fingerpicking, start with some easy songs that only require a few basic chords. “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals is a classic folk song that can be played with just Am, C, D and F chords. “Blackbird” by The Beatles is another popular beginner fingerpicking song that uses G, C, and D chords.

Intermediate Level: Once you feel comfortable with the basics, it’s time to move on to more challenging songs. “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton is a beautiful song with a moderate difficulty level that uses fingerstyle techniques. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan is another great choice for intermediate fingerpickers.

Advanced Level: For those who have mastered fingerpicking, it’s time to tackle some truly complex and intricate songs. “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is a classic instrumental piece that requires great technical skill and dexterity. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” by Martin Simpson is another challenging fingerpicking song that features intricate chord progressions and elaborate fingerstyle patterns.

Remember, learning fingerpicking takes time and practice. Start with the songs that are at your skill level and gradually work your way up to more advanced pieces. With patience, dedication, and consistent practice, you can become a skilled fingerstyle guitarist.

Beginner Level

As a beginner in either flatpicking or fingerpicking, you can expect to face numerous challenges. However, with persistence, hard work, and the right resources, you can quickly improve your skills and start playing simple tunes. Here are some songs to get you started on your learning journey:

Intermediate Level

For those who have been practicing fingerpicking for a while and have gained some experience, there are some intermediate level songs that can further enhance their skills. Below are some recommendations:

  • “Blackbird” by The Beatles: This song features a beautiful fingerpicking pattern that is challenging but rewarding to learn. It requires coordination between the thumb and fingers and can help improve dexterity and rhythm.
  • “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton: This emotional ballad showcases the use of fingerpicking in creating a haunting melody. It involves playing patterns that incorporate open strings and can improve finger independence and accuracy.
  • “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas: This classic song is known for its delicate fingerpicking intro and solo. It is a great exercise for precision and control, as well as developing the ability to switch between chords smoothly.
  • “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams: This intricate instrumental piece is a great challenge for fingerpicking enthusiasts. It combines classical guitar techniques with a contemporary sound and can help develop speed and accuracy in both the right and left hand.
  • “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac: This popular song features a simple but effective fingerpicking pattern that is perfect for those who want to improve their rhythm and finger control. It also helps with chord transitions and playing with emotion.

These songs require a certain level of skill and may take some time and practice to perfect. They are a great way to challenge yourself and take your fingerpicking to the next level. Keep in mind that it’s important to take breaks and not to overexert yourself. With patience and perseverance, you can master these songs and continue to improve your fingerpicking technique.

Advanced Level

For those who are already proficient in fingerpicking or flatpicking, there are some advanced-level songs that will challenge and excite them.

Some advanced level fingerpicking songs include:

  • “Black Mountain Rag” by Doc Watson
  • “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams
  • “Little Martha” by Duane Allman
  • “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton

“Black Mountain Rag” is a classic bluegrass tune that showcases impressive fingerpicking techniques, including alternating bass lines and intricate melodic runs. “Classical Gas” is a piece originally written for classical guitar that has since been adapted for fingerstyle playing. It requires both technical proficiency and musical expression to do it justice. “Little Martha” is a beautiful instrumental piece that challenges players to combine melody and rhythm in a cohesive and emotive way. “Tears in Heaven” is a moving ballad that can be arranged for fingerstyle playing, requiring a deft touch to capture the song’s emotional depth.

Some advanced level flatpicking songs include:

  • “Jerusalem Ridge” by Bill Monroe
  • “Billy in the Lowground” by Norman Blake
  • “Fisher’s Hornpipe” traditional
  • “Whiskey Before Breakfast” traditional

“Jerusalem Ridge” is a fast-paced bluegrass tune that will test the endurance and precision of any flatpicker. “Billy in the Lowground” is a classic piece that requires both speed and accuracy in playing the melody and intricate runs. “Fisher’s Hornpipe” is a traditional tune that has been played on the fiddle for generations, but can also be adapted for flatpicking guitar. Lastly, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is a song that combines fast, intricate runs with slower, more melodic passages, making it a challenge for even the most advanced flatpickers.

Regardless of which technique you choose, mastering these advanced-level songs will require patience and practice. But the reward of being able to play these challenging pieces will be well worth it for any dedicated guitarist.

Pros Who Use Flatpicking Technique

Pros Who Use Flatpicking Technique
Flatpicking is a popular guitar technique used by many legendary musicians. Here are some notable musicians who have mastered this technique:

Merle Travis: Merle Travis was a pioneer of country music and one of the first musicians to use the flatpicking technique. He popularized the thumb and index finger style, also known as the Travis picking, that is still used by many musicians today. Merle’s distinctive style influenced many flatpickers, including Chet Atkins and Doc Watson.

Doc Watson: Doc Watson was a legendary flatpicker known for his lightning-fast runs and innovative style. He was blind from infancy, but that did not stop him from becoming one of the most talented guitarists of his time. Doc was a master of the flatpicking style and played it with ease and precision. His technique and style continue to inspire many guitarists today.

Tony Rice: Tony Rice was a bluegrass flatpicker and one of the most influential guitarists of his time. He was known for his fluid playing style, fast runs, and innovative use of chord progressions. Tony’s influence can be felt in the playing of many contemporary bluegrass and folk guitarists.

These are just a few of the many musicians who have mastered the flatpicking technique. If you are interested in learning this technique, studying the music of these masters can be a great way to learn and improve your flatpicking skills.

Merle Travis

When considering the greats of flatpicking guitar, it’s impossible not to mention the legendary Merle Travis. An icon in the world of country music, Travis developed his unmistakable style in the 1940s and 50s, and has since become a household name among guitarists of all genres. Known for his impeccable rhythm and fingerstyle-like approach to flatpicking, Travis’s innovations paved the way for future generations of guitarists to explore the possibilities of the technique. Let’s take a closer look at some of his signature techniques and explore how his influence can still be felt in modern music today.

Doc Watson

Doc Watson was a highly influential flatpicking guitarist who helped to popularize the style in the 1960s. He is known for his powerful and expressive playing, as well as his ability to incorporate elements of other genres into his music, such as blues and jazz. Some of his most well-known songs include “Deep River Blues” and “Tennessee Stud.”

Here are some key facts about Doc Watson:

  • He was born in North Carolina in 1923.
  • He lost his sight as an infant due to an infection.
  • He first became interested in music as a child, listening to his family play old-time tunes on the banjo and guitar.
  • He started playing music himself as a teenager, and quickly became proficient on the guitar and banjo.
  • He began touring as a musician in the 1950s, playing at folk festivals and other events.
  • He gained wider recognition in the 1960s, thanks in part to his appearances on popular TV shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Johnny Cash Show.”
  • He won several Grammy awards during his career, and was also awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997.

What can we learn from Doc Watson’s playing? One thing that stands out in Doc Watson’s flatpicking style is his use of syncopation and rhythmic variation. He was able to create a kind of “swing” in his playing that gave his music a lot of energy and momentum. He also had a strong sense of melody, and was able to make complex arrangements sound effortless.

What can we take away from Doc Watson’s career? Doc Watson’s career is a testament to the power of perseverance and dedication. Despite facing significant obstacles (including his blindness), he was able to become one of the most respected and well-known musicians of his generation. His commitment to his craft and his willingness to push boundaries and incorporate new influences into his music is an inspiration to aspiring musicians everywhere.

Tony Rice

Tony Rice is one of the greatest flatpicking guitar players of all time. He was born on June 8, 1951, in Danville, Virginia. His unique style of flatpicking, which incorporated elements of bluegrass, jazz, and country music, revolutionized the genre and influenced countless musicians in the decades since.

Rice’s early music career began in California in the late 1960s, where he played with bands such as the Bluegrass Alliance and the New South. He later joined J.D. Crowe and the New South, which resulted in some of his most acclaimed performances and recordings.

Rice’s technical proficiency on the guitar is unparalleled. He is known for his lightning-fast runs and intricate melodies, which are often accompanied by his soulful vocals. His use of alternate tunings and non-traditional chord progressions also sets him apart from other guitarists.

Advantages of Tony Rice’s Playing
Tony Rice’s unique style helps him stand out as an exceptional flatpicker
His technical proficiency on the guitar, lightning-fast runs and intricate melodies, has been an influence to countless musicians
His use of alternate tunings and non-traditional chord progressions is exceptional
Rice’s playing is also recognizable by his soulful vocals that adds an entirely new level of emotion to the music

Beyond his impeccable skills, Rice’s contributions to the world of music and bluegrass are immeasurable. He has won numerous awards, including six Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2013.

Sadly, Rice’s career came to an unexpected end due to health problems in the early 2000s. Despite this, his music remains a testament to his extraordinary talent and passion for flatpicking guitar. His influence on the genre will continue to be felt for generations to come.

Pros Who Use Fingerpicking Technique

Fingerpicking technique has been used by some of the most accomplished guitarists in the world. Here are just a few examples of the pros who have mastered this technique:

Chet Atkins: Known as “Mr. Guitar,” Chet Atkins was one of the pioneers of fingerstyle guitar. He was a master of using the thumb and fingers to pluck multiple strings simultaneously, creating a complex and intricate sound. His unique style influenced countless musicians and established him as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Tommy Emmanuel: Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is famous for his virtuosic fingerstyle playing. He is known for using a percussive style, tapping on the guitar’s body and strings while playing complex melodies and chord progressions. He has released over 20 albums and collaborated with many musicians, solidifying his place as one of the most respected fingerstyle guitarists of our time.

Mark Knopfler: While primarily known for his work as the lead singer and guitarist for Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler is also an accomplished fingerstyle guitarist. His unique picking style, which involves using his thumb and fingers to pluck the strings simultaneously, creates a distinctive and recognizable sound. His fingerpicking can be heard in many Dire Straits songs, such as “Sultans of Swing” and “Brothers in Arms.”

These are just a few examples of the many pros who have utilized the fingerpicking technique to great effect. Each artist brings their own unique style and approach, proving the versatility and endless possibilities of this technique.

Chet Atkins

When it comes to fingerpicking technique, one name that is often mentioned is that of Chet Atkins. Known as the “master of fingerstyle guitar,” Chet Atkins was a prolific musician who made significant contributions to the development of fingerpicking. With a career that spanned several decades, Atkins was known for his intricate playing style and his ability to seamlessly blend different musical genres. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at his life, his music, and what made him one of the greats of fingerstyle guitar.

Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel is a world-renowned fingerstyle guitarist from Australia. He is known for his intricate fingerpicking style and has won numerous awards for his talent. Here are some of the highlights of his career:

Awards and Recognitions Notable Achievements
Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance Won in 2007 for his rendition of “Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag”
Member of the Order of Australia Received in 2019 for his contributions to music
Australian National Living Treasure Received in 2011 for his contribution to Australian culture

Tommy Emmanuel has released numerous albums throughout his career, showcasing his mastery of fingerpicking. He is also known for his live performances, where he often incorporates percussive elements into his playing. Some of his most popular songs include “Classical Gas,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Guitar Boogie”.

Emmanuel’s style is characterized by his use of intricate fingerpicking patterns, which he often combines with harmonics and percussive elements. He is known for his ability to play multiple parts at once, creating a full sound that is usually associated with a full band.

Emmanuel is also a gifted teacher and has released instructional material for guitar players of all skill levels. He encourages students to develop their own style and to experiment with different techniques.

Tommy Emmanuel is a true master of fingerstyle guitar and has inspired countless musicians around the world with his talent and creativity.

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler is a world-renowned guitarist and is well-known for his unique fingerpicking style. His distinctive style is characterized by his use of fingerpicks while combining fingerstyle patterns with percussive techniques. Knopfler’s style can be described as both intricate and precise, yet also casual and loose.

Here are some key songs and techniques associated with Mark Knopfler’s fingerpicking style:

  • “Sultans of Swing” – This song showcases Knopfler’s fingerpicking style with its intricate fingerpicking patterns and delicate arpeggios.
  • Hybrid picking – This technique involves using the pick and fingers simultaneously to create a unique and complex sound. Knopfler is an expert in hybrid picking and uses it frequently in his playing.
  • “Romeo and Juliet” – This song highlights Knopfler’s ability to incorporate melody into his fingerpicking patterns, creating a rich and complex sound.
  • Percussive techniques – Knopfler often uses percussive techniques, such as tapping on the guitar body or strings, to add rhythm and texture to his playing.
  • “Telegraph Road” – This song demonstrates Knopfler’s ability to combine fingerpicking patterns with strumming and flatpicking, showcasing his versatility as a guitarist.

Mark Knopfler’s unique fingerpicking style has influenced many guitarists and has become synonymous with his name. His intricate and percussive approach to fingerpicking has created a sound that is both distinct and recognizable, garnering him a well-deserved place among the greats in the music industry.


In conclusion, both flatpicking and fingerpicking are valuable techniques for guitar players. Each technique has its own unique advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when choosing which one to use.

Ultimately, the decision should be based on the style of music being played and personal preference. It’s important to take the time to analyze your playing style and determine which technique works best for you.

If you’re interested in honing your flatpicking skills, there are a variety of songs you can learn at different levels, from beginner to advanced. Pros like Merle Travis, Doc Watson, and Tony Rice all use flatpicking and are great inspirations for anyone looking to improve their skills.

Alternatively, if you prefer fingerpicking, there are plenty of songs to choose from as well. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced player, songs by Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel, and Mark Knopfler are sure to challenge and inspire you.

Ultimately, the key to success with either technique is practice, patience, and a willingness to experiment. It’s important to remember that while technique is important, music is ultimately about expression and emotion. So don’t be afraid to mix and match techniques and let your own creativity shine through in your playing. With hard work and dedication, you can become a skilled guitarist and enjoy the many rewards that come with playing music.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between fingerpicking and flatpicking?

Flatpicking is a technique of playing guitar using a plectrum, whereas fingerpicking involves plucking the strings with your fingers.

2. Which technique is easier to learn for beginners?

Fingerpicking can be more challenging for beginners, as it requires more dexterity and coordination. Flatpicking may be easier to start with, as it is a more straightforward technique.

3. Can you use both techniques in the same song?

Absolutely! Many guitar players use a mix of fingerpicking and flatpicking in their songs.

4. What kind of guitar is best for fingerpicking?

Acoustic guitars with nylon strings are often preferred for fingerpicking, as the strings are easier on the fingers and produce a softer sound.

5. Can fingerpicking be used in rock music?

Yes, fingerpicking can be used in rock music, although it is less common. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is known for his fingerpicking in rock music.

6. Are there any disadvantages to flatpicking?

Some may find that flatpicking produces a harsher sound compared to fingerpicking. Additionally, it may limit the player’s ability to play complex arpeggios or fingerstyle arrangements.

7. What is hybrid picking?

Hybrid picking is a technique that combines both flatpicking and fingerpicking, using a pick to strike the lower strings and fingers to pluck the higher strings simultaneously.

8. Can fingerpicking be used for solo guitar performances?

Yes, fingerpicking is often used for solo guitar performances, as it allows for a greater range of sounds and textures.

9. Are fingerpicking and fingerstyle the same thing?

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, fingerpicking typically involves playing individual strings with the fingers, while fingerstyle refers to a broader approach that can include strumming, picking, and slapping techniques.

10. Can flatpicking be used in other stringed instruments besides guitar?

Yes, flatpicking can be used in other stringed instruments such as the mandolin, banjo, and bass.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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