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How To Sound Like A Pro Fingerpicking Your Guitar

Perhaps the most common fingerpicking pattern in the world of guitar is what’s known as the clawhammer technique. I created a video lesson on this very popular guitar fingerpicking pattern that you need to check out first before going any further. This is so you better understand what will be presented to you in today’s lesson.

Upon getting the basics of the clawhammer fingerpicking technique into your playing, you next need to look at variations of this pattern, variations that can be found in literally thousands of fingerpicking songs. 

In music, nuances matter, and so it is with the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern. Doing the exact same pattern over and over will sound more mechanical than musical. By studying and training variations, you will find that your fingerpicking will sound much more natural and musical. 

This is the key to mastering this fingerpicking pattern, that, and also knowing how to train it. Upon doing so, you will be able to easily apply the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern to your playing on the spot, in real time, in real life musical situations.

So to be able to mix and match and create your own variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern, as well as gain the ability to easily play thousands of fingerpicking songs, let’s now look at some common variations of the clawhammer technique.

Pattern Variations Of The Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique

So here now, are some common variations of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern.

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique Variation 1

The following variation mixes up the higher strings that are being plucked in the pattern. With the basic clawhammer fingerpicking pattern from my previous lesson, I had been plucking the same combination of higher strings in-between my bass notes. However, you can mix these up to get much more variation into the clawhammer fingerpicking technique.

In this example I am plucking the 2nd, 1st, and then 3rd strings in-between my bass notes:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Here is the same approach only with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Try your own combination of higher strings here. Anything will work, as long as you keep the bass on the beat throughout.

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique Variation 2

This variation involves altering the rhythm of the clawhammer pattern. I am going to play straight 8th notes, which I have almost been doing, but not quite, with all previous examples:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

This is only a slight variation in the rhythm of the pattern, however it makes a significant difference, and will break up the monotony of the pattern should you feel you need to do so.

Here is the straight 8th note variation with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Remember that through any variation of the clawhammer fingerpicking pattern, be it the ones I am showing you here, or variations you come up with yourself, the bass must always remain on the beat, the 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. It’s your reference point and drives the momentum of the pattern.

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique Variation 3

A great way to bring a melody component to your clawhammer fingerpicking patterns is to add extensions to the chords you are applying the technique. I am doing this exact thing in the intro piece of the video that accompanies this lesson.

Here is an example of playing around with chord extensions through the clawhammer pattern using a 5 4 5 4 bass pattern:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

And with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Be sure to check the video out to see and hear this cool variation in more detail. It is well worth the investment of your time!

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique Variation 4

In this variation, I am plucking 2 notes together, an approach I like to refer as “pinching”. 

In this example, I am pinching the root note of the chord and its octave, on the 2nd string, on the first beat of the bar:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

I could also apply the pinching technique to other beats of the bar, such as the second beat, like this:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Both examples above are common variations of the clawhammer technique that you will hear in many songs.

Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique Variation 5

Here we have the pinching technique combined with a 5 4 6 4 bass pattern, which is a little more involved than the 5 4 5 4 pattern of the previous example.

Clawhammer Fingerpick Variation

Take your time with this one as it is a little more involved because of the altered bass pattern. Sounds great though!

Applying The Variations Of The Clawhammer Fingerpicking Technique

Before moving ahead in this section, be sure you have become familiar with each of the clawhammer variations above. 

What does this mean exactly?

It means you can play each of them fluently. They don't have to be fast, but you must have them in you fingers all the same.

Having done that, the next very important step is to mix these variations together. In doing so, you will gain the ability to ad lib with the clawhammer fingerpicking technique, making up combinations of variations on the spot, in real time. 

Here is an example to show you what I mean:

Clawhammer Fingerpick Example

As you can see and hear, I have mixed a number of the variations we have studied in today’s lesson, in the example above. Be patient, and invest your time into learning this. Upon doing so, mix other combinations of the clawhammer fingerpicking variations into your own creations.

The key is always taking what you learn and applying/creating with it yourself in your own playing. You will be rewarded many times over for doing so!

Learn more advanced sounding guitar fingerpicking patterns for your playing.

About the author: Simon Candy has been teaching guitar professionally for over 20 years. Specializing in a number of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and finger picking guitar, Simon runs both his own guitar school, out of Melbourne, Australia, as well provides online instruction for acoustic guitar