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July 12, 2011

PLEASE NOTE:  My “UKULELE BASICS” DVD is currently  available for purchase. . . For more information email me at


I’ve had SO many students online who have asked me how they can learn to fingerpick.  Having  basic fingerpicking skills allows a player to provide not only a great depth of styling to accompaniment for singing but also gives the student techniques that will allow them to play purely instrumental pieces.  The ukulele belongs to that long lived family of instruments in which the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo etc. are all members and so we can go back many hundreds of years to draw on some wisdom regarding fingering technique and notation.  Since we have numbers allocated to strings, frets and left hand fingers, players of stringed instruments going back to the Middle Ages have employed a “LETTER” method of denoting the fingers of the right hand.   The fingers  are labeled as PIMA.  In other words, “P” represents the thumb, “I” represents  the index finger, and so on. The letters derive from spanish words for the fingers.  So just about everything with fingerpicking will name the fingers by the PIMA   method. The pinky finger is not used much and therefore does not have a letter  to go by.   Players who do a lot of fingerpicking will often “culture” their nails, keeping them somewhat long, rounded, shaped, and smooth. . . But the fingernail is not necessary to do fingerpicking.  Let’s start with what I call “MY RULE OF THUMB” . . . no pun intended ha ha ha.  The thumb or “P” is allocated to the 4th and 3rd strings. . . The Index or “I” finger is allocated to the 2nd string and the Middle or “M” finger takes care of the 1st string. That’s my “RULE OF THUMB”  stick to it or your fingers will be ALL OVER THE PLACE.  Ok, so here is a new word: ARPEGGIO . . .Most musical terms are in Italian. . . Don’t ask me why. . . long story. . . Anyways. . . What one does when they fingerpick to accompany singing is to basically break up the chord into it’s separate notes in some sort of smooth, rolling fashion in time with the song.  Imagine a harpist in the symphony orchestra. . . fingers gracefully rolling across the strings. . . breaking up the chord in time with the music. . . get it:  ARPpeggio. . . HARPpeggio. . . that’s where the word derives from.  So lets start with a VERY basic 4/4 ARPEGGIO.  You can do this on open strings or select any chord you want.  Place your thumb or “P” on the 4th string . . . Index or “I” finger on the 2nd string.  Middle or “M” finger on the 1st string. . . now simply play “P” then “I” then “M”  then “I”    so the pattern looks like this PIMI

PIMIPIMI would complete an entire 4/4 measure . . . Now lets add one more element . . . The first “P” plays the 4th string . . . The second “P” plays the 3rd string.  So now we have an alternating thumb . . . This gives the pattern much more interest.  It will take some time and patience to acquire the “muscle memory” of your fingers to keep this pattern going without any interruptions.  Keep the beats all even . . . In time you can work in some syncopation but not recommended in the beginning.  Don’t attempt to do chord changes with this pattern until you’ve really developed the “muscle memory” in your right hand first. . . The key to doing that, of course, is DAILY repetitive practice.  Nothing can substitutue for consistent practice.  So there you have it . . . begin to enhance your playing with some fingerpicking technique and in future blogs I’ll be showing you some more patterns and combinations . . .


Mike Lynch

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