Fingerpicking, or playing fingerstyle, is playing the guitar using the fingertips or fingernails, rather than with a plectrum (or "pick"). It is usually used in Classical guitar styles, and some other acoustic styles, but it has found its way into other genres as well, including rock and roll, although its use in such genres is rare. There is a whole school of jazz guitar playing using the technique. Joe Pass was a leading exponent and currently Britain's Martin Taylor is noted for this chord-melody approach. It is not the only way to play the guitar without a pick, but it is perhaps the most common pickless style of professional guitar players.

There are at least as many ways to fingerpick as there are fingerpickers. The picking hand (the right hand for right-handed guitarists) may or may not have small picks attached to the fingertips, somewhat similar to the Scruggs style on the banjo, but it is more common to simply use the fingertips or fingernails. The pinky finger, or possibly ring finger, might be held against the bridge (on an acoustic) or a pickup (on an electric), to brace the hand. This finger should be as straight as possible, though not too rigidly. Holding it against the bridge on an acoustic deadens the tone of the instrument, therefore when the player becomes skilled enough it is preferred that the surface of the guitar simply be used, if possible. Then, the other fingers, excluding the thumb, are held in a claw shape (giving the method its generic name of clawhammer) and may then pluck or strike the strings.

There is a potential but slight disadvantage to fingerpicking. If the fingertips are used, there is a small chance that a blister will develop, though this is not likely unless one plays too fast before calluses are developed. On the other hand, if one uses the fingernails instead, they might become slightly ragged as tiny pieces of the nail are chipped away by the strings. Neither possibility is a real concern for a serious guitarist, however.

Thumb and finger picks

In addition to using the finger tips or finger nails, guitarists who wish to play in a finger style, while keeping the advantages, such as the increased volume of the note, of playing with a plectrum may choose to use thumb and/or finger picks.

These are "thimble"-like prosthetics with extended nails which spare the guitarist from the wear and tear on fingernails. Though common among banjo players, finger picks are relatively uncommon among guitarists. Thumb picks, however, are common, as usually the emphasis gained through the volume increase these picks give is desired for the bassline alone.

Hybrid picking

Following on from the use of thumb picks, several guitarists who only make occasional use of finger picking may tend towards hybrid picking. In hybrid picking, the plectrum is held, as usual, between the thumb and index finger while the remaining fingers are used for fingerpicking.

Hybrid picking, because of its convenience to the plectrum using guitarist, has therefore found its way into styles of guitar music where fingerpicking is rarely, if ever, used. A notable user of hybrid picking is Zakk Wylde, who brings this technique to heavy metal.

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