Arranging a Song for Fingerstyle Guitar

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Outline of the Steps Described

  • Step #1 – Play the melody
  • Step #2 – Play chords
  • Step #3 – Start with bass and melody
  • Step #4 – Add rhythmical pattern
    • Arpeggio patterns
    • Travis picking
  • Step #5 – Embellish
    • Bass runs
    • Harmonized notes


  • Start simple and add embellishments later
  • Learn pre-arranged songs to develop your technique and get ideas
  • Practice fingerstyle exercises
    • Pinching and staggered notes
    • Arpeggio patterns
    • Travis picking

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Comments on Arranging a Song for Fingerstyle Guitar

  1. JoAnn says:

    Thank you as always…. How do I know what finger picking pattern to apply to a song?

    1. Tomas says:

      Hi JoAnna!
      1) You would learn a number of fingerpicking patterns. Then try them out on the song and see which sounds good. The more patterns you know the better this works.

      You can narrow it down by sticking to the patterns that work for the style and time signature. For example, if the song is in 3/4 time you would only try patterns in with 3 pulses.
      2) Listen to recordings of the song and see what others have done.
      3) You can get ideas from what people have done on YouTube (both lessons and performances).
      4) With enough experience, you can listen to a song and imagine what pattern would sound good. This gets easier and quicker as time goes on.

      There isn’t “one” pattern for a song. If you want to play exactly what another artist is doing you’ll need to listen or watch and imitate. Many times the guitar is only one instrument of many that create the rhythm of a song. If you’re listening to a recording with many instruments you won’t be able to copy the recording exactly. You’ll have to come up with a pattern that captures the feel.

      It’s similar to how you decide what strum to use for a song.

  2. Pat says:

    I would like to learn your finger style version of Happy Birthday.

    1. Tomas says:

      Hmmm… we can do that.

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