Is Fingerstyle Guitar Hard? [Guitar Teachers Thoughts]

I’ve been playing and teaching guitar for more than 5 years, and have played most guitar styles. One question that students first getting into guitar often wonder is whether fingerstyle guitar is hard. Based on my experience, here’s what I found.

Overall, fingerstyle guitar is not hard. Initially, learning the correct use of the fingers and how to hold the guitar is a bit difficult. But, once a person is comfortable holding the guitar and using the correct fingers to play, learning new songs and playing fingerstyle guitar is very easy.

In fact, I found it easier to play fingerstyle than using a pick. So, below I will explain what other guitarists have found when it comes to learning fingerstyle guitar. How long it took me to get good and how long it takes, roughly, to get good at fingerstyle guitar for a beginner.

As well as, how I found learning fingerstyle compared to using a pick, what aspects of fingerstyle guitar are hard, and how it compares to other styles like spanish guitar/flamenco, jazz, rock, and classical.

Can a Beginner Learn Fingerstyle Guitar?

I was always surrounded by friends that would play guitar, and I could play a few songs. But, one day I decided to get my own guitar and begin practicing regularly. Now that I have a tonne of experience playing guitar I thought I’d answer if it’s OK for a beginner to learn fingerstyle guitar.

As a general rule, a beginner can learn fingerstyle guitar. There are no prerequisites to learning fingerstyle guitar. The techniques and way of playing used in fingerstyle guitar can be understood and played easily by a beginner.

A child can also learn guitar, however, it’s important to get the right sized guitar for their hands. Children, and young adults have smaller hands than adults, so it’s easier to learn if they get a smaller guitar. And when it’s easier to learn it makes it more fun.

Here’s a helpful table showing what size guitar would suit different age ranges (source):

Age range Guitar size
5 to 7 years old ¼ size or smaller
7 to 9 years old ½ size or smaller
9 to 11 years old ¾ size or smaller
11 to 14 years ⅞ size or smaller
Adult Full size
Adult with small hands Full size – possibly ¾ size or smaller depending on your personal preference

The main consideration with the size of the guitar is the distance between the frets, and the weight of the guitar.

A larger guitar is hard for a child to hold comfortably and play at the same time because it’s heavy. A larger guitar also has larger frets which mean the fingers need to spread wider apart.

Flexibility in the fingers develops naturally over time through consistent playing, and it’s possible for a child or a person with small hands to play a full sized guitar. But, it’s more comfortable to play a guitar that suits your hand size, especially in the beginning. 

A classical/nylon string guitar is far easier to learn on

Fingerstyle guitar uses all of the fingers of your note playing hand – this is your right hand for right handed people. Because of the more space in between the strings the more room you have to move your fingers and the easier it is to play.

For that reason a classical guitar is the best for learning fingerstyle guitar. A classical guitar and a flamenco/spanish guitar are essentially the same thing. Apart from some minor differences.

A steel string or sometimes called an acoustic guitar has a narrow neck, and the strings are closer together. Therefore, learning to play fingerstyle on a steel string guitar isn’t recommended. 

Another reason is that in fingerstyle guitar you generally grow your fingernails and pluck the strings using part of your fingernail. Fingerpicking on a steel string guitar creates more wear on your nails and the break more easily.

As a side note about flamenco guitar, many people wonder whether flamenco guitar is difficult. So, I explained what I’ve found when learning flamenco guitar and how it compares to other styles in this article about whether flamenco guitar is hard to learn. It covers how difficult flamenco is, why, and how it compres to other styles such as jazz, and rock.

Can you learn fingerstyle with small hands?

Similar to other sports and activities certain body types naturally have an advantage. For example, a taller person has an easier time playing basketball and volleyball. But, with guitar it’s a common misconception that a person with long thin fingers will be better at playing guitar.

One of the most famous and admired classical guitarists has small hands, and thick fingers. Yet, he could easily play the most difficult and intricate classical guitar pieces such as those of Isaac Albeniz, and Francisco Tarrega.

Here’s a video showing Andres Segovia playing, at even at his old age he can play extremely fast, and accurately:

How long does it take to learn fingerstyle guitar?

I’ve been learning fingerstyle guitar and other styles for more than 5 years. So, I thought I’d explain what the general progression is when learning fingerstyle guitar, and how long it takes to learn.

Overall, it takes about 3 months of consistent practice for 30 minutes a day to learn to play fingerstyle guitar proficiently. With that amount of practice you can comfortably play average difficulty songs all the way through, as well as, improvise and create your own songs.

The initial stages of learning fingerstyle guitar involve learning to play scales, as well as, the different chords. Scales develop the strength and dexterity in your fingers required to play songs. And give you a fundamental understanding of writing your own songs.

From there, most guitarists expand their repertoire by scouting out songs they really want to learn and then learning them. Once, you can play a song all the way through. It’s very fun to freestyle in different parts.

Is fingerpicking harder than strumming?

I’ve done both fingerpicking and strumming and thought I’d explain from my perspective which is more difficult. I also looked at what people generally had to say about it when asked. Here’s what I found.

Generally, strumming is harder than fingerpicking. With fingerstyle guitar the hand is kept in the same position and only the fingers and thumb move. When strumming the arm is making large motions, and changes pace and direction often which makes it more difficult.

Also, holding a pick is trickier than simply using your fingers and thumb. When strumming – to make it sound right you need to exert quite a bit of force and speed. Whereas, when fingerpicking when you play the strings loudly your whole hand barely moves. 

Therefore, it’s easier to maintain the correct position of the fingers which makes it easier to play without mistakes.

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