Ukulele Fingerpicking Guide – Everything You Need to Know!

When most people start to play a new stringed instrument, they strum chord shapes. Nothing wrong with that, good place to start. At some point you may want to start learning ukulele fingerpicking techniques to give yourself a better repertoire of sounds.

This adds another layer of complexity to your playing, as now you’ll have 7 or 8 fingers in motion, instead of 4 and your arm/wrist.

When you get good at fingerpicking your uke you’ll have better control over your sound. The fretting hand controls the notes, harmony and chords while the picking hand takes care of when they are sounded.

Fingerpicking Technique

We are going to start with the most basic fingerpicking arrangement possible. Your thumb.

For the sake of this first example we’ll look at an F chord. This means on your fretting hand you’ll likely have your middle finger on the first fret of the E string and your index finger on the 2nd fret of the G string.

Using just your thumb, pick each string individually. You just fingerpicked the F chord! Now, change up the order that you pick them in. Notice the slight variation in the sound as you do… order does matter (more on that later).

Using just your thumb and playing the ukulele open try out playing the string closest to you, and on down, pick each string individually. If you have a metronome it is good to use one to make sure you’re staying in rhythm.

We will talk more about this pattern an a few others a little later in the article, but it is easy to start fingerpicking with just the thumb.

Learning Finger Control

With most ukulele fingerpicking patterns you’ll be using your thumb and first finger, or thumb, first and middle fingers.

The fingers not being used should be placed (ie anchored) on the instrument just below the sound hole and left there. This adds a bit of consistency to where your hand will be and gives you a point of reference to start and return to.

For the ukulele, it is common to leave the pinky and ring finger anchored on the uke. That being said, there are two, three, and four finger ukulele fingerpicking styles.

Two Finger Style

Two finger style includes the use of your thumb and first (pointer) finger to do the work picking notes. Your thumb is responsible for picking the G and C strings while the first finger will do all of the E and A string notes.

A common pattern for this arrangement is the Spanish guitar sound of G, A, C, A, where you basically would alternate between picking with the thumb and finger.

You can also play two finger style where the thumb controls the G, C, and E string, and the first finger is only used on the A string.

Three Finger style

The three-string style is tough for many beginners. Afterall, it’s just one more moving part to add in. For this style your thumb will alternate between the G and C strings, your first finger will play the E and your middle finger will play the A.

Four Finger Style

Lastly, a style that isn’t overly used. You can create great sounds with the four-finger style, but it takes a lot of timing practice and most people can’t anchor their pinky finger on the instrument, so your hand will be floating.

The only string your thumb will be picking is the G string, while the C string is now done by the first finger. Your middle finger is only responsible for the E string and now your ring finger comes in to play the A string.

The only string your thumb will be picking is the G string, while the C string is now done by the first finger. Your middle finger is only responsible for the E string and now your ring finger comes in to play the A string.

PIMA Fingerpicking Notation

Often, instead of people referring to playing a two, three or four finger style, you’ll hear a pattern or a picking sequence noted in PIMA notation.

Many advanced players will use multiple fingers instead of just the thumb for the speed it allows. In this notation “P” is the thumb, I = Index, M = middle, and A is for your ring finger. The pinky is the only finger not accounted for as it’s not used.

Our Favorite Ukulele Fingerpicking Patterns

Now, regardless of what notation or the number of fingers you’re using, fingerpicking is based off of patterns that repeat for the duration of the song. The picking order, that the consistent pattern or loop they are plucked in, makes a huge difference as to the sound you’ll produce.

To make patterns universal to any finger style, we’ve chosen to number them to make them more usable for any player!

  • A-String =  1
  • E-String = 2
  • C-String = 3
  • G-String = 4

Here are five finger picking patterns to start with, listed more or less from easiest to hardest!

Basic:  4321

We mentioned this one earlier when we were talking about playing the F chord. The chord doesn’t matter, simply pluck each string in order from top to bottom and then repeat. The easiest pattern possible.

The Standard:  4231

One of our favorites, this one goes well with multiple different finger styles and sounds great with all of them.

The Backwards Roll:  123-124

This pattern was adopted and adjusted from a popular banjo “roll”. Jake Shimabukuro has really popularized it in the recent past.

Alternate Picking:  4132

Also known as “Inside Out”, if you are using two or three fingers to pick this pattern you can simply alternate between your thumb and finger.

The Great Eight: 1421-4232

Not one for beginners, we included this one to show you that you could actually extend a pattern to a 2nd bar or play 8ths, meaning you’d play on the “ands” (1 and 2 and 3…. Etc).

We didn’t go into musical time signatures in this article, but you will want to look into the basics as you begin to fingerpick to make sure your rhythm is correct.

Easy Fingerpicking Songs for Ukulele

So… you want to try out your new fingerpicking skills with a few easy songs? Well, good news, most easy ukulele songs are also easy fingerpicking songs.

Because you can keep the patterns as simple as you need to the difficulty of the chord changes will generally lead to an easier or harder song.

We’ve got a great list of easy ukulele songs to help get you started!