Tommy Emmanuel’s engaging, hands-on ‘milestone’ teaching approach will guide you through all of the fundamental principles and techniques required to play bass, rhythm and melody parts simultaneously. You’ll play your way through these free fingerstyle guitar lessons, and Tommy will have you up and running quickly without tedious theory or boring exercises.

Check out this selection of free guitar lessons from Tommy Emmanuel’s Fingerstyle Milestones, the definitive fast-track fingerstyle guitar guide!

Your Learning Timeline

It is my great desire for you to start out the right way and for this instruction to be the key to your future as a player. I’m going to start this whole thing making you aware of fine detail and the simplest things. But along the way there has to be milestones, goals for you to aim for. Your first milestone will be truly understanding the technique of fingerstyle. When you can see that, feel it, and understand it, that’s a great milestone.

Then we’re going into independence and working on playing the thumb against fingers, and I’m going to show you a lot of exercises to develop that, and then learning the simplest songs that we can. That’s your next milestone, getting to the point where all of the things you’ve learned and the practice along the way has gotten you to the point where you can play a song all the way through, and make it sound like music. It’s really up to you how good you want to get at it, which equals how dedicated you are to it. I can only speak for myself and my peers, and I can see how driven we are. We don’t only love it, we’re consumed by it, it’s our life and our passion, and I’m hoping the same fire can be lit in you. If that is the case, then the next milestone in your life is to take all of these techniques and abilities and seek out other songs and slowly build an arsenal of great songs.

That’s going to be a great thing for you, you’ll be able to go everywhere and jam with people. And you’ll know songs they mention, because you did this course and you know the importance of learning certain songs. If you travel all over the world, and you meet players that play fingerstyle, you’ll find 99% of them know these certain songs, because those are the important songs that teach us so much about the instrument, and they came from the big guys before us like Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed. The guys who really showed us the way, and what’s possible. So let’s run with it, set our goals, and get going.

The Bass Part

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I’m going to start out with some simple chords. Before I play this for you, I want to tell you that the rule is that the first note of every bar should be the root note of the chord you’re in. So if I’m in the key of E, my first note with my bass should be the E note. So I’m spelling out E, E, B, E, E, E, B, E. Now, when I move to the A, my first note is an A. When I go to B, it’s B, and so on. So it’s important for you to pay attention to that, that the first note of the down beat of every bar should be the root note of the chord you’re in. I’m going to show you how to get the thumb going. When I used to teach students one on one, I used to tape their fingers down near the sound hole, to make sure they didn’t use their fingers to play the notes, because that’s what everyone wants to do, because it’s easy. But that’s not going to make you a good thumb and fingerstyle player. And that’s what I’m here to do, to get you to that point!

The Palm Mute

In order to make the sound I’m looking for, which is boom chick boom chick, the way to do it is take a bit of the ringing out of the note with the palm of the hand. You rest it right on the string, on the saddle. Now, the fingers are doing nothing, they’re staying out of the way. This is the very beginning, and it is so important for you to understand that. You might notice I’m striking that third string a bit as well, which is helping me to spell out what the chord is.

Barre Chord Etude: G | Overview

The next exercise is playing boom chick using bar chords. Now, we’ve done the E before, so basically if you play up here in G where the bar chord is, it’s basically the same as the E, you just move it up. We’re going to spell out the chords G, C, D, G. Playing the boom chick using these shapes sounds like this. Being able to do that, and know those shapes is going to help you in the future when you’re trying to come up with arrangements of songs and you’re looking for positions where you can get the melody and keep the boom chick going underneath, you’re going to be able to get that if you know these positions.

The other thing I wanted to point out is that when I play C in a bar chord like that you’ll notice these fingers are grouped together, becaues it’s stronger if you use a couple of fingers together. So we’ve got G, C, D, G. In this style you don’t get up the dusty end of the guitar too often, but it is fun up there. Chet Atkins had a great arrangment of a song called Mystery Train, an Elvis Presley tune, and he played right up here. So I’m still getting the low bass notes, but getting the melody up high. So as you can see, all of this you can move around and find those positions, you’ve just got to keep looking.

Barre Chord Etude: G | Slow Playalong

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The Melody Finger/Hand Posture

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I want to touch on a few technique things that I think are important. When I’m playing songs in this style, my main melody fingers are the first two. But I do sometimes use the third finger and the pinkey, and Jerry Reed used to only use those two. You’ve just got to find your way that works well for you. The important thing to me when I play this style is making the melody feel and sound good. So what I do is I learn a song, I work out an arrangement, I practice it, and then when I’ve practiced it and my hands know what they’re doing I start focusing in on making the melody feel good. The other thing I wanted to point out is that sometimes when I’m playing single line melody with my thumbpick, in order to make different dynamics and different tones, I’ll sometimes play a note like that, and then I may turn the thumbpick on a slide angle to give me a different sound. That helps me to get a lot of different tones and a voice-like quality out of the instrument.

Chords on Beat Etude: E | Overview

Thrill-seekers, we are back, and we are about to do our next level of work, and our next milestone. That next milestone is keeping the thumb going and bringing the fingers in. This is very exciting. So I’m going to use the chords B, A, and B again. Now, you want to move on to this: Leaving the pinkey down, I’m going to spell out the chord, but the thumb continues playing. I’ll do it very slowly so you can watch it a few times around and get used to it. Now, you can move around, you don’t have to stay in E, you can go to G as I showed you before, but it makes no difference. This is our first step to getting our fingers working independently with the thumb. There it is!

Chords on Beat Etude: E | Slow Playalong

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Arpeggios on Beat Etude: E7 | Slow Playalong

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This is a little chord sequence, E, E7, A, F#7, into B, back to E, and we’re going to do these exercises using this chord structure. So let’s do this one first, slowly.

Syncopated Arpeggios Etude: E7 | Slow Playalong

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This is a little chord sequence, E, E7, A, F#7, into B, back to E, and we’re going to do these exercises using this chord structure. So let’s do this one first, slowly.

Beginner’s Blues: Overview

We’re about to reach our next milestone, which is learning this song. I wrote this little tune specifically to give you something challenging but simple to start with. In this song, we incorporate playing the bass with the thumb, and it also has hammer-ons and pull-offs, and a nice steady groove. It’s called the Beginner’s Blues, here we go.

Beginner’s Blues: Performance

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The beginner’s blues, in the key of E. So in the first part of it, I’ve playing a background note with the thumb, and then with the fingers I’m pulling down with my little finger and then on the second string as well. Then I switch to A, and then back to E, and then to B.

Then I do this little blues run. So this is the same shape as the E. One thing I want to point out is that when I do that little run, I’m doing that specific shape.

Creole Belle: Performance

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Okay, let’s do Creole Belle. I’ve now got my capo on the fourth fret, and I’m set up to play this in C position, but technically it’s an E. The moment I put a capo on and start playing, I’m thinking in C, because I’m using that position, even though I know it’s in E.

Now, let’s go through the song nice and slowly, and I want to point out some things to you that we’ve been using in exercises to prepare you for playing this song. Now, I’ve got my thumb over the top, which may be difficult for you, so some of you might want to use your pointer finger. But I’m encouraging you to get your thumb used to coming over, which will be useful to you in hundreds of songs. Everyone who plays fingerstyle, they all get used to bringing their thumb over, and they realize what a great tool that is.

So here we go, from the first phrase again. Now you’ll see that I get my pinkey out to the side, just like in the exercise before, and I also use a little slide with my little finger. And I’m using a little slide there on the end of the phrase, which you don’t actually have to do, but it sounds so nice. So I’ll play the whole thing slowly now.

When Doc did it, he sang it, and then he would take a solo. Okay, so once you get used to bringing your thumb over, you can move down two frets. Now we’re in the key of D, but we’re still thinking in C. And the reason I’m saying move down is that now the frets are slightly wider apart, and it will be more challenging to get the thumb over before making the giant leap down, and playing F, which is not easy. Eventually you should be trying to play in the key of C. But let’s just start down here, with the capo on properly. Now, a little bluegrass player trick here is to put the capo on, and then they push down on the strings down near the sound hole to release any tension pulled into the string by the capo. And then you’re off.

Along with these milestone lessons, there are even more techniques and epiphanies waiting for you. Plus, Tommy also takes full advantage of TrueFire’s interactive learning tools to put everything you need at your fingertips: multi-angle interactive video lesson player features looping, zooming, keyboard shortcuts, standard tab, standard notation, Guitar Pro files, text narrative and other handy learning tools and controls. Viewing angles include wide, right-hand, left-hand and composite views. Check out the full course on TrueFire!