How to Relearn Fingerstyle Guitar | 5 Steps

how to relearn fingerstyle guitar
If you take a break from playing, you may find yourself needing to relearn fingerstyle guitar. This can be stressful and difficult, not least because you're likely to feel that your level has dropped significantly. 

The good news is that guitar playing can come back to you quickly and easily if you put in the right sort of effort. You just need to be thoughtful rather than folding to anxiety and impatience. Trust that if you go about things intelligently, you'll get to where you were (and beyond) in no time. 

1) Prepare Your Guitar

prepare your guitar
Chances are, taking a break from guitar playing has taken a toll on your instrument. Is it dusy? Does it need new strings? Did you misplace your guitar support? Is it hopelessly out of tune?

Any and all of these issues should be addressed at once. While you can definitely practice on a faulty guitar (especially technical exercises), you'll be much more confident and productive on an instrument that feels alive in your hands, in whose condition you take pride. 

So go ahead and watch a video on changing guitar strings. Or order new ones at that. You may also consider taking your instrument into a local guitar store and having them give it a makeover. 

At the very least, get yourself a damp microfiber cloth and dust off your guitar's body and fretboard until it's good as new. 

You know you're ready to go when you feel good about your guitar. And if you do this job to your satisfaction you'll find it impossible to blame the instrument for your mistakes! 

2) Set up a Practice Spot

how to set up a guitar practice spot
Now that your guitar's ready to go, it's time to consider where you practice. The condition of your go-to jam space will determine (if not over-determine) your rate of progress. 

If you choose a dark, cobwebed, desolate corner of your home, you're never going to practice. Go with the room you already spend a lot of time in--the sunbathed living room, for instance--and find a way to make yourself comfortable. 

Some guitarists have strong opinions on chairs. I tend to be somewhat liberal here; since many playing positions are viable (across different guitar styles), it follows that many seating options are viable as well. You probably want to avoid too much plush, I guess. Personally, I'll sit on hard corners of furniture, dining room chairs, piano stools, etc.

Think carefully about how you set up your space. You might be thinking I'm going too far here. But suppose you have a big old cactus on the windowsill behind your playing chair. And suppose you don't love cacti (it belongs to your partner/roommate). Is that going to affect your practicing? Absolutely. 

Any item, any kind of lighting, any supernatural rumors, etc., associated with your practice corner will 100% find a way into your playing. First they subltly influence your practicing habits (less, more, duration, emotions), which then shapes your overall ability. 

In short, set yourself up for success by minding the details.

3) Begin with the Fundamentals

start relearning guitar with the basics
The last thing you want to do coming back to guitar is to pull out your old pieces right away and play through them badly. (If, however, you're a cheerful, laugh-at-yourself kind of person, you may be an exception). But this will generally leave you disappointed and deflated. 

Instead, consider starting out by warming up a bit. Technical exercises that isolate fundamental movements, played slowly, are perfect for this. You can find a few fundamental fingersyle exercises elsewhere on the site. If you're not sure what to do, go with some easy scales, switching between right-hand finger combinations. 

Just what are the fundamentals of fingerstyle, exactly? Well, in my view it all boils down to fretting and plucking; left hand and right. We can isolate these movements in each hand and then bring them together. 

Avoid thinking you're too good to refresh or improve upon the basics. Truthfully, even master players are always returning to them. You might even discover that playing through simple exercises is fun, done in the right frame of mind. 

If you want 10 simple fingerstyle exercises that will help you master the fundamental skills you need, check out my brand new ebook, Fingerstyle Fitness.

4) Take Frequent Breaks

take frequent breaks to learn guitar
Relearning guitar is a physical and mental challenge. Both of these aspects benefit tremendously from frequent breaks. But sometimes breaking is easier said than done, so let's break it down. 

For starters, taking a break is not synonymous with taking it easy. In many ways, the easiest thing for guitarists to do is to overplay. Often stepping away from the guitar is crucial to progress. This takes willpower and discipline. 

What may feel like an unnessesary interruption has many benefits. Chief among them pertain to recovery, both mental and physical. Mental recovery means you'll return to prime intention and focus, while physical recovery is key for injury prevention. 

Breaks also facilitate better time-management. They allow you to divide and conquer, to cover each aspect of study in a short and focused practice session. For example, you might do 10 minutes of right-hand work (say, arpeggios), take a break, then isolate a left-hand shift for a while. 

Finally, just when all this breaking sounds like hard work, let me remind you that these breaks can be short. We're talking two minutes in certain cases, just enough time to grab some water and walk around. So you can play for four hours if you like, but just throw in some relief every 20 minutes or so. Your body and mind will thank you. 

5) Slow it Down

why you should play fingerstyle guitar slowly
I've already touched on slow playing above, but given that it's basically the golden rule of instrumental progress, I'll repeat, with emphasis: practice slowly. 

Few players actually do this. I'd go so far as to say few players who know about this , nay, who teach this, actually do this. That's why I feel the need to repeat, over and over, until it's the one thing you take from this post: practice slowly. 

Sometimes you hear musicians say, "If you can play it slow, you can play it fast." This isn't my favorite way of putting things. After all, if you can  play it slow, that doesn't mean you can play it arbitrarily fast, or that speeding up won't  lead to mistakes. 

So let's rather say that slow playing is undoubtedly the basis for speed. And don't think there's anything special about slowness itself. Clearly, slow and fast are relative to the player. It's about accuracy, really. 

If your playing feels slow, you're going to be more accurate, meaning you train the right movements. And the right movements, adopted and sped up, yield skillful playing. Thus you should slow down. 


Relearning fingerstyle guitar is no easier than learning it in the first place. Like most elements of improving as a musician, it's going to be more mental than physical. 

The biggest trap to avoid is to assume 1) you'll never be the player you once were, 2) at best you'll return to your previous level and plateau, or 3) you should practice and learn the same way you did before. 

Relearning doesn't have to mean repeating. Consider using this opportunity to try a new style, teacher, or learning approach. And in terms of learning approaches, I can't recommend my book Fingerstyle Fitness highly enough!