L204 Fingering Principles 1

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L204 Fingering Principles 1

This lesson is included in the comprehensive Technique & Musicianship Course Level 2 in our membership packages! Over 3 hours of video and more than 20 worksheet downloads will guide you through a structured and focused course of study.

Fingering principles for the classical guitar

Good fingering on the classical guitar can make a huge difference in both technical and musical aspects. It can completely change the way a passage of music sounds and feels. In the next level we will look at musical fingering vs. technical fingering but right now I want to talk about basic concepts that will set you on a good path to fingering your own pieces.

Playing in position.

Way back in the Fundamentals of classical guitar we looked at the first position. This essentially means that the first finger is playing on the first fret, the second finger on the second fret, third on third, and fourth on fourth. It is going to be the first finger which defines the position, so if we play with the first finger on the fifth fret, second on sixth, third on seventh, and fourth on eighth, we are playing in the fifth position.

Playing in position has its uses for communication purposes (for a teacher to tell a student where to play), but the reality is that we move around the fingerboard quite a lot and rarely do we stay fixed in one position (The exception to this is in the beginning stages, where we often play music that is only in the first position). The other reason that playing in position quickly goes out the door is that we have to play more than one note at a time, we have to play chords. When this happens there are often two notes on the same fret, but on different strings, so obviously we can’t maintain the ‘one finger per fret’ rule.

Where you came from and where you are going

If you have a chord, just one chord by itself, you will most likely find a nice fingering for that chord. However, if you haven’t though about what your fingers were doing in the music leading up to that chord, you might find yourself in a tangled situation that disturbs the musical flow. Similarly, you need to consider where you are going after that chord has sounded. If you have to play some notes that are at the other end of the fingerboard, or are in a complex arrangement it might affect your choice of fingering. As you will start to see, fingering is not an exact science rather a series of choices and decisions.

Available fingers 

Moving smoothly and quickly around the guitar is often dependent on clever fingering. Watching a great guitarists left hand is sometimes like watching a tiny team or acrobats perform in synchronization. When one finger jumps from one sting to another, there is inevitably a small disruption in the music, a pause. If it is on the same string it could be a guide finger, which is smoother, but it is far better to find an available finger to use rather than jump all the time. This free finger needs to be prepared, so that it can easily get to the next note without any sharp movements. This technique, called left hand preparation is covered in Level 3.

Your hands, your fingering.

There are many instances where you will come across an edition of music that has specific fingerings. They might be great, or they might be lousy, or they just simply might not suit your hands. Often, a guitarist will finger an edition of music based on her own technical and musical preferences. If these preferences don’t match up with yours then you are very much within your rights to change the fingerings. It is probably worth your time to understand why the editor has made those choices, but it isn’t gospel. There are famous anecdotes of students butting heads with Segovia, because they did not use his particular fingerings, and while I believe showing respect to your teacher is important, it is a bit extreme for a teacher to force fingerings on to an independently curious student.

The thumb.

The thumb is marked on the score with the letter ‘p’ This letter comes from the Spanish name for the thumb, pulgar. In general you will be using the thumb for the bass notes, and bass strings (4th, 5th, and 6th strings) It does sometimes get used for the treble strings but this is the exception rather than the rule. The thumb works quite differently from the fingers and you can easily repeat the thumb within a passage. If you have ever seen a flamenco player you know that the thumb can actually be played very quickly.

Conclusion

The final word I will say on this topic, at the beginner/intermediate level is to think. Think about your options, experiment with several ideas and make choices. It is not good enough simply to take the first or simplest option. We often end up playing repertoire pieces for a very long time, so it is well worth the extra hours in the beginning to find a fingering that works for you and expresses your ideas.

Classical guitar technique course

2016-10-24T00:20:04+00:00 1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Frank Verano July 17, 2014 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    There is one thing that should be added. Assignment of fingerng, etc. early in the learning of a composition is a must in order to memorize it because then you are remembering a fingering pattern which is always easier to remember rather than the rote plucking of strings. If you don’t then you will be dependent on always relearning the composition. This kind of memory is called ‘memory for design.’ We all have it to some extent. But some people are much better at it than others. Classical guitarist have such a need much like a pianist. A violinist has to play only one note at a time and his memory for design is a basic one. He has to make sure the bow movement is correct for each type of note. .

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