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how do I play a piece of classical guitar when the fingers (pima) are not indicated, do I just figure it out??

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Playing guitar does not have to involve strict adherence to someone else's ideas about how a piece should be played. The guitar as an instrument, lends itself quite well to creative interpretation and adaptation.

When someone writes the notation for a piece of guitar music and adds the finger indications (P I M A), those can be treated as "suggestions". The suggestions often have some merit and might represent the easiest and most efficient way for most guitarist to play the piece. But you will be playing the same notes regardless of which finger you use. So if you find it easier to play a particular note with your index finger than your ring finger, you can play it that way - regardless of the "suggested" finger.

So to answer your question - yes. In the absence of someone notating their suggested fingering, you simply figure out what works for you. You may see that the notes can be played using a finger picking pattern that you are comfortable playing. If so, use that pattern. Typically the bass strings (5th and 6th) will be played with the thumb and the middle and treble strings with the index, middle and ring finger, depending on the pattern.

Some guitarist rarely use their ring finger, preferring to use only the thumb, index, and middle finger and seem to play quite well. So they would generally ignore any "suggested" fingering that included the ring finger.

You might need to experiment - measure by measure, to see what you are most comfortable with. Then you can write the P I M A notation yourself if you feel the need to memorialize what you work out.

Good luck and keep it fun. And don't be afraid to experiment.

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  • Certainly agree with your first statement. That's where tab is a let down - it's doing exactly that - someone's idea of how something should be played. Not PIMA, but a similar concept (or misconcept?) – Tim Dec 8 '15 at 10:34
  • @tim I suppose it depends if they've watched a video of the music's composor and got a note-by-note transposition, or just made it up! – Mr. Boy Dec 8 '15 at 13:02
  • @Mr.Boy Even a direct transcript from the original composer is nothing more than his/her idea of how it should be played. Does not make it right or wrong, or mean that someone else can't improve upon it. Jason Mraz totally changed the way he plays the song I'm Yours because some kid on YouTube did a cover and showed him a much better way to play his own song. He ended up inviting the Kid on stage at a concert to play it. There are several YouTube vid's about it including some where Jason tells the story about the kid who taught him a better way to play his own song. – Rockin Cowboy Dec 8 '15 at 16:26
  • True but that's an exception. If a band is just (not that this is bad) trying to imitate the original artist then the version they do is at the very least a good reference. – Mr. Boy Dec 8 '15 at 17:09
  • @Mr.Boy True - if your goal is to emulate and sound just like the original artists, then tabs or notation that show what the original artists played it like once is a good reference point. But original artist often change their arrangements after they start playing them live and discover different ways to play them. Some rarely play the songs the same way twice. I personally like to develop my own interpretation of how a song should be played vs. attempting to replicate the original artist. I know that I will never sound exactly like the original artist so my thing is "why try?". – Rockin Cowboy Dec 8 '15 at 21:00

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