How do I know which right-hand fingers to use on classical guitar?

So, coming from a violin background where the most the right side of your body does is move back-and-forth, the whole finger-picking thing on classical guitar has been throwing me for a loop.

The little "Teach Yourself" book has been phenomenal, but, as is "duh," you can't beat a live teacher. The pretty Aria duet that they have me learning is a little interesting. There are no fingerings written in for the right hand, but at the beginning in a little blurb, it says that your p finger should handle all of it.

That's fine. But some of the notes are on the third string. I was under the impression that your m and i fingers handled the top three strings, and bass was taken care of by the thumb. Is there a rule? The third string is as high as the song goes. They have me using my other fingers in different songs. What's the trick to knowing which fingers to pick a string with?

• At least one major style of classical guitar assigns one finger per string, although that breaks down with 6 strings. I prefer to strive for that where possible and also rotate fingers when repeatedly plucking one string.
– user28
Oct 9, 2016 at 5:11
• The general rule is thumb for bass line, yes, but that's just an orientation. If you are self-learning, you should definitely get a sheet with full fingering. For example delcamp.net/pdf/… delcamp.net/pdf/… Oct 9, 2016 at 5:27
• Using just the p finger for 4 strings, and never using other fingers is very unusual. They probably have some special reason for it, like later you will have to improvise with your other fingers on strings 1 and 2. You may want to include a wider context in your question, so people here could determine or guess the reason for the special fingering. Oct 9, 2016 at 10:12
• Often beginner studies have the RH fingers marked - the `p,i,m,a` notation on the score. But if there's a default pattern it's either to assign each finger to a string (with `p` taking the rest), or favor a finger for each voice (`p` for bass, `a` for melody, `i,m` for middle arpeggios is common) - often with the same results. Oct 23, 2016 at 16:32

Generally, thumb gets used for the bass line, when it exists, and it's usually on 6and 5, sometimes 4. A reason, apart from the physical proximity is the sound. That leaves 1,2,3 and 4 to be played with fingers. Some players use i,m and a most of the time, but when I've taught, pinky comes into play (sic) when needed - most often on top string.

Like fingering for piano, recommendations are somewhat subjective, and won't work for all, so don't rely on being told everything! Work it out for yourself! Try different ways! Then you'll have a better idea in the future, when you'll play things spontaneously, without even thinking which finger plays which note. Ease of playing, speed, sound quality and which strings you need are all factors, so there will be compromises, and when you've found them, you own them!

That's fine. But some of the notes are on the third string. I was under the impression that your m and i fingers handled the top three strings, and bass was taken care of by the thumb. Is there a rule? The third string is as high as the song goes. They have me using my other fingers in different songs. What's the trick to knowing which fingers to pick a string with?

Yes, these are all very much one of the types of right-hand picking techniques you should know as a classical guitarist. It is called strong free-stroke. It is where your thumb plucks the four low strings and your index and middle pluck the B and high E strings.

The one you mention is called regular free-stroke. The one where your thumb plays the E, A and D strings and the Index, Middle and Ring play the other three.

For more details on the various right hand picking techniques see my answer on this question.

• This discusses free stroke, probably compared with rest stroke. Both of which can be played with any finger or thumb. It matters not which string is plucked, surely?
– Tim
Oct 9, 2016 at 17:55
• I may have been a little bit confused. I don't mean Apoyando and Tirando. Oct 10, 2016 at 7:54

I was taught that as well. Generally, using that i m and a for the top 3 strings and the p for the bass strings is fundamental for the player to get familiar with where the strings are. However, once you get passed that point you can use any finger anywhere! Too, if this was the case, playing a quick scale passage would be, as you can image, pretty difficult. :)