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I've been making my first attempts at writing some pieces for solo guitar, and I'm wondering how best to make use of finger and position markings when putting together a final score. I've looked over some guitar pieces and there seems to be a fair bit of variation in terms of how specifically and explicitly things like fingerings and positions are notated. I understand that the overarching goal is efficient communication of the musical idea but I'm wondering if there are any conventions or best practices that I should always be following.

Some specific questions:

1. Is it ever mandatory to include plucking-hand indications (I.e. p, i,m and a)?

I've yet to find a place where these feel useful, and they mostly seem like they add extra clutter. Should these simply be reserved for especially intricate passages or should they be used more liberally?

2. How many fretting-hand markers (if any) are generally expected?

I've found these slightly more useful, but I tend to limit them to situations where a) an open string should be played or b) two adjacent notes are played with the same finger, thus indication a shift in hand position. Is this good and are there any other cases in which you'd expect to see fingering indicated?

3. When and how should I use position markers?

When it comes to indicating position on the fretboard I've seen three different approaches:

Position Markers

a) Simply leaves it up to the performer b) indicates position with a lone roman numeral while c) also adds a line to more explicitly mark which notes are intended. I'm personally leaning towards b) as the cleanest option. I know that c) is often used to indicate a barre (in which case the numeral is preceded by B or C), but I'm not sure which is preferred otherwise.

More general tips would also be appreciated if there's anything important I've not asked about.

  • I don't write scores, but when it comes to reading them, for non-educational pieces, I prefer when fretting hand indications are used sparingly, and picking hand indications even more so. In only a small amount of cases, I find that fretting indications, except barre indications, rarely actually add to the score. They mostly seem to reflect some editors' personal preference, instead of a guide to best prepare the current position for the transition to the next. As such they add clutter. This goes even more for picking indications. But maybe that's me :) – Willem van Rumpt Jan 30 at 10:41
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To an extent, it's going to depend on who might be playing the piece. Beginners seem to appreciate being told how to play things, and that's understandable. Seasoned players will look at the dots and often instinctively know what's entailed.

I agree that the plucking hand letters are mainly redundant, and players will adopt their own fingering, even if there's pima written in.

The barre marks are quite useful to just about everyone, as it explicitly states where something is most effectively played.It's probably best to include the bracket, so that the player can see where the need to move positions lies. Preceded by B or C is useful, as is a half-barre sign if needed.

The objects of writing music are to convey as much as you can to the player, without over-inking the page, and to make it as clear as possible what you'd like played, and how. But bear in mind, as already said, who that person may be: beginner, student, teacher, professional. Give information accordingly.

  • Thanks for answering! To clarify: I was wondering if/when I should also indicate position when there isn't a barre, as is the case in my example notation. Would you still want a line/bracket or would you leave it entirely up to the performer? – user57228 Jan 30 at 11:07
  • No barre sign surely could mean no barre! No need. Only use when it's useful. I don't think that would be. It should be obvious to most, usually as the bass line would entail using an open string, and other notes are not particularly high. – Tim Jan 30 at 11:14

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