What are the Classical Guitar Finger Names?

When you’re learning classical or flamenco guitar, one of the first things you need to know is what to call the left and right hand fingers.

Learning the finger names will not only help you discuss how to play guitar, but it’s also necessary in order to read sheet music.

In guitar, the left hand finger names are numbers (1-4) and the right finger names are letters (p-i-m-a).

image of left and right hand showing the classical guitar finger names and numbers
Guitar Finger Names & Numbers

Keep reading to see the breakdown of the fingers on each hand. You’ll also get answers 5 frequently asked questions about guitar fingerings.

Let’s dive in!

Finger Names for the Left Hand on Guitar

The left hand finger names on classical guitar are 1, 2, 3, and 4. Here’s the numeric order of the left hand fingers:

  • 1 = Index Finger
  • 2 = Middle Finger
  • 3 = Ring Finger
  • 4 = Pinky Finger or Little Finger

Classical guitarists don’t use the left hand thumb to press on the strings or frets. Therefore, the left hand thumb doesn’t have a number associated with it.

Finger Names for the Right Hand on Guitar

Classical and flamenco guitarists use letters to represent the right hand fingers instead of numbers. Fingerstyle guitarists also use these letters for right hand finger picking. These letters are abbreviations for the Spanish language finger names:

  • p = Thumb (pulgar)
  • i = Index Finger (indice)
  • m = Middle Finger (medio)
  • a = Ring Finger (anular)
  • c = Pinky Finger (chiquito)

Except for an occasional rasgueado strum, classical guitarists typically don’t play using using the right hand pinky finger. However, rasgueados using the pinky finger are quite common in flamenco guitar playing.

Alternative right hand pinky names

Although the letter c is the most common way to represent the right hand pinky, flamenco guitarists use several variations:

  • ñ = meñique or pequeño
  • ch = chiquito
  • d = el dedo meñique
  • e = meñique or extremo
  • s = señalar
  • x = not a specific term but just an reference

Flamenco guitarist Juan Martín typically uses the letter e to represent the pinky. Paco Peña uses the letter x, and Juan Serrano uses the letter s.

So as you can see, there’s a lot of alternative pinky finger names out there. But keep in mind these are rarely seen compared to the letter c, for chiquito.

5 FAQs about Guitar Fingerings

Here’s five more frequently asked questions about guitar fingerings. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments!

What is PIMA?

You might hear classical guitarists say PIMA, in which case they’re just referring to the right hand thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. It’s common to leave out the name of the right hand pinky finger because classical guitarists don’t use it for plucking.

What does the pinky finger do in guitar?

Left Hand Pinky

The left hand pinky finger is extremely important for playing guitar. You’ll often play melody notes with the pinky, and it’s also good for both vertical and horizontal stretches.

If you’re a beginner, you might notice that the left hand fourth finger is very weak, stiff, or slow. But don’t worry! Over time you’ll be able to stretch your pinky further, move it faster, and ensure that the pad of the finger doesn’t collapse on the fretboard.

So how can you train your left pinky finger for guitar? I recommend you get a copy of the Segovia slur exercises or Pumping Nylon. Both of these books offer terrific daily exercises that will strengthen your pinky fast.

Left Hand Finger Numbness

Please note that if you ever experience numbness and tingling in the pinky, this might be due to ulnar nerve entrapment. This can happen with repetitive wrist movements over time.

I don’t want to offer explicit medical advice, but if you feel numbness in the pinky then you should let it rest and it will usually go away on its own. Obviously if the pain is excruciating, you should see a medical professional.

Right Hand Pinky

Other than a very occasional rasgueado, or strum, classical guitarist don’t use the right hand finger to play the strings. In fact, many classical guitarists can go their entire life without ever having to use their right hand pinky finger.

Since flamenco guitarists use rasgueados on a regular basis, they utilize the right hand pinky often. They use it on a technique called the 5-stroke rasgueado, where the pinky is actually the first finger to strike the strings.

In both classical and flamenco guitar, you’ll never want to use the right hand pinky finger to pluck the guitar strings. From the natural order of fingers, it would seem that the pinky finger would be in the best position to play on the high treble strings. However, it’s also the weakest finger on the hand, so it’s actually not ideal for plucking. Instead, you want a stronger finger to play the treble strings since those are usually responsible for the melody.

Do right hand fingerings make a difference on classical guitar?

Your right hand fingerings absolutely make a difference when playing classical guitar. In fact, developing a proper right hand technique on guitar will allow you to play with more expression and finesse.

Generally speaking, you want to alternate your right hand fingers for each note you play. The most common pattern for right hand finger alternation is i-m-i-m. When it comes to playing arpeggios, you definitely don’t want to repeat fingers.

If you play with inconsistent right hand fingerings or repeat fingers, you’ll encounter the following problems:

  • The notes you play can sound choppy
  • Your phrasing won’t sound as smooth as it could
  • Your playing speed will be impeded
  • Right hand patterns will be harder to memorize
  • You’ll develop bad habits that will prevent you from being as versatile as possible

Do classical guitarists use finger picks?

Unlike steel string acoustic guitar players, classical guitarists don’t use finger picks to play guitar. However, some classical guitarists will use artificial fingernails.

Can I use a pick on a classical guitar?

Yes, you can use a pick on a classical nylon string guitar. However, you won’t be able to play much classical guitar music using a pick because most pieces require you to play multiple different strings at the same time. Simply put, classical guitar technique requires you to play without a pick.

Ultimately, you’ll need to play using your right hand fingers if you want to play classical or flamenco guitar music.

Conclusion

Now you know all the classical guitar finger names and numbers! If you have any questions or insights, please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Published by Jonathan Richter

Classical guitarist, teacher and ethnomusicologist based in Atlanta, GA

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