Choosing Fingerings for Sight Reading | Hub Guitar

Choosing Fingerings for Sight Reading

When reading or playing guitar music, fingering refers to the specific indication of which finger will play what fret.

Don’t Count On Fingerings

In the rare event that fingerings are written, they are probably helpful to observe. But you should observe them to get a sense of how to use your fingers tactically while playing complex music–not in order to actually learn to read.

Numbers written above the notes represent suggested fingers to be used.

In fact, if you really want to read music, you should get used to the fact that most sheet music won’t have fingerings.

Finger markings are helpful, but we don’t want to lean on them too much because, like accurate tabs, they won’t always exist.

When reading a piece of music, the choice of fret position and fingerings used can make a very big difference in the difficulty of the piece. And one thing the experts know that the beginners sometimes don’t is that the easiest way to play the thing is probably the best way to play it, too. Since playing the guitar is hard, demanding much effort, skill and concentration, we don’t want to make it any harder by choosing the difficult way of playing a passage.

How to Choose Fingerings

If the fingering is too hard

If the fingering is too hard, you may need to change the fret position. In the case of advanced music, it may be best to change the fret position repeatedly throughout the music, which does complicate things. In this case, you should separate the music into different phrases and try to figure out, for each phrase, where the easiest place on the fretboard is to play it.

If you need time

The ultimate goal is to read the music and choose the fingerings on the spot. But if the difficulty level of the music is beyond the point where you can do this, turn the metronome off and figure out your fingerings. Think of this as a mental process which is slow now (perhaps 5 minutes per measure) but will speed up later (to less than 5 seconds per measure). Realize that the only difference between taking 5 minutes and 5 seconds is time, and that will slowly improve.

Follow the melody’s arc

Consider the event of a melody with the notes “A, B, C”. The fingerings for both note A and C are pre-determined, but the fingering for note B has two choices. Keeping the hand in the same fret position, which fingering seems easier for playing “A, B, C”?

Fingering Practice #1 – Finger Stretch

Play this example in Position I and in position V. For each position, what’s the ideal fingering?

Fingering Practice #2 – Position Switch

This example must begin on the first fret of the low E string. However, it also requires a position shift to at least fret V in order to play the high “C”. Take some time and plan the shift. What’s the smoothest way to play it? Consider using your pinky finger to play multiple notes up a string, leading the way while the rest of the hand follows to position V.

Keep in mind that the goal here is not even to play the example, although you will be able to. The goal is to figure out where on the guitar these notes are, and plan which fingers will be best suited to play what notes.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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