Which Fingers Should I Use For Fingerstyle Guitar?

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In the world of guitar playing, there are two major playing styles, fingerstyle, and picking. With fingerstyle, you use your fingers to play. With picking, you use a pick or a plectrum.

Suppose you decided that you will start playing guitar using the fingerstyle. How do you go ahead and play? You may be thinking – Which fingers should I use for fingerstyle guitar?

You generally use the first four fingers in your hand to play guitar. The common term used amongst guitarists is the PIMA. The acronym refers to the first four fingers in your hands in Latin. These are for Pulgar (Thumb), Indice (Index), Medio (Medium), and Anular (Ring). The pinky finger is rarely used.

This article explores the fingers you can use to play fingerstyle guitar. We will also look into some common questions about fingerstyle guitar, such as if you can use your pinky to play guitar.   

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Which Fingers Should I Use For Fingerstyle Guitar?

What Is Fingerstyle Guitar?

Fingerstyle guitar is a style of playing guitar. In fingerstyle, players use their fingers to pluck and strike the guitar strings. Fingerstyle guitars usually allow more complex plays and precise playing. Some popular fingerstyle guitar players today include Jung Sungha and Tommy Emmanuel.

To play guitar, you have two major ways to do it. One is to use a pick or plectrum. These small, thin pieces of coin-size material are used to strike your guitar strings. You may see this used by rockers. 

Another way is to use fingerstyle. In this technique, you use your fingers to strike the strings and make sounds

Depending on the style of music you are playing, you may be striking the strings using the meaty part of your fingertip or the nails. Fingertip strikes produce a softer sound that rises slower, while nails produce louder sounds that peak faster too.

Generally, fingerstyle guitar playing allows you to play more complexly and precisely. This is because when you play fingerstyle, you have up to five striking surfaces, compared to only one when using a pick.

This allows you to execute techniques such as playing polyphonically and playing several independent musical lines together. You also can play non-adjacent strings at the same time.

However, fingerstyle guitars do have some issues, such as strings. Since fingers and nails are soft objects, playing fingerstyle on steel strings can injure them. As a result, some fingerstyle players use only nylon or lighter gauge steel strings.

Which Fingers Should I Use For Fingerstyle Guitar?

The general guitars use the thumb, index, middle, and index fingers when playing fingerstyle guitar. The collective term used to describe these fingers are the PIMA, which refers to these fingers in Latin. Generally, different fingers are assigned different strings to play.

When playing fingerstyle, you generally use the first four fingers to play them. You use your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. The pinky finger is rarely used to play guitar, although it is possible to use them. 

Within the world of guitarists, using the term PIMA to refer to these four fingers is common. You may see it used in places such as tabs or sheet music to refer to which fingers you should use. 

PIMA refers to the four fingers, but in Latin:

  • Pulgar (Thumb)
  • Indice (Index)
  • Medio (Medium)
  • Anular (Ring)

Generally, when you play fingerstyle, your fingers may only be assigned to play certain strings. Below is the common guidance many guitarists use:

StringPlaying Finger
BIndex, Middle, Ring
GIndex, Middle
DIndex, Thumb

Your Fingers Can Reach The Strings Better

There are many reasons why only certain fingers are used to play certain fingers. One is that some fingers can reach certain strings faster and play them better due to your hand position.

Take, for example. Your thumb. When playing guitar, your strumming hand tends to point downwards. This means your thumb would be closest to the first two strings on your guitar, the low E and A string. 

As a result, it is only natural that you use your thumb to play these two strings. You can also apply the same logic to the ring finger and explain why playing the high E string makes sense.

Your Hand Stays At The Same Place

Another reason for using the finger assignment is that if you play following the finger position, you get to keep your hand in the same place. This allows you to use the other fingers to play the other strings instead.

You may not be able to achieve this if you try to play the low E string using your ring finger. This is because your other playing fingers would be too far away from other strings to play anything. 

You may also struggle to play the next note since your fingers are far from the strings. 

Allows You To Play Multiple Strings At The Same Time

Which Fingers Should I Use For Fingerstyle Guitar?

Following the assignment above, you may also notice that you can play multiple strings simultaneously. This allows you to expand your playing, such as playing multiple melodic lines simultaneously. 

This playing style is polyphonic, which is quite common with classical fingerstyle guitarists. The thumb plays the bass lines, while the other three fingers produce the melodic and lead lines.

Do You Play The Bass Guitar With PIMA Fingers Too?

Most bass players do not play using the PIMA technique. Instead, they mostly play using multiple fingerstyles. Some play with only the thumb, some use the index and middle fingers, and some use the first three fingers. Many also enjoy using picks. 

In general, most bass guitar players do not play using the PIMA technique. Instead, bass players tend to use multiple fingering styles:

Thumb Only: This may be the most common bass-playing technique. Only the thumb is used to strike the strings, with the meatiest part of the thumb used. The playing motion is similar to how you use your thumb to play regular guitars.

Two Fingers: With two finger technique, bassists use their index and middle finger to play the bass. This technique allows faster playing, although it may not generate loud sounds.

Three Fingers: The three-finger technique combines the thumb, index, and middle fingers. This playing technique may be the closest to PIMA since the hand position and string playing assignments are similar. 

Aside from the three techniques mentioned, many bass players enjoy playing their instrument using a pick. Bassists that play hard, heavy music tend to enjoy using picks. 

Bass players generally do not require their ring finger since only four strings are on a bass guitar.

Can I Use My Pinky For Fingerstyle Guitar?

Although this is uncommon, you can use your pinky to play fingerstyle guitar. This is because the PIMA fingers are good enough to play all six strings on the guitar. However, some techniques, such as Rasgueado, may require using the pinky finger to play well.

You can use your pinky to play guitar, although it is uncommon. This is because the pinky may be viewed as a liability instead of an asset within the fingerstyle guitar-playing world. 

The Pinky May Not Be Strong Enough 

First, is that the pinky is not a strong finger. It is generally the smallest and thinnest finger in the hand. Aside from the thumb, the pinky finger is also the shortest compared to the other fingers.

Naturally, that means it has the least strength to play the strings. It cannot also stretch and reach the strings to play them well.

If you pick strings using your pinky, you may not be able to produce sounds as loud as other strings, causing consistency issues with your sounds. 

It may Interfere With Other Fingers

If you look into our fingers, they somehow share similar connections. This may be good news and can also be an issue when playing guitar

For example, the pinky and the ring finger share the same tendon insertion. It may be much harder to move your ring or pinky finger without moving the other. 

Translating that into guitar playing means you may have issues using them independently to play. 

As a result, guitarists tend to choose to use the ring instead of the pinky since it is a stronger finger and is closer to the guitar strings.

Your Hand May Go Out Of Optimal Position

Another reason the pinky finger is not popular with guitarists is its position when playing guitar.

If you place your hand to ensure you can play your PIMA fingers well, the pinky may feel out of place and is not good enough to play any strings well and comfortably.

However, suppose you move your hand slightly higher to accommodate your pinky. In that case, you may notice that your other fingers are no longer in the optimal position. 

For example, playing the low E and B strings may start to feel a little awkward.

As a result, most guitarists prefer to keep their hands in the optimal position and not play using the pinky finger.

The PIMA Is Good Enough

Now that guitarists have noticed the general weakness of the pinky, they also decided not to use it since the PIMA is good enough. In many cases, the four fingers in PIMA are capable of helping you play all six strings well. 

You may use your pinky only in certain very specific techniques, such as Rasgueado. Rasgueado is a technique used in Flamenco, where all five fingers are used to brush against the strings to produce a sweeping, rapid sound.

In some cases, guitarists may use the pinky to support the other fingers. For example, you may notice some fingerstyle players stretch out their pinkies while playing. 

Some players believe that by doing so, they increase the tension in their palms, helping their other fingers to play better.

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