Classic Guitar Lesson #2: Right/Left Hand Usage When Playing the Guitar

The Right Hand

Right Hand Usage

Right Hand Usage

In classical guitar music, there are designated letters for each right hand finger. You can see these letters in classical guitar music sheets because it indicates what finger to use on playing a certain note. These letters come from Spanish words:

p – for pulgar or thumb

i – for indice or index finger

m – for media or middle finger

a – for anular or ring finger


The right hand takes the prime responsibility on the quality of tone and volume produced through playing the guitar.

In playing the classical guitar, fingernail shape and length are important because it affects the tone produced by the guitarist. The perfect warm tone is achieved through maximizing the use of both fingernail and finger. When you pluck a string, both the fingernail and finger should work on the attack and release of the string. If the fingernail is too long and not shaped well, there would be some bright, scratchy sound, and also, there would be a difficulty in releasing the strings each time you pluck. When the fingernail is too short, the maximization of volume and rich tone will not be achieved.

The shape and length of the fingernail depends on what works best for your hand because we all have different shapes of fingernails, some are flat and some are curved. But generally, this shape and length works well for most of the classical guitarists:

Recommended Fingernails Shape


David Russell, the Grammy Award winner classical guitarist, showing his fingernail length and shape.

Photo Source:


Two Ways of Striking a String:


  • Rest Stroke

It is plucking a string and the finger is brought to rest on the adjacent string.


  • Free Stroke

It is plucking a string and the finger is lifted slightly after to avoid touching or resting on to the adjacent string.


The Left Hand

The Left Hand

In classical guitar music, numbers are used to indicate specific left-hand fingerings. The thumb is not used to press a string. The thumb should press against the center of the back of the neck. This allows the left hand to move freely across the neck, and also, the left-hand fingers can switch to different positions easily.

To avoid string buzzing, the left-hand fingers should press the strings close to the fret after it.


Next Lesson: Basics of Music Notes