Most guitarists agree that when fingering a single note melodic passage (scale-like in nature), a consistent alternation of right hand fingers is usually the best. Whether this alternation employs the repeated combination of imim or mama or imam it is not the alternation itself which causes difficulties, but rather the crossing from one string to the next during this alternation. There are some finger crossings which are more comfortable than others and this is where the jigsaw puzzle begins-the experimentation which is required to discover the technical superiority of one fingering over another.
Try playing the following two examples (use rest strokes):
Most will agree that in the previous example the (imim) is much more comfortable and desirable than the latter. Yet, hardly a measure of music can pass where we aren't confronted with similar crossing demanding a choice of appropriate fingers.
We can conclude from this example that if we are fingering some melodic scale-like passage we should attempt to finger it in such a way that as many of the string crossings as possible will follow a 'comfortable' combination of fingers.
In the next example, take a few minutes to finger both the left and right hand parts as simple as 'C scale' in first position. For the right hand,: use either the imim or mimi alternation pattern, -all rest stroke. For the left hand,: use only the first four frets and no slurs. Think: Comfort!
Your first step should have been to locate the string:
Next, you should try each of the alternating right hand patterns, making note of any 'uncomfortable' strings (I've circled the uncomfortable spots which occur naturally with each pattern):
One might think the #2 pattern (mimi) the better choice because there is only one uncomfortable crossing, whereas the #1 pattern (imim) has two. However, in thorough fingering, one must first consider all other possibilities before making a final choice. Besides, it might not be advantageous to begin with the uncomfortable crossing that pattern #2 offers right at the start. What other possibilities are there? Often, a slur might be added to eliminate uncomfortable crossings as long as the expressive quality of the line is still justified. However, in our originally stated premise slurs have been excluded.
Another consideration also excluded from this particular problem, but frequently used, is the introduction of another right hand finger (say, p or a). Be careful, though. A major factor in the practicability of a fingering is its simplicity. Over and over again, a complex fingering that plays neatly and cleanly when the section is isolated becomes a mental hazard to concentration and memorization when the piece is played through. In other words, if you are going along for a while with (imim) and suddenly throw in an ?a? finger to accommodate a string crossing, it might work well in theory but cause havoc in the memorization of such a passage. Still another example occurs in the sequential repetition of a short melodic pattern. The fingering that works well at one point in the sequence does not work so well at another. Nevertheless, the mental security gained by not having to watch for the finger change usually outweighs the slight advantage of the better fingering.
We might experiment with various left hand fingerings to see if string crossings can be changed there. Remaining within the first four frets, our left- hand changes are limited in our example; but there is one which appears promising:
With the above change (?B? played on the 3rd string), the #1 pattern (imim)
is improved to contain only one uncomfortable crossing.
At last, after all possibilities have been considered, you must make the final decision. In this example we?ve boiled the choices down to two:
Alternation pattern #1 (imim) with ?B? played on the third string. Results: one uncomfortable crossing in the middle of the scale.
Alternation pattern #2 (mimi) with ?B? played on the open second string. Results: one uncomfortable crossing at the very start of the scale.
Of course, before we could really decide, a look at what preceded this passage and what was to follow would be necessary. Given what we have, my choice would be (1) - Alternation pattern #1 (imim)
with ?B? on the 3rd string avoids the initial uncomfortable string crossing of pattern #2. Do understand; that either pattern could be used.
Once you have decided upon a fingering, you should, without fail, write it in, placing it unambiguously near the note it concerns in clear, small figures. You will do best to use a light pencil with a good eraser. The fingering must be written in, both for the obvious reason that it would otherwise be forgotten in practice and for the less obvious one that written fingering is a great expediter when the piece is relearned at a later time. This last is more than an advantage; it is virtually a necessity for relearning. The habit of a fingering sticks much better than the recollection of it. When a guitarist tries to relearn a piece that he had failed to finger in writing, he usually finds himself struggling with fingering that fights against the old habits he cannot recall.
Just how much fingering to put in requires good judgment, too. If every note is figured, the fingering becomes a major obstacle in reading. The rule should be to put in fingering wherever and only wherever there may be any chance of ambiguity, then or later. This should also include indications of which notes are to be played with rest stroke.
For technical reasons, many string players occasionally adopt fingerings which do not do justice to the musical content, each such case representing, to some degree, a momentary loss of artistic integrity. We can learn from the great cellist, Pablo Casals, who was uncompromising in this respect. He persistently sought and inevitably found fingerings which fully served the expressive requirements. Conventional finger patterns were discarded if they did not suit the contour of the phrase.
The fact is, an entire book could be written on just left and right hand fingering, but the examples and guidelines discussed thus far have shown the type of experimentation and over-all planning that is required. Good fingering is the precise balance of technical necessities and interpretive demands which provides the fundamental step toward learning, memorization, and retention of music.