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Advocating Research on Fingering Practice

From: David Raleigh Arnold
Subject: Advocating Research on Fingering Practice
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2005 14:57:20 -0500
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Quoted w/o permission:

[quote][i]Originally posted by donaldsauter[/i]
[br]Jan de Kloe's article "A House Style for Engraving 
Guitar Music" in the most recent Soundboard 
prompted me to get some more thoughts down on the 
subject of guitar fingering notation.
  Richard Long, 
editor of the Soundboard, told me the Letters to the 
Editor column is "defunct" because of the potentially 
large lag between a letter and the article it responded 
to.  He suggested I put my thoughts on the web, and I 
appended them to my page:  


It also gave me the push to finally add some images to 
show my fingering notation system in action.  

Donald Sauter

P.S. Matanya, you wanna donate a page of music to the 
------------------------------------------------- daveA:

I looked, but not very far.  You don't have anything.  You cannot
justify the notion that fingering "note stacks" is the best way.  You
should look at engraved guitar music pre-1880, or faithful copies.  No
forward progress has been made since well before that time.  Before
1880, guitar music was extremely important in music publishing.  By
1890, there was practically none published at all.  The Reads and
Stones, the notation police, having never looked at any of it, know
nothing of the rules of fingering any of it, because piano fingering
is such a rare occurence that the knowledge just disappeared with the
engravers.  Furthermore, the Reads and Stones are blissfully unaware
that guitar music *formed* fingering practice.  Consequently none of
their pronouncements on the topic are worth spit, and mid-twentieth
century practice is not worth much either.  Modern practice is a

If you are not using the first finger, your hand is not in a position,
so a string indication should be used instead of a position
indication.  You ought not to base practice on finger placements that
don't happen.  These things were thought through long ago.  A careful
study of scores will reveal what rules there were.  One, right off, is
that a finger indication *never* directly follows a note.  Some
editions liked fingers at 4:30 to 5:00 instead of 6:00 when the stem
was down, but even that did not become best practice *IMO*.

A few of the rules appear to be, in no particular order:

1.  A finger indication should be as close to its note as possible.

2.  Better close to note head than stem.

3.  The fingering indications should lead the eye from one to the
next.  This is the part a computer will never do satisfactorily, so it
should not even be tried until everything else works for all cases
without problems or errors.  Flow is difficult for rests, let alone

4.  Fingering on staff lines is fine, but never on leger lines.

5.  A finger never directly, meaning at 3:00, follows its note.

6.  You can stack two numbers above or below thirds on the same stem, 
otherwise, but it is better before the notes if there is room.

Often, as now, fingering was an afterthought, and that is a source of
many errors of all sorts.  The space should be allotted in advance of
the notes being placed horizontally, whether done by hand or computer.

I would have much more toleration for stacking right hand fingering
than left, because correct assumptions about it can quickly and easily
be made, because it is one-dimensional, not two-dimensional.  I
didn't find this reflected in old music to any degree, but that means
nothing.  I haven't looked at enough of it.

I want to suggest that you trash all your work so far, and Jan de
Kloe's, and start over with some research to see what *was* done.
Sometimes the baby has to be thrown out with the bath water, or it
just dies and rots.  Welcome to the world of creative people.  "Kill
your darlings", as Mencken said.  If you do otherwise, you are
rejecting at least a century of tradition and expertise in favor of
twentieth century ignorance and know-nothingness.  Certainly it is
possible to suss out the rules and prioritize them.  It needs doing.
You appear to be interested, bless you for it.  Do it.

Here are several online sources of scans:


The latter is for M$W and Mac.  The collection is super.  If you have
linux, I put up some info in the rec.music.classical.guitar newsgroup.
The part three of the Carcassi Method is outstanding for its accuracy
and good left hand fingering.


The only technical exercises for guitar which are worthy of the
instrument consist in "Dynamic Guitar Technique".  I promise miracles.
Get it at:  http://www.openguitar.com/dynamic.html    
daveA         David Raleigh Arnold          dra..at..openguitar.com

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