Classical Guitar 101: String Names, Finger Names and More


Are you beginning to learn the guitar? If so, you’re in the right place.

Below you’ll find many of the basics of guitar. These are words and labels that are useful to know as a beginner. You’ll find the names and numbers of the guitar strings, and guitar finger names and numbers. You’ll discover the parts of the guitar, and how to tune your guitar.

However, the most important part of learning guitar is playing guitar. This means your hands are on the instrument and you are doing something intentional. As a beginner, just about anything you do on guitar will bring you forward.

So certainly learn the guitar lessons below. But let your main goals include fingers touching guitar strings.

 

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Standard Guitar String Names and Numbers

On guitar, each string has both a letter name (note name) and string numbers.

The 6 strings of the guitar are numbered 1–6 from the thinnest string (closest to the floor) to the thickest string (lowest note).

The note names of the strings often go in the opposite direction – from big to little.

From biggest to smallest strings, the guitar string notes are E A D G B E (This is the standard guitar tuning).

guitar strings names and numbers

Click here for a lesson in learning to read musical notation for guitar.

Guitar String Names Acronyms and Mnemonics

It can be difficult to memorize the string names “E A D G B E” alone. An acronym or mnemonic device may be a helpful way to remember. This gives a word for each letter, in an easy-to-remember phrase.

Some common guitar string name acronyms are:

  • Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears (“dogs” is also common for D)
  • Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
  • Every American Dollar Goes Back East
  • Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually

Each of the above acronyms appeals to different ages and personalities. There are also countless others, and you can make up your own for the guitar strings in standard tuning.

The Guitar Finger Names

On the guitar, we have names for our right- and left-hand fingers.

classical guitar finger names

Classical Guitar Finger Names

 

Finger Names for the Left Hand

First, the left hand fingers on guitar are named 1, 2, 3 and 4. This is from pointer to little finger.

The thumb is just the thumb. No number. (Though in some folk method books we see it labeled “T”, or “0.”)

So for the Left Hand:

  • Index Finger = 1
  • Middle Finger = 2
  • Ring Finger = 3
  • Pinky Finger (little finger) = 4
  • Thumb = Thumb

Click here for beginner exercises for the left hand fingers.

Finger Names for the Right Hand on Guitar

The right hand fingers are mostly used for classical guitar. Some folk methods label the right fingers differently. But the names below have been standard for generations in classical guitar. The names come from the finger names in Spanish.

Right Hand Fingers:

  • Thumb = P (pulgar)
  • Index Finger = I (indice)
  • Middle Finger = M (medio)
  • Ring Finger = A (anular)
  • Little Finger = C (chiquito. d, ñ, and ch are also used)

Click here for a beginner lesson on good right hand movements for classical guitar.

Free Ebook: How to Practice Guitar Pieces

Parts of the Guitar

Each part of the guitar has a name. Apart from a few key guitar terms, these are largely trivia (unless you build guitars).

The guitar parts are named similar to human body parts. Looking at the guitar, we can imagine a long-necked woman. This is said to have inspired the names.

The most important to know for practical use are the strings, frets and tuning keys.

parts of the guitar

Fret Numbers on Guitar

The frets are the horizontal lines on the image above. On guitar, these are the metal crosspieces on the guitar neck (also referred to as the guitar fretboard).

Frets are numbered. Zero (0) is the open string. This means no fingers are pressed on the string.

From there, we call them in order, starting with one (1) and moving up. On a classical guitar, the body meets the neck at the 12th fret. More on parts of the guitar below.

When pressing a finger on a string, do so just behind the fret. This sounds best and takes the least effort.

How to Tune Your Guitar

There are many methods with which we can tune a guitar. If you’ve just started to learn guitar, the easiest tuning method will be with an electronic tuner or app.

You can search your phone or device app-store for “guitar tuner” and find free and paid options.

When doing so, it helps to know the names of the open strings and numbers, found above.

Another easy way of tuning is to make one open string (no fingers on the string) sound like a note on another string. This lets us get the guitar in tune with itself.

Using this method, the guitar may not be in tune with what the rest of the world defines as “in tune”. Standard tuning is when the A = 440hz. This means that the note “A” vibrates 440 per second. This is what most tuning forks are set to. And this is what an electronic tuner will tell you is in tune.

No matter. The main thing is that you can play guitar notes and they sound good.

tune a guitar diagram

To tune a guitar, play the not with the black dot and match the sound to the adjacent open string.

Here’s the method:

  • Place a finger on the fifth fret of the bottom string (low E string). Make a nice tunnel so you don’t touch the 5th string.
  • Now play the open (no fret pressed) 5th string.
  • These two notes should sound the same. If not, turn the tuning key for the 5th string until it matches the 6th string pitch.
  • Then repeat with the other strings.

One exception: when we go to tune the 2nd string, we press the 4th fret of the 3rd string (G string), not the 5th fret like all the others.

So the order of frets, from string 6 down to one are: 55545

This will take some getting used to. Tuning by ear takes practice. To help train your ear, you can first use an electronic tuner or app, then go through this process afterward. This will help you learn what “in tune” sounds like. And it will let you practice the guitar tuning process, without having to actually tune.

For more methods to tune your guitar, see this tutorial.


How Olde-World Tunings Led to the Current Standard Guitar Tuning

Free Ebook: Learn Any Piece in 7 Easy Steps

From the Renaissance forward, guitar tunings have become more standard. With the rise in printing and popular method books, trends were set and continue.

Evolution from Early Stringed Instruments

The guitar has a long history dating back to ancient times. Early stringed instruments, such as lutes and vihuelas, had various tunings. The guitar’s tuning evolved from these instruments, with the desire to create a tuning that balanced playability, range, and harmonic possibilities.

Standardization

Over time, as the guitar became more popular in Europe, certain tunings began to emerge as standard or common. The tuning of EADGBE gradually gained popularity because it allowed for a good balance of open chord shapes and melodic possibilities.

Influence of Western Music

EADGBE tuning aligns with the Western musical tradition, which often involves playing in keys like C major, G major, D major, A minor, and E minor. This tuning provides open chord forms for these keys, making it easier for guitarists to play in those keys without excessive retuning.

Chord Shapes and Ease of Play

EADGBE tuning offers a wide range of chord shapes and fingerings that are relatively comfortable for guitarists. It allows for easy access to common major, minor, and dominant chords in various positions on the fretboard.

Historical Precedent in Guitar Tuning

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, EADGBE tuning had become widely accepted as the standard string order for the six-string guitar. This historical precedent further solidified its use.

Common Alternate Tunings

There are near-infinite tunings possible. We are limited only by our imaginations.

Over the years, some alternate tunings have proven useful and popular.

Drop D – D A D G B E

Drop D is the second most common tuning for classical guitar music. We tune the low E (6th string) down two tones to D.

This tuning expands the low register of the guitar and gives a rich, resonant sound. It also provides for the three lowest strings to sound good together. This can create a drone or “pedal.” And it allows the guitarist to play higher on the next while keeping the low strings ringing.

Renaissance Tuning: E A D F# B E

For many lute songs of thet Renaissance, we tune the G down to F#. This was a popular tuning of the day.

Lutes generally have several bass strings. So the guitarist would mainly fret on the higher strings while playing the low lines with open strings. This tuning worked well for that.

D A D G A D

DADGAD is popular in Celtic music and with fingerstyle players. It lends itself to over-ringing notes and drone effects.

Many famous guitarists have used DADGAD. Such as:

  • Pierre Bensusan: A French-Algerian guitarist known for his fingerstyle acoustic guitar work, Bensusan is often associated with DADGAD tuning and has composed many pieces in this tuning.
  • Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin): Page used DADGAD tuning for several Led Zeppelin songs, including “Kashmir” and “White Summer/Black Mountain Side.”
  • Davey Graham: An influential British guitarist and folk musician, Davey Graham is often credited with popularizing DADGAD tuning in the folk and acoustic guitar world.
  • Richard Thompson: The British folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson has used DADGAD tuning in his acoustic and electric guitar playing.

Open Chord Tunings

The tunings below create a full chord when all open strings are played. This lends itself well to slide guitar.

Players using these tunings may use a capo to change the open chord to match the current song.

Open D – D A D F# A D 

Open D Tuning Guitar

Used by: Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Ry Cooder

 

Open G – D G D G B D

Open G Tuning Guitar

Used by: Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks

 

Open E – E B E G# B E

Open E tuning guitar

Used by: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Rory Gallagher, Joni Mitchell

While Joni Mitchell is known for using various alternate tunings, she has occasionally employed Open E tuning in her songs, such as “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Open C – C G C G C E 

Open C Tuning Guitar

Used by: John Fahey, Nick Drake

 


Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 


I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.





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