Classical Guitar 101: String Names, Finger Names and More
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Table of contents
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.
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 String Names and Numbers
6th string = low E string (biggest)
5th string = A string
4th string = D string
3rd string = G string
2nd string = B string
1st string = high E string (smallest)
Click here for a lesson in learning to read musical notation for guitar.
Guitar String Names Acronyms
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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