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How to Position Your Right Hand for Classical Guitar

To sound authentic when you play classical guitar, you must play it in the classical style. After posture, learning how to position your right-hand is the most critical consideration for achieving a true classical guitar sound. You must play with your right hand in the correct position and execute the correct finger strokes.

Right-hand position

The most important thing to remember about right-hand position is that you hold your fingers — index, middle, and ring — perpendicular to the strings as they strike. (You normally don’t use the little finger in classical guitar.)

This positioning is no easy feat. Why? Because your hand, which is an extension of your arm, naturally falls at about a 60-degree angle to the strings. Try it. See? But if you hold your fingers at an angle, you can’t get maximum volume from the strings. To get the strongest sound (which you need to do to bring out melodies from the bass and inner voices), you must strike the strings at a 90-degree angle — perpendicular.

Rotate your right hand at the wrist so that the fingers fall perpendicular to the strings and your thumb stays about 1 1/2 inches to the left (from your vantage point) of your index finger. Rest your right-hand thumb and fingers (index, middle, and ring) on the 6th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings, respectively.

If you’re serious about perfecting classical right-hand technique, place all four fingers (thumb, index, middle, and ring) on the same string (the 3rd, say), lining them up in a row. By positioning your fingers this way, your thumb can’t rest to the right of your index finger. Then, without turning your hand, move each finger to its normal place: thumb to the 6th string, index staying on the 3rd, middle to the 2nd, and ring to the 1st.

The fingernails

Your right-hand fingernails affect the tone of your playing. If your nails are very short, only the flesh of your finger hits the string, and the resulting tone is rather mellow and soft. Conversely, if your nails are very long, only the nail hits the string, and the tone is sharper and more metallic. Most classical guitarists grow their nails somewhat long so that both the flesh and the nail hit the string at the same time, producing a pleasing, well-rounded tone.

If you’re serious about playing classical guitar, grow your nails a bit long and cut them so that they’re rounded, following the same contour as your fingertips. Then file or buff them with a nail file. However, you need to remember that you must keep the left-hand nails short enough that they don’t hit the fretboard as you press down the strings. But if you’re playing classical guitar casually, for fun or just to try it out, don’t worry about the length of your right-hand nails. Lots of people play classical guitar with short nails (and with the guitar set on their right leg, too!).

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