Guide Fingers

Using guide fingers on guitar means that you use a finger (any appropriate finger) to move from one guitar note to another as smoothly as possible. As the word "guide" suggests, your finger stays in contact with a string or strings when moving from point "a" to point "b".

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Of course, you do let the pressure off but not to the extent that it actually leaves the string. It is also a slide that is NOT heard. So using guides is really about the degree of pressure, or a release of pressure. The thumb also stays in contact with the back of the neck of the guitar behind the first or second finger when using guides.

At this point,  I should mention a close relative of the guide finger, namely, the pivot finger. Pivot fingers are used smoothly to change closely from one place to another. For instance, if you are playing a piece of music that is very "chordal" in nature, you can use pivot fingers to help out.

A good case in point is in the Twenty Studies of Sor (arranged by Segovia). If you're familiar with Study No. 1 in that book, you'll know what I mean about using pivot fingers. Here is a little graphic of the music...

You can see in the penultimate bar that your 4th finger holds the "F" note whilst you get your 1st and 3rd fingers into position to play both the "C" notes. The pivot fingers help you to leverage your other fingers into position and make for a smooth, noise-free change.

As with all other lessons on this site, my best advice is to practice very slowly and regularly. Good guitar technique demands it! It always pays handsome dividends.

There is some thought that guides may be an outdated idea. Indeed, in a discussion of this idea Douglas Niedt recounts that...

"Abel Carlevaro was a respected Uruguayan guitarist, composer, pedagogue, and teacher of guitar great Eduardo Fernandez. In his School of Guitar, Exposition of Instrumental Theory, he states that the use of guiding fingers is a "false concept" and that the very idea is "outdated." This viewpoint is a 180 degree shift of thinking from other schools of thought and is certainly worth considering. 

In a nutshell, Carlevaro says that before the shift, the fingers must "abandon" the strings. They withdraw their pressure from the string, allowing themselves to be lifted perpendicularly off the strings. After being lifted, they enter into a momentary state of relaxation, before being transported by the arm to their new fret. Carlevaro strongly emphasizes that the perpendicular lift off the string is nearly imperceptible to the eye. 

Carlevaro’s focus is to execute shifts with maximum accuracy and minimal effort. But an interesting side benefit of his shifting technique is that it eliminates string squeaks and other shifting noise, especially on the wound bass strings. When the fingers are lifted perpendicularly off the strings, friction is eliminated. Therefore, no noise is produced."

Niedt goes on to say that he actually uses guide fingers but it is important to consider differing point of view like the one from Calvelaro.

Good luck!

More than Guide Fingers...

Here is an excellent resource that covers a lot more than guide fingers...

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