Do Classical Guitarists Use Their Pinky? Dive into Technique, Artistry, and Mastery

Fingerwork is one of the most important aspects of guitar playing, which is why many musicians across different genres have developed their patterns. If you’ve recently gotten into classical guitar music, you might’ve noticed that it features unique movements and techniques you’re not really used to. So, given that most guitarists favor using their first three fingers, it’s worth discussing – do classical guitarists use their pinky?

Classical guitarists use their pinky finger on the fretting hand all the time. Using pinky is a must for chord shapes, licks, and riffs. But, for the picking hand, its frequency of use depends on each musician’s preferences, playing style, and experience level. For example, more advanced classical guitarists rely on their pinky more often than their amateur counterparts.

Suppose you’re interested in learning more about why and when classical guitarists are prone to using their fourth finger; read on. Below, I’ll cover some of the most common instances in classical guitar music that require a pinky, as well as explore some of the biggest differences between three-fingered and four-fingered guitar playing.

When Do Classical Guitarists Use Their Pinky?

A pinky can have a pretty versatile role in classical guitar playing, so let’s explore some instances in which the genre calls for its use.

First, the left-hand pinky is one of the most important fingers for classical guitarists, as it’s used to fret notes on the fretboard along with its three stronger counterparts. Many chords are downright impossible to achieve without the use of that key fourth finger, so you can rest assured that the left-hand pinky will always be busy during a performance – whether it’s being used to complete certain chords, arpeggios, licks, riffs, and complex runs.

For the picking hand, there are some techniques that classical guitarists need to use the pinky finger. For classical fingerpicking patterns, using the pinky is not very common, as the rest of the fingers can get the job done. But, in some occasions, like rolled chords, the pinky finger helps to give that harp-like effect, as you pick all the notes individually but quickly with your fingers. 

Another common technique that heavily relies on using your pinky is a rasgueado. This is a strumming movement that depends on the out-stroke of your fingers to create a percussive, bright sound. This time, though, you’ll be using your picking-hand pinky.

Though this is a flamenco technique, it makes appearances in classic guitar playing often enough to be considered part of the genre.

Other instances that call for the use of a pinky include:

  • Playing notes in higher positions. Sometimes, the genre requires playing notes in higher positions on the fretboard. When that’s the case, the pinky achieves these notes that would otherwise be impossible to execute with just three fingers.
  • Performing technical exercises. Classical guitar technique exercises often involve using the pinky in combination with other fingers to improve overall finger strength, dexterity, and control. For example, the “spider exercise” consists of using all four fingers in a sequential pattern across the fretboard.
  • Playing ornamentations. These include trills, grace notes, and mordents, all of which will ultimately require the use of the fourth finger.

Since most techniques that require either pinky are somewhat advanced, it’s safe to assume that more experienced classic guitar players tend to rely on their fourth finger more than those just getting started.

Three-Fingered vs. Four-Fingered Guitar Playing

Now that you know a bit more about how and when classical guitarists use their pinky, it’s time to dive deeper into the differences between three-fingered and four-fingered playing, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Three-Fingered Playing: Pros and Cons

Three-fingered guitar playing is a technique in which the pinky finger isn’t used. This is generally the most popular approach among modern guitarists, especially in genres like folk, blues, and rock.

Given that these types of music rely on simpler chords and lead lines, the fourth finger isn’t necessary for their execution.

With all that said, what are some of the pros and cons of this playing technique?

It’s easier to learn and execute for beginners, as it involves fewer fingers and is used in more straightforward chord progressions and lead lines.You’re limiting the range and complexity of chord progressions, notes, and lead lines that can be played.
It may require less finger strength and dexterity since you won’t have to engage the weakest finger of your hand.It doesn’t work well for more complex genres, such as classical guitar, which heavily relies on intricate ornamentations.
It can create a unique sound that works exceptionally well with folk, blues, and rock genres.

Let’s move on to the advantages and drawbacks of four-fingered guitar playing to make the comparison a bit fairer.

Four-Fingered Guitar Playing: Pros and Cons

On the other hand, genres like classical guitar will always call for using that fourth finger to a degree despite it being weaker and less flexible than its counterpart. That’s because more traditional music styles like this tend to rely on complex chords and scales in various positions on the fretboard, and not using the pinky at all would severely limit a player’s ability to execute a melody.

Here are the pros and cons of this playing technique:

It gives you space to reach a wide array of notes, chords, and lead lines, many of which are too intricate to execute with just three fingers.It can be challenging to learn and execute, especially for beginners, as it involves using all four fingers in a coordinated manner.
It allows you to perform melodies in more complex musical genres, such as classical guitar.It will require a lot of practice and determination to perfect.
It will significantly improve your overall finger strength and dexterity.


Regarding your preferred playing style, there’s no hard and fast rule stating that you must use three or four fingers. With that said, many classical guitarists have come to rely on their fourth finger (pinky) over time, as they need to execute complex chords and progressions that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.

While the left-hand pinky is used far more regularly in the genre, its right-hand counterpart also appears occasionally, especially in ornamentations. In any case, using the pinky finger on the fretting hand opens the doors to better and easier guitar playing if you put effort into it. The same goes for every genre and every type of guitar. For the picking hand, there are some advanced techniques that require you to use the pinky, which can give you a great sound and allow you to express your playing better.


I have been playing guitar since 2004. As long as I can remember I always had a huge passion for rock music and I extremely enjoy playing it. Helping people on their rock journey is what drives me to keep on playing. Read More About Me

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