Fingerstyle Basics for `Ukulele - t i m r, ( p i m a )

Exploring fingerpicking and fingerstyle `ukulele.

Published: Jan 2, 2005 Updated: Dec 8, 2016 Visits: 1

ukulele Subjects: fingerpickingbeginnerintermediate

This lesson covers the common terms used for identifying the fingers used. And, presents a series of single string exercises for exploring and developing the techniques needed for this style.

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No Movement - No Sound

cartoon_hand_RHThe right hand, for right hand players and left hand for left hand players, is responsible for getting the strings moving – No movement - no sound.

Strings can be plucked, picked, strummed and any combination of the same to get the strings moving.

Pick up your ukulele and finger a C chord. Nothing happens until you get the strings moving. Everybody sounds the same until they get the strings moving.

An interviewer once told the great guitarist, Chet Atkins. “That guitar sounds great”. Chet put the guitar down and then asked “How's it sound now?”

Initially my fingerstyle technique was limited to Bossa Nova style accompaniment using fingers that I learned as a jazz guitarist. It wasn't until I started developing my concert repertoire for ukulele that I really started exploring legit fingerstyle technique. With 20 plus years as a private guitar, bass and ukulele teacher, and up to 60 students a week at times. I know the value of dedicated practice when it comes to learning a specific instrument techniques.

So I set out to explore fingerstyle and incorporate in to my playing repertoire.

Fingerpicking can be organized into two styles:

  • Alternating Thumb Style — a strumming style that utilizes the thumb and two fingers. on guitar it's called Travis Picking and on banjo it's Scruggs Style
  • Classical Guitar Technique — uses the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. The traditional p i m a classical guitar technique.

Common Names for Those Pesky Musical Digits?


Here are the common fingering notations I've encounter over the course of my studying ukulele and guitar.

Fingering for chords is typically expressed using Arabic numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and T for Thumb.

For the plucking hand, in fingerstyle, the Spanish classical names and what are commonly used in English are shown.




Thumb ( t ) Pulgar ( p )
Index ( i ) Indice ( i )
Middle ( m ) Medio ( m )
Ring ( t ) Anular ( a )
Pinky ( t ) Mignolo ( c, x, or e )

Spanish: p i m a, English: t i m r

If you're studying legit classical guitar technique the classical terms are what you will encounter. For all else I recommend simply using the English terms. I've NEVER heard a presenter of a workshop, presented in English after mentioning pima immediately following the first mention of pima explain that the p is the thumb, the i is the index finger, etc... You get my point.

timr_string_assignment_ukuleleWhen playing ukulele it's only four strings with each finger handling their own string. On ukulele it's a simple finger to string assignment, your thumb handles string , your index finger handles string , your middle finger handles string and your ring finger handles string . A simple one-to-one string assignment.

Unlit ukulele with only one set of four strings, With the guitar there are fifteen possible four string combinations, not all are practical but a lot more than the one for ukulele.

When playing any of the three, possible three string sets. You can use the thumb, index and middle fingers.

For the two string pairs any combination of t i m r is possible depending on the musical context.

The final decision as to what fingering combination to use will be based on the musical context and efficiency of actually executing the musical passage. . But it is definitely worth exploring all possible combinations.

My Personal Journey Exploring the Thumb and Three Finger Technique

So, one day I decided to finally get a handle on fingerstyle using my thumb and three fingers. I had developed my "travis" style fingerpicking, where you use your thumb, index and middle fingers. But not "legit" a.k.a. classical fingerstyle.

“It was a dark stormy night...”

I had, on a good day a 30 to 45 minute drive home from that nights teaching. A lot of roads where closed so I have to take different ways home and it actually too closer to 90 minutes to get home.

So, it was during that long drive home in a thunderstorm that I practiced, t i m r on the open strings of my Fluke ukulele, which was riding shotgun right up front with me. It yelled shotgun coming out of the store. No chords as the left hand was busy driving - I only did t i m r with the right for one hour plus. I focused on getting a clean sound, even volume and tone. Starting S L O W and only after many reps did I increase the tempo. I only did t i m r for the whole ride, no other combinations. I then practiced accenting one of the strings in the sequence. t i m r, t i m r, t i m r, t i m r.

One Finger, Single String

You only have your thumb and three fingers to master. However the pinky can be developed to a high level as well.

  • t - thumb
  • i - index
  • m - middle
  • r - right

Two Finger, Single String Combinations

There are twelve 12 possible two finger, single string combinations.


Example starting on the thumb ( t ), C tuning with a high G string four.

  • t i
  • t m
  • t r
  • i t
  • i m
  • i r
  • m t
  • m i
  • m r
  • r t
  • r i
  • r m

Three Finger, Single String Combinations

There are twenty-four 24 possible three finger, single string combinations.

  • t i m
  • t i r
  • t m i
  • t m r
  • t r i
  • t r m
  • i t m
  • i t r
  • i m t
  • i m r
  • i r t
  • i r m
  • m t i
  • m t r
  • m i t
  • m i r
  • m r t
  • m r i
  • r t i
  • r t m
  • r i t
  • r i m
  • r m t
  • r m i

Four Finger, Single String Combinations

There are twenty-four 24 possible four finger, single string combinations.

  • t i m r
  • t i r m
  • t m i r
  • t m r i
  • t r i m
  • t r m i
  • i t m r
  • i t r m
  • i m t r
  • i m r t
  • i r t m
  • i r m t
  • m t i t
  • m t r i
  • m i t r
  • m i r t
  • m r t i
  • m r i t
  • r t i m
  • r t m i
  • r i t m
  • r i m t
  • r m t i
  • r m i t

What About the Pinky?

Funny you should ask. The pinky is typically not used in fingerstyle. With the ukulele only having four strings, the thumb and three fingers are enough to handle only four strings.

Practical Applications

For all practical purposes, single string fingerpicking can be mostly done with your thumb, index and middle fingers.

Classical Guitar Links & Information

There are several schools of though with regards to classical fingerstyle. Here is a collection of links and information I've been collecting during my research in to fingerstyle as applied to the ukulele.

  • WidipediA: Classical guitar technique

    The classical guitar technique is a fingerstyle technique used by classical guitarists to play classical guitar music on a classical guitar.

  • WidipediA: Fingerstyle guitar

    Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking (picking individual notes with a single plectrum called a flatpick) or strumming all the strings of the instrument in chords. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking (although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific stylistic subset; see below). Music arranged for fingerstyle playing can include chords, arpeggios and other elements such as artificial harmonics, hammering on and pulling off with the fretting hand, using the body of the guitar percussively, and many other techniques.

  • WidipediA: Hybrid picking

    Hybrid picking is a guitar-playing technique that involves picking with a pick and one or more fingers alternately or simultaneously. Hybrid picking allows guitar players who use a pick (plectrum) to perform music which would normally require fingerstyle playing. It also facilitates wide string leaps (e.g. from the sixth string to the second string, etc) which might otherwise be quite difficult. The technique is not widespread in most genres of guitar playing (though notable exceptions exist), but is most often employed by country and bluegrass flatpickers who play music which occasionally demands fingerstyle passages.

  • Tuck's Corner, Tuck Andress (1/99 - updated 8/24/99) Pick & Fingerstyle Technique

    For fingerstyle Tuck goes over; Development of fingerstyle, The fundamentals of fingerstyle technique according to Tuck, Choosing which finger to use when playing single lines, How to use picking to improve fingerstyle

  • Great Tone By Michael Chapdelaine

    This is a great article on the benefits of developing string contact with the fleshy part of the finger before the nail. Explains why getting a good sound on nylon strings with a pick is so hard to develop.

  • Great Tone By Rest Stroke and Free Stroke Revisited, Published: 1990 Author: Ricardo Iznaola

Nails or No Nails

The use of the nails of the right hand has been debated over the years starting with Fernando Sor who found the use of nails to be unnecessary. While his contemporary Dionisio Aguado felt that the nails were necessary to achieve speed and tonal variation. From Andres Segovia onwards the nail in conjunction with the flesh of the right hand fingers has become the accepted practice.

Nail Care

Regular and proper care of your nails is the single, foremost way to prevent them from breaking and requiring repair.(Everyday)

Links and Infor from around the web
  • Acrylic Nails - link
  • Flamenco Guitarist Nails - Tips and Advice - link
  • The Art of Nail Care By Jason Fowler - link
  • Care of the Nails ( - link
Nail Care Tools
  • Diamond File
  • 500 Grade Sandpaper
  • 600 Grade Silicon Carbide - available at hardware stores
  • Multigrade Cosmetic Nail Buffer or 800 Grade paper for buffing the nail
Nail Care Products

Nail making and repair kit, includes: band of self adhesive silk, 2 tubes of resin, Nail file, needle and applicator stick.

Andrés Segovia

You can not have a web site with a classical guitar page and not have mention of the Andrés Segovia. Segovia IS responsible for the recognition that the classical guitar has today.

SegoviaA.png Andrés Torres Segovia, marqués de Salobreña (February 21, 1893 – June 3, 1987) was a Spanish classical guitarist, and later nobleman, born in Linares, Spain who is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern music scholars. Segovia claimed that he "rescued the guitar from the hands of flamenco gypsies," and built up a classical repertoire to give it a place in concert halls. In recognition of his contributions to music and the arts, Segovia was ennobled June 24th, 1981 by the King of Spain (S.M. el rey Juan Carlos) who elevated Segovia into the first hereditary marquess of Salobreña, (formally styled, "El señor don Andrés Torres Segovia, marqués de Salobreña", i.e. the Most Illus. Lord The Marquess of Salobreña.) with the following coat of arms: "en campo de azur sobre ondas de azur y plata, unas rocas de su color, sumadas de una torre donjonada de oro, aclarada de azur."

Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern scholars.

Without Segovia's efforts, the classical guitar would not be where it is today.

(from - Segovia had many students throughout his career. Among the more famous are Christopher Parkening, John Williams, Elliot Fisk and Oscar Ghiglia. These students, along with the many others, carry on Segovia's tradition, while at the same time expanding the classical guitar's presence, repertoire, and musical boundaries.

For more information on Andrés Segovia check out these links

Fingernail Care

If there in one area of discussion that players recommendations are all over the board - it's fingernail for classical guitar. The technique for classical is appropriate for ukulele. The ukulele is almost a mini classical guitar missing two strings.

William Kanengiser Video

No need to revert the wheel. This video in the Learning with Legends - William Kanengiser provides one of the best and clearest explanations of the contentious topic of fingernail care as it applies to technique.


A book that I remember that had a good explanation of different nails and their care is Pumping Nylon: The Classical Guitarist's Technique Handbook by Scott Tennan.


There is one heck of a lot of work to do — but it's well worth the effort.
So get to work!!!

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Fingerpicking on `Ukulele - Alternating Thumb Style

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Fingerpicking Video Demonstration - ( t i m r )

Video demonstration of the fingerpicking combination thumb, index, middle and ring fingers ( t i m r ).

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Related Books for Fingerstyle Basics for `Ukulele - t i m r, ( p i m a ) at this time.

Fingerpicking for Ukulele - Alternating Thumb Style

A technique of playing by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or fingerpicks.

Modular Phonetic Rhythm, The Foundation and Workbook 1

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Modular Phonetic Rhythm represents a significant advance in the teaching and application of rhythm. Eliminating many inefficient aspects of rhythm education, Modular Phonetic Rhythm streamlines the traditional educational approach, resulting in a reflexive reaction to rhythm.

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p i m a

All possible single combinations starting with p (thumb).

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