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PIMA In Detail

In Guitar playing, the fingers on the right-hand (the picking hand) have specific names. The letters that represent the Thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers are: P-I-M-A(e).

P = Pulgar/Thumb
I = Indice/Index
M = Medio/Middle
A = Anular/Ring
E = Mignolo/4th (pinky)

As you will remember from the sales page, which explained the overall concept of PIMA, this acronym is an effective template in learning not only how to play fingerstyle chords and arpeggios in various note order, but also in practicing complex fingerstyle songs.

Let’s Refresh..

Here is the overall picking hand placement for the use of PIMA. As you can see in the first diagram, the 4th finger, or ‘pinky’ finger is not labeled. Though you DO use the 4th finger for various passages, usually the 4th finger can act as an anchor for the more beginner to intermediate passages you work with. When applied as an anchor (meaning, resting on the body of the guitar, below the high E string) the 4th finger provides a much-needed rest on your wrist at times when the 4th finger is not needed for play.

There are also many who feel that since the 4th finger is generally the smallest finger, using this finger can cause you to move out of the PIMA box that is created with the acronym. I’m on the fence with this, because though I rarely use my 4th finger, I DO feel that it is important to use all methods of fingerstyle delivery available, so I will touch base on this from time to time, but only for songs or passages that I feel you can play the 4th finger with.

Important: There has been argument from various guitar books and references that the letter ‘s’ should be used in place of the ‘e’ for the 4th finger. But, there has been no verification of this switch in letters, so we are going to use the only tested method thus far – the use of the letter ‘e’, which in Spanish means ‘mignolo.’ This is the interpretation of the word “PINKY” in Spanish.

The main reason that books argue this (and I’m not sure why it is such a big deal) is that when the letters are shown on tablature as a reference, there is confusion for some beginner guitarists that mistakenly identify this letter as an open E note or as a reference for the high E string, which is usually noted as ‘e’ instead of ‘E’ as noted for the LOW E string. Since I’ve addressed this from the ‘get-go’ we are going to be using the ‘e’ as it has been a proven method for many years. Why change a good thing?

Before We Begin…

Here is the fully detailed PIMA legend. This legend will appear at the beginning of each exercise so that we will know which fingers we are working with. I will also include other various visual instruments to help drill the PIMA legend to solid memory.

Reading the PIMA Legend

P = Thumb: The thumb, is mostly used to play bass notes. Moving in a down motion only. Some flamenco players and some bass players train using an up-down motion with the thumb.

I = Index: Because most guitarist are best playing with “I” instead of “M” or “A”, many guitarist play the melodies of songs with “I” to make them more pronounced.

M = Middle: The middle finger is not typically used by itself. M usually is played in the context of a pattern (such as P-A-M-I). It can be very useful to practice playing loud and clean with “M” in case you ever need it for strong melodic or accented note.

A = Ring: The ring finger, while being used in plenty of music, is used the least of the four digits. To develop its strength I recommend playing scale passages using “M-A” instead of “I-M”. Remember, you will need a confident “A” when trying to make a beautiful tremolo.

E = 4th/Pinky: As already explained, this is a lesser-used element in working with PIMA, and is not included as it’s original acronym in theory, because it is not 100% necessary to use this finger. However, it makes learning the art of PIMA much easier, because it provides an extra template-based acronym that makes a standard six-string guitar much easier to follow with the added acronym letter.

Here is the breakdown on the average template-based use of the letters. Usually, the following strings are played in conjunction with the letters used in the acronym, but this is not always the case. It depends on the style of fingerstyle being played.

  • The P (Thumb) is used mostly on the Low E string and the A string of the guitar. Depending on the complexity of the pattern, it can also be used as an anchor on the D string, if only the highest few strings are used.
  • The I (Index) is used mostly on the D string, but can also be used by more intermediate to advanced guitarists on the A string as well. This depends on your ability (or lack of ability) to use the thumb as a major anchor point.
  • The M (Middle) is used almost exclusively in conjunction with other acronym letters but is generally played on the G and/or B string on the guitar.
  • The A (Ring) is commonly played on the and high E strings. This depends on your usage of the E (4th/Pinky) and how well you are able to actually play with your 4th finger.
  • The E (4th/Pinky) is an additional acronym letter that generally ‘bonuses itself’ (adds ) into the overall acronym, much like the use of the Middle finger. It rarely plays alone. This acronym letter can be applied to the B and high E string when playing the appropriate strings listed above.

When these letters appear on tablature exercises, they will look something like this:

In the case above, we are only creating the “P, I, and M” pattern used with PIMA. They are noted with letters that stand for each picking hand order played. For example, you will play the G barre chord in order from “P, P, I, M” and then proceed to the next measure. The next measure is played as “P, I, M, M” and so on…

You can see that the pattern CAN (and usually does) change, even when played in the same note order as before, such as the C barre chord played. The same strings are played, but why aren’t the same letters showing?

This is for a few reasons. While the use of PIMA is a template for virtually any fingerstyle pattern, there are times when you view a pattern that may change to a more complex chord, and in turn causes you to adjust your picking method when it is applicable. In the case of the C barre chord, we’ve started on the A string instead of the Low E string, so we want to change up the pattern a little. As you’ll notice, the next measure after the first C barre chord calls for the same PIMA notation order, as does the G barre chord above it. This is an optional way to play using PIMA, and I will always include optional patterns that will enhance your overall PIMA understanding.

Of Course…There ARE Exceptions

With every rule, there is always an exception. If you are practicing an exercise that calls for a thumb or index finger to be played in an area that you would rather use another finger, by all means do so. The key here is to allow you to swiftly move from one passage to the next, and if it is more comfortable to make a SMALL change to the legend to allow you to more easily transition, I would rather you do that then get stumped for good on a passage.

The only warning I would put forth is that if you fall too far out of the template for the PIMA(e) legend, the exercises may get a little frustrating. I provide the legend for a reason, but there’s no harm in taking a little personal liberty if you UNDERSTAND the pattern, but feel the need to change it to your own liking…

One Last Thing…

Low Melody notes are very important when working with PIMA. This usage can get VERY confusing at times, but I’ll do my very best to explain it to you in the easiest way possible.

Using Low Melody Notes

While modern-day tablature rarely uses two musical staves that denote both the picking and fretting hand, the use of PIMA allows us to explore much more than modern-day tablature because when we deal with a multi-functional tab staff in fingerstyle guitar, one finger may be playing a note for a longer or shorter period of time. For the most part, the Low E and A strings will USUALLY be your low melody notes. Low melody notes are basically just that – lower notes. BUT, this isn’t always the case. For now, it will be.

When you see a note that is on the Low E string or A string, and is shown upside down, that means it will be considered a low melody note. In the very first exercise, we’ll be dealing with just that. Most of the time, low melody notes are very easy to see, because there appears to be a strange ‘look’ to the tablature, or better said – a difference in the overall picture, with a series of notes (sometimes of equal value) that shoot right out at you when you view it. They usually provide what could be considered the ‘bass part’ for a given passage, even if no bass guitar is present in the actual passage. I’ll explain more as we move through the exercises.