How to "find" the best fingering for a riff?

I have been transcribing a bit, and then, of course, trying to learn to play the material… In this context, I wondered how one would ideally arrive at the “best” fingering for a certain riff or motif?

If there are no tabs (which might give at least one solution) or videos (which are not always helpful either), then it is probably a combination of one’s experience as a player so far along with trial and error, I guess!?

Case in point is the riff below, which I have tried with at least three rather different routes across the fretboard plus a couple of variants of these. How would you play it? I would love to see your “solutions”, preferably in TAB and maybe we could add which finger is actually fretting which note also in the notation!?! That would be awesome!

Some further info:

  • eventually, this needs to be played at a fairly fast clip (about 175 bpm), so keep that in mind (“economy of motion”)
  • it should be playable on a 4-string
  • all notes should be played, although I could see a solution where the last C is a ghost note

Obviously, there is no one correct solution - we all have different preferences and “handicaps”. I am very curious to see your approaches! Is there a something like an algorithm for establishing the “best” fingering?

Thanks!

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That’s my own personal feeling, @joergkutter . . . I’m finally working on a few songs and I’m sure that my fingering is not 100% what Josh or Gio would recommend, but it works for me.

Put another way, I’m still microshifting rather than playing one finger per fret.

Cheers
Joe

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Nothing wrong with this at all, as far as I am concerned :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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Interesting topic!

Funny thing is, I don’t think about fingering at all when I’m learning/playing a song. I just look at the music sheet and let my fingers do their thing. The moment I try to analyze my fingering, or worry about whether or not I’m doing it right, that’s when my playing falls apart.

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Yes, I would tend to agree, @PamPurrs. That is, until you run into a riff that is not so easy to get under your fingers. Then, you have to re-assess the situation…

It is actually a fun exercise to look at all the possible ways to play this riff and the different ways to move over the fretboard!

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I’ve already nailed the last 5 bars.

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That makes two of us now, Pam! :rofl:

OK, seriously . . . I also have found that the more I think about something, the less well I can perform it, whether it’s fretting or plucking, so I agree with your earlier post.

Cheers
Joe

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I’ve got a few different ways that it feels pretty good.
The one I’d go with would depend on:
first: Is this trying to emulate / transcribe a specific articulation? If so, where the slides and hammer-ons/pull-offs go would be huge in dictating how it is fingered.
If not, the fingering would be dependent on what is coming before or after it… in addition to the articulation I wanted to put on it.

Option 1 - stay up in the 9th-12 fret range, play that low E on the 12th fret of the E string.
I’m not as in to the tone of this, but if what I’m going to play next moves from there, it would be great.

Options 2-4ish - shift back and play that E on the 7th fret of the A string. There’s a few places to do this and have it be comfortable. So I’d just keep working it and figure out what makes the most sense to my hand.

I prefer the shifting one (options 2-4ish) - I naturally want some pulloffs and slides in that beginning few beats, and a shift back sounds great to me on a C-B slide (beat 1 bar 2). If you slide with any finger other than first, you’re in good shape for that E and the rest of the phrase.

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How about this?

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:joy:

Thanks, @gio - you are right, of course! If anything there is a tiny slide from D to E (end of first bar); the rest is pretty much every note plucked

Also true, of course! I figure there is enough time for some slight adjustment, but you have a point: especially after that phrase, it continues on B-Bb-A (7th fret on E string and down)

That is exactly what I had been trying for a while, but haven’t settled on my best version yet. Which is why I thought it would be fun to ask others!

Thanks, @akos - interesting start, but then that jump from 9th on the D to the 12th on the E seems tough! Also, you got the final two notes of bar 2 wrong - it should be E and C.

@gio: Here is a bit more before and after (but no articulation marks, sorry):

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Ah right. Then maybe this:

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Thanks! Yes, that is one way, but the 9-12 jump and the 12-8 stretch are probably too much movement at higher speeds; also the 12-12, I personally find hard to pull off, especially with the pinky and on the E string…

But, I like your solution for the first seven notes, after which I’d probably take the E on the 7th fret of the A string.

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Well it’s not really a stretch, you’re releasing the pinky and shifting your hand at that point, because you are not going to return to the 12th fret area. You can also probably make it a slide. But yeah I haven’t tried at your tempo.

Tried that too, but then you have an index on 9 to ring (or pinky) on 7 transition, which was more awkward to me.

Anyways, good luck. :slight_smile:

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Me neither, not yet, but want to get there :grin:

You’re right; not perfect either - there is a little jump there, I use middle finger to land on, but then I could finish the figure staying between the 5th and 8th frets…

It’s very instructional to try so many different approaches, but to have to get the different fingerings into muscle memory is a challenge in itself :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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I’ve played through the extended riff - I’d make a very strong case for making the shift first finger to first finger, from the high E to the D 9th to 7th on the G string in the last beat of the third bar.

After that everything is so smooth, even at tempo.

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Thank you, @Gio - really appreciate any input and suggestion here.

Just to make sure: the slide is from D to E and to get to the D you shift the first finger from the F down to the D, which is a bit tricky, no!?!

I had played around with that variant as well… but while starting with the first finger on the D, I would then slide into the E with the 2nd finger, and then pinky/ring or pinky/middle on the D string to finish that part with the index on the E (7th A string).

Is that what you are doing? Again, just checking b/c you described a slide from E to D, while it is from D to E. And, the shift from F to D on the G string is still worrying me at higher speeds.

And for the last four eighth notes in that riff, do you go from A (7th on D) to G (10th on A) or do you re-position to play that part on the 7th and 5th fret of the D string??

This is like a chess game - every move you make opens new opportunities, but also makes others hard to impossible :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

I still like this one.
if you don’t like the 3-fret shift with first finger, you can play the G,Gb,F with 4,3,2, and then it’s only a whole step shift to a first finger D.
I like how it sounds there, and I like the position it puts me in to finish the line.

Because I shift back to index-on-7th-fret

Yes! The bonusof the shift to the 7th fret with my index was to be able to finish the line comfortably without any additional shifts.

Absolutely. I had a theory teacher who compared classical theory voice leading to chess as well. Something about knowing where you want to be and setting yourself up for it as early as possible… and that musicians maybe just love chess?

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Thanks, @Gio - I might finally decide on a fingering for this after all :rofl:

It is a pity not more people got interested in this challenge… my initial idea was to explore in general what the strategies were to determine the “best” fingering, and I just used this particular riff as an example because I had been struggling with it for a while.

But, similar considerations must come into play in so many other cases. For instance, I have tried to play the Jackson 5’s “I want you back” in quite a few different ways, but is there one “perfect” way to play it?? My conclusions so far are that you apply the principle of “economy of motion” and consider what comes before and after a certain riff, and perhaps take some personal “challenges” into account as well (e.g., my ring finger is not very strong…).

Yep!
And play more chess!

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