Getting a Grip on Left-Hand Fingering

Added on Friday 8 Jul 2011

After you figure out how to read guitar tablature, you know what frets to press down, but you still may have no idea of which fingers to use to press down the frets. Well, I can clear that up pretty quickly. Usually, you don’t need any notation to alert you to which fingers to use, because you most often play in position. Stick with me for a moment.

A position on the guitar is a group of four consecutive frets; for example, frets 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8. The first fret in a series of four marks the beginning of a new position; for example, frets 2, 3, 4, and 5, frets 3, 4, 5, and 6, and so on, are positions as well. But the easiest way to play melodies on the guitar is to play them in first or second position — that is, using frets 1 through 4 or frets 2 through 5 — because these positions are close to the nut, allowing you to easily and smoothly utilize the open strings as well as the fretted notes in playing a melody.

Open position itself consists of the combination of all the open strings plus the notes in the first or second position — just as the chords that you play low on the neck using open strings (A, D, Em, and so on) are known as open chords.  In any position, each finger plays the notes of a specific fret — and only of that fret. The index finger always plays the notes of the lowest fret in that position (lowest meaning towards the nut), with the other fingers covering the other frets in sequential order. In first position, for example, the fret numbers correspond to the fingers — the first finger (the index finger) plays the notes in the first fret; the second finger (middle finger) plays the notes in the second fret; and so on. Using one finger per fret enables you to switch between notes quickly.

As you play the open-position melodies, make sure that you press your left-hand fingers down correctly, as follows:

  • Press down on the string with the tip of your finger just before the metal fret wire (toward the nut).
  •  Keep the last joint of the finger perpendicular (or as close to perpendicular as possible) to the fretboard.

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