Playing in Position

Added on Friday 8 Jul 2011

As you listen to complicated-sounding guitar music played by virtuoso guitarists, you may imagine their left hands leaping around the fretboard with abandon. But usually, if you watch those guitarists on stage or TV, you discover that their left hands hardly move at all. Those guitarists are playing in position.

Playing in position means that your left hand remains in a fixed location on the neck, with each finger more or less on permanent assignment to a specific fret, and that you fret every note — you don’t use any open strings. If you’re playing in fifth position, for example, your first finger plays the fifth fret, your second finger plays the sixth fret, your third finger plays the seventh fret, and your fourth finger plays the eighth fret. A position, therefore, gets its name from the fret that your first finger plays.

In addition to enabling you to play notes where they feel and sound best on the fingerboard — not just where you can most easily grab available notes (such as the open-string notes in open position), playing in position makes you look cool — like a non-beginner! Think of it this way: A layup and a slam dunk are both worth two points in basketball, but only in the latter case does the announcer scream, “And the crowd goes wild!”

Playing in position versus playing with open strings

Why play in position? Why not use open position and open strings all the time? I can give you two key reasons:

  • It’s easier to play high-note melodies. Playing in open position allows you to play only up to the fourth or fifth fret. If you want to play higher than that, position playing enables you to play the notes smoothly and economically.
  • You can instantly transpose any pattern or phrase that you know in position to another key simply by moving your hand to another position. Because position playing involves no open strings, everything you play in position is movable.

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