In this video Simon walks you through why playing in “positions” on the guitar is useful and how we define what a position is.
Positions on the Guitar
When we talk about playing in a particular position on the guitar, we’re just using a common communication tool for easy reference. Unlike the piano, where you can only play one note in one place, the guitar has many places where you can play the same note. We can use this to our advantage to create different sounds and timbres, but in the early stages of learning it can be a lot to keep track of. So we use a simple rule starting in first position to help make everything more manageable.
To find “first position” on the guitar we use the one-finger-per-fret rule. This means we’ll use the first finger for notes on the first fret, the second finger on the second fret, the third finger on the third fret, and the fourth finger on the fourth fret. Simple, right? Now we can move this to any new starting fret and keep the same “one-finger-per-fret” rule to determine what position we are playing in. If our first finger is playing on the fifth fret (and thus each of our subsequent fingers line up on 6, 7, 8, respectively) then we’re playing in fifth position.
Benefits of Positions on the Guitar
Some keys work really well in certain positions because we have an array of notes that fit that key, all centered around that position. For instance, D Major works really well in second position, while A minor works really well in fifth position. Knowing the one-finger-per-fret rule can help us unlock positions that make playing in certain keys easier and much more natural.
But at the beginning stages we can also sometimes feel locked into this rule, like we’re not allowed to play our first finger anywhere else than the fret it’s assigned in any given position. Just as with any rule, however, we will break this one-finger-per-fret rule pretty early.
Exceptions to the Rule
The guitar is a chordal instrument and for that reason to play chords sometimes we’ll need to play with different fingers on notes on the same fret. That will mean we need to break the one-finger-per-fret rule. But even more than that, sometimes when we are playing in one position we might think we’re locked in and can’t play in any way that breaks the one-finger-per-fret rule. That’s not the case. Positions are a handy guide that allow us to be creative and get different colors and sounds, but don’t feel limited by positions.
We hope you enjoyed this beginner introduction to positions on guitar. We have many more lessons just like this that cover technique, theory and analysis, repertoire, and much more at Classical Guitar Academy. Join CGC Academy today!