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How to Play Guitar in Position

Playing in position means that your left hand remains in a fixed location on the neck of the guitar, 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. Not only will playing in position enable you to play notes where they feel and sound best on the fingerboard, it also makes you look and sound cool — like a nonbeginner! Think of it this way: A lay up 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!”

A position gets its name from the fret that your first finger plays. So, 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.

Why play in position? When you play in position, it’s easier to play high-note melodies. Playing in open position allows you to play only up to the fourth or fifth fret. Position playing enables you to play notes higher than that smoothly and economically. Also, playing in position allows you to 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.

People have the idea that playing guitar in lower positions is easier than playing in higher ones. But really, the higher notes actually aren’t harder to play; they’re just harder to read in standard notation if you don’t get too far in a conventional method book.

The most important thing about playing in position is the location of your left hand — in particular, the position and placement of the fingers of your left hand. Here are some tips for positioning your left hand and fingers:

  • Keep your fingers over the appropriate frets the entire time you’re playingeven if they’re not fretting any notes at the moment.

  • Keep all your fingers close to the fretboard, ready to play. Your fingers might exhibit the natural tendency to straighten out and rise away from the fretboard. Just work to keep them curled and to hold them down over the frets where they belong for the position.

  • Keep your body in position as well. Be aware of your movements. Is your left shoulder, for example, riding up like Quasimodo’s? Check it periodically to make sure that it stays tension-free. And remember to take frequent deep breaths, especially if you feel yourself tightening up.

  • Relax! Although you may think that you need to intensely focus all your energy on performing this maneuver correctly or positioning that finger just so, you don’t. Just remember you’re actually working toward is simply adopting the most natural and relaxed approach to playing the guitar.

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