Practice Exercises for Playing Guitar in Position - dummies

Practice Exercises for Playing Guitar in Position

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell

One of the giveaways of beginning players is that they can play only down the neck, in open position, and that they play only single-string melodies. As you improve your skills at playing guitar in position, you’ll find you can use the whole neck to express your musical ideas, and that you’re not limited to plunking out just single notes. The following are a series of exercises that you can use to become comfortable with playing a guitar in position.

Playing a one-octave scale in position

The major scale (you know, the familiar do-re-me-fa-sol-la-ti-do sound) is a good place to start practicing the skills you need to play in position. Take a look at the one-octave C major scale in second position. Although you can play this scale in open position, play it as the tab staff in the figure indicates, because you want to start practicing your position playing.


Notice that the figure indicates left-hand fingerings under the tab numbers. These indicators aren’t essential because the position itself dictates these fingerings. But if you want, you can read the finger numbers (instead of the tab numbers) and play the C scale that way (keeping an eye on the tab staff to check which string you’re on). If you memorize the fingerings, you have a movable pattern that enables you to play a major scale in any key.

You’ll want to play one-octave scales like the one in the previous figure using both up- and downstrokes — that is, by using alternate (up and down) picking. Try it descending as well (you should practice all scales ascending and descending).

Playing a two-octave scale in position

Take a look at the following figure to see a two-octave C-major scale (one with a range of 15 notes) in the seventh position. Notice that this scale requires you to play on all six strings.


Practice playing this two-octave scale both up and down the neck, using alternate picking. If you memorize the fingering pattern (shown under the tab numbers), you can play any major scale simply by moving your hand up or down to a different position. Try it.

Play scales slowly at first to ensure that your notes sound clean and smooth; then gradually increase your speed.

Building strength and dexterity by playing in position

Some people do all sorts of exercises to develop their position playing. They even buy books that contain nothing but position-playing exercises. But you don’t really need such books. You can make up your own exercises to build finger strength and dexterity.

To create your own exercises, just take another look at the the two-octave major scale and number the 15 notes of the scale as 1 through 15. Next, make up a few simple mathematical combinations that you can practice playing. Following are some examples:

  • 1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, 4-5-6-4, and so on.


  • 1-3-2-4, 3-5-4-6, 5-7-6-8, 7-9-8-10, and so on.


  • 15-14-13, 14-13-12, 13-12-11, 12-11-10, and so on.


Notice how these numbers look in music and tab. Remember, these notes are just suggested patterns to memorize and help build dexterity. You can make up literally hundreds of permutations and practice them endlessly — or until you get bored.

Piano students have a book called Hanon that contains lots of scale permutations to help develop strength and independence of the fingers. You can check out that book for permutation ideas, but making up your own is probably just as easy.