Understanding what it means to play guitar in a certain position is one of the key elements to navigating your fretboard and making more efficiently organized fingering choices. The initial concept of playing in a position is relatively simple. Any 4 fret grouping on the guitar can be considered a position. The number of frets used in a position corresponds to the number of fingers on your fretting hand. The idea behind position playing is to assign each finger on the fretting hand to a specific fret within a particular position. No matter what string is being played, each finger would remain in its designated fret. That being said, there will always be circumstances and contexts where you must modify the fingering in a certain position, but the general idea is to try to maintain a 4 fret spacing with one finger in each fret. I know you may be a bit confused after reading that, so let's look at a few examples.
In the fifth position the frets 5, 6, 7, and 8 are used. The first finger plays the 5th fret, the second finger plays the 6th fret, the third finger plays the 7th fret, and the fourth finger plays the 8th fret.
In a typical musical context, such as a scale, you will most likely not use every fret of the position on each string. In this case, each finger will still play its designated fret as in example 1, but you will not use each finger on every string.
A position shift is when you start a run in one position and then shift up or down and finish the run in another position. This example starts in fifth position (frets 5, 6, 7, 8) and then shifts to tenth position (frets 10, 11, 12, 13). When executing the shift, it is important to keep proper fingering in mind. You must land the first finger in the tenth fret, shifting as smooth as possible and allowing for the efficient fingering to continue in tenth position.
Now let's look at our c major scale from example 2 and incorporate a position shift from fifth position to tenth position. Remember to keep the proper fingering in mind. Land the first finger on the 10th fret when shifting up to tenth position, then land the 4th finger on the 8th fret when shifting back down to fifth position.
Practicing scales on the guitar can be rather intimidating at times. After all, there are so many different types of scale patterns and sequences to memorize. So here is a piece of advice: DON'T MEMORIZE THEM!! Memorizing endless amounts of scale patterns and sequences will cause you to spend more time memorizing, and less time actually playing music. Sure you will have a vast collection of scale exercises at your disposal, but when it comes to applying them in a musical context you will end up sounding like a robot; regurgitating scale exercises that have no feeling or emotion to them, and you will put more effort into trying to recall a scale pattern from memory than paying attention to what you want your music to sound like. Here are a few tips to help you better focus your time and energy when practicing scales on the guitar:
1. Play it by ear. Pick just one scale pattern or sequence and play it until you have it memorized. You should be focused on memorizing how the exercise sounds rather than memorizing the finger pattern. Once you have it committed to memory, start to recreate the exercise using different areas of the fretboard. Use different fingerings, play it in higher or lower octaves, use only 1 or 2 strings...try to utilize the entire fretboard. The key is to not worry so much about the fingerings you use and to focus more on recreating the scale pattern or sequence by ear.
2. Use different rhythms. Learning to play scales will be of little use to you if you do not explore different rhythmic combinations. Learn to use rhythm to add to your expressiveness and create truly unique scale passages. Think of how rhythmic fluctuations in everyday speech can drastically effect the way a message is communicated and perceived.
3. Experiment with different articulations. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and vibrato are just a few articulations that can really change the way a passage sounds. And let's face it, strings bends are one of the coolest and most uniquely expressive tools that the guitar has to offer. Practice adding whole step and half step bends throughout your scale patterns and sequences
We all have a collection of our favorite riffs that we absolutely love to play! Have you ever thought about using those riffs as technical exercises? If you think about it, it makes perfect sense! Not many of us like to play the usual boring technical exercises when we sit down to practice no matter how beneficial we all know they are. So why not put some enjoyment in those hours spent crafting your technique. In the following videos, I show you how I took one of my favorite riffs and turned into a solid technical workout.
When thinking about guitar lessons, most people think of private lessons in which the instructor meets one-on-one with the student. This has traditionally been the way that most guitar lessons are taught and it can be quite effective. However, group guitar lessons can be much more effective than the traditional one-on-one approach. Here are 3 reasons why group guitar lessons can be more effective than private lessons:
1. Students learn just as much from each other as they do from the instructor. While interacting with each other, students will actually learn more in a group environment than in a private lesson. Everyone processes information differently and will have different questions about the material being presented. Students may hear a question that they never would have thought to ask and in turn helps them to make faster progress. This provides a valuable support network for all students involved in the class.
2. Students are more likely to practice on a regular basis. Students in group guitar lessons will often hold each other accountable for practicing without even realizing it. By watching each other progress, students become more motivated to practice simply because they want to keep up with the rest of the class.
3. Students quickly get over their fear of playing in front of other people. If students are taught in a group lesson from the very beginning, they will not have the chance to develop a fear of performing in front of others. This is the best way to build their confidence at an early stage and provide them with support from their peers. By playing in front of each other, students quickly learn that they are not the only one struggling with the challenges of learning to play the guitar and it reduces stress for each student.
When it comes to learning and practicing the guitar, there are so many questions you might ask yourself. Some may be relevant and important questions, while others may be a complete waste of your time that draw your attention away from what really matters. Things like; Do I need to memorize every scale known to man? Should I practice more often? Should I learn to read music...and so on.
So how do you know what questions are relevant to you? You can answer that by asking yourself this one question; What is my end goal for learning the guitar? Asking yourself that question will help you narrow down the topics that are relevant to your specific goals. If you want to become a professional studio guitarist then you should be learning every scale and chord you can get your hands on and learning to read music. If you want to take a shot at being a rockstar, you should probably be practicing more often than not. If you want to play songs around the campfire with your friends, you shouldn't have to worry about endless scale patterns and chord shapes or be practicing for 8 hours a day. These are all examples of a "big picture" approach. You can also use the same question to narrow down relevant short term goals. For example if you are just trying to learn a few songs to impress your friends, you don't need to waste time learning scales and chords that aren't in the songs you are working on. The overall message here is that all guitarists are different people with different goals in mind. So do yourself a favor and stop worrying about what everyone else is practicing and figure out what is relevant to your own goals. You will save yourself time, frustration and ultimately have more fun!
1. Break down the chord shape into smaller pieces
When learning to play open chords it can be extremely difficult and frustrating to attempt to play chords using 5 or 6 strings. Your fingers get in the way of each other and have not yet developed the coordination or the flexibility they need in order to cleanly play some of the larger, more spaced out chord shapes. Let's take a C major chord for example. The standard chord shape for C major involves 5 strings (5th through 1st). We can turn this chord into 3 smaller shapes that only use 3 strings: 3rd through first, 4th through 2nd, and 5th through 3rd. When you reduce the amount of strings being used in the chord, it allows you to use less fingers at a time which lowers the difficulty of the chord. In time you can then try using 4 out of the 5 strings, and eventually you will feel comfortable using all 5 strings. Smaller chord shapes also work great for getting used to the feeling of switching between 2 or more chords.
2. Fretting hand muscle memory
It is absolutely necessary to spend time developing muscle memory in your fretting hand. This is more easily done when you remove the strumming hand from the equation and focus on the fretting hand alone. The first step is to figure out exactly where each finger is going to be for any particular chord shape. Practice placing one finger at a time until you can place your fingers from memory. Next you'll want to practice hovering your fingers above the strings and forming the chord shape BEFORE you touch the strings. Once you have the shape, practice placing all of your fingers at once. Do both of these steps daily with all of your open chords and practice until you can change from chord to chord effortlessly.
3. Strumming hand timing
To begin, set up a metronome at 60 bpm. Practice a downward strumming motion and make sure it syncs up with each beat of the metronome. While attempting your downward strums, pay careful attention to the speed at which your hand comes back up for the next strum. The speed at which your hand comes up should be identical to the speed of your downward strum so that your hand is traveling at a consistent speed and never stops moving between strums. Once you have mastered this, practice adding in the upward strum. To do this, just get your downward strums in sync with the metronome and your hand moving at a consistent speed then simply allow the pick to hit the strings as your hand comes back up. If you are in perfect sync with the metronome, you will notice that the upward strum occurs exactly between each beat of the metronome. This method of combining a downward strum and an upward strum on each beat is the basis for forming simple strum patterns. I suggest exploring different combinations of upward and downward strums. Just remember to stay in time with the metronome. Once you feel comfortable strumming in time with the metronome, go ahead and try holding down a few chords with your fretting hand. The important thing to remember at this time is to keep your strumming hand in time, even if your fretting hand feels totally lost and keeps missing the chord shapes.
As a beginner guitarist, you may be wondering where a good place to start would be. Most beginners want to jump into learning songs as quickly as possible and often choose materials that are just too difficult for them. This can, and most likely will, cause extreme frustration and confusion. In order to progress into more difficult material, you must first develop a solid technical foundation. The most important technique being two-hand synchronization. Learning to coordinate both of your hands together will be crucial to everything you play. Once you can comfortably synchronize both hands, it will make learning new material much easier and limit the time you spend feeling frustrated. Here are a few tips to get you started on your two-hand synchronization.
1. The Left Hand
In the beginning, it will be necessary to work on each hand individually to get a feel for the separate functions of each hand. Begin by working the left hand first. Pick any fret on the first string and place your first finger there. Repeatedly press down and release on that fret for approximately one minute. Then repeat this process using the other three fingers. Remember to only focus on your left hand. Do not attempt to pick any notes with your right hand at this point.
2. The Right Hand
After you have spent some time working with the left hand, you'll want to get a feel for the right hand as it picks the string. Take away your left hand and focus on picking the open first string. Notice how it feels as the pick hits the string and try to find a consistent volume and speed for each pick stroke.
3. Both Hands Together
The next step is to try both hands together. Start by getting your left hand going again, and focus on just one finger at a time. Repeatedly lift and place your finger on whatever fret you choose. Once you feel comfortable, add the right hand and try to pick the string at precisely the same moment you press down the note with your left hand. This precise timing in both hands is the key element of two-hand synchronization.
Once you develop a feel for this practice strategy, you can try applying it to more difficult exercises. For example, you can try moving to different frets or changing strings after every note.
Beginner and intermediate guitarists often encounter frustration in their guitar playing. Unfortunately there is no way around it, but being aware that this is a problem ALL guitarists face will help to motivate you through the tough times. The most important thing to keep in mind is to be patient with yourself. Here are a few tips for remaining calm and staying focused during the frustrating times.
1. Take It Slow
One of the major causes of frustration for beginner and intermediate guitar players is that they try to play things too fast. In the beginning stages of development, a guitarist needs to practice at very slow tempos to allow the brain time to process the information. Remember, speed is a byproduct of consistent and efficient practice. In the beginning you need to focus on playing things correctly, so be patient and the speed will come naturally.
2. Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed
For beginning students it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the new information and practice concepts being introduced. They are usually under the misconception that they must review absolutely everything they are working on for every practice session. This can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating and cause a lot of anxiety when it comes time to practice. Beginners need to keep there practice sessions short and simple. Remember to only work on one topic for each practice session and spread the remaining materials over multiple practice sessions.
3. Don't Worry About Everything You Don't Know Yet
This is a very common problem for intermediate guitarists. As an Intermediate player, you are just starting to put the pieces together and set goals for yourself as guitar player and as a musician. As you start to explore your interests, you immediately realize that there is a great deal about the guitar that you have not yet learned. This can be very frustrating and cause you to forget about everything that you have accomplished so far. During this time it helps to focus on the positive and remember that even though there is so much you haven't learned yet, there is still a lot for you to be proud of.
4. When All Else Fails, Find Something Fun To Play
There comes a time in all guitarists' lives where they encounter something that just doesn't click for them. You sit and spend countless hours of practice time trying to master a new technique or song and no matter what you do, you just can't seem to get the hang of it. When you encounter one of these road blocks, you must remember not to force the issue. Frustrated practice yields poor results and only leads to more frustration. Instead, find something fun to play that you are already good at. Put the other thing out of your mind and come back to it another time. Play to your strenghts and build your confidence as a guitarist, and everything else will take care of itself.
The thing that most beginners and even some advanced players don't realize is that you have to practice the art of practicing in order to get good at it. Some of you might think that is a little strange, but it is absoultely true. Think about it. Usually when you try something new, you're not very good at it and you have absoulutely no clue what to do. If you've never practiced the guitar before, then chances are you have no idea what to do. What do you work on? How long should you work on it? How do you know when it's good enough? These are all questions that are tough to answer if you've never practiced the guitar before. Here are 3 simple steps to creating a solid practice routine:
Step 1 - Warm Up
The warm up period is probably the most important step to any practice session. This is the time you spend at the beginning of each practice session doing simple exercises to get the hands losened up. More importantly, it allows you time to settle into the proper midset for the upcoming practice session. During the warm up period you should be paying attention to the small details of your playing such as your posture, tension in your hands and tone production, just to name a few.
Step 2 - Review your previous practice session
I often tell my students that it is a good idea to keep track of what you work on. This does not have to be a detailed description of every second of every practice session, rather, just a brief reminder to yourself about what you worked on and how you felt about your progress for that day. When you sit down to practice, look back to your notes from the previous session and from there decide what to work on for the day.
Step 3 - Play for fun
Learning to play the guitar should be fun and rewarding. If you are always working on technical and challenging material in your practice sessions, you run the risk of getting burned out and may find yourself puting more time between practice sessions, or worse, you may find yourself giving up altogether. It is always a good idea to save some time at the end of each practice session to play for pure enjoyment. How does the saying go? All work and no play... You get the idea.
Let's face it, everyone who has attempted to play guitar has hit a point of agonizing frustration, especially beginners. While many of us make excuses and give up, a few go on to learn the secrets of minimizing frustration and break through the beginner plateau. Don't be a quitter. Get on the right path to maximizing results and minimizing your frustration.
1. Know Your Limits
Too many beginners (and even more advanced players) try to do too much at once. As a teacher, I have had many students pick out a song or guitar solo that is unrealistic for their current abilities. Most students do realize the difficulty of their choice, but they are under the assumption that if they practice hard enough, they will be able to play it. Though I admire their ambition, I must explain to them that this is like trying to write a novel before you've learned to read. You can practice all you want, but it just won't make any sense and ultimately you will get frustrated and give up. Taking lessons from an experienced teacher is the best way to understand your limits and to learn to set goals that will gradually expand them.
2. Make Practicing Fun
This one sounds kind of obvious, but if you do not learn to enjoy the process of practicing you will be more likely to quit playing all together. In order to make practice fun you must first understand how and what you should be practicing. This will vary from player to player, but most beginners need to focus on 3 key points in their practice: coordinating the hands, developing the ears, playing enjoyable and rewarding music. A great teacher will design fun and, more importantly, relevant practice routines for developing new skills on the instrument. Learning to track your progress and implement frequent challenges for yourself will greatly increase your sense of enjoyment while practicing.
3. Play With Others
Playing music with other people is probably the number one goal for learning an instrument. However, most beginners see this as a distant goal that will happen someday after they have mastered the guitar. Actually it is extremely beneficial for beginners to start playing with other guitarists of the same ability as soon as possible. Seeing others go through the same process and overcome similar frustrations makes the learning process far less intimidating. Students in my guitar academy begin to play in small groups from the very beginning. The added sense of belonging to a community provides a valuable support network where students actually begin to help each other learn and stay motivated to practice.
Adam Robison is a professional guitarist with nearly 20 years of playing experience. Adam has been teaching guitar for over 8 years and holds degrees in both guitar performance and music technology.