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.
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.