SMG Guitar Lesson #2: The Five Octave Positions

The following is an excerpt from my “Hello Guitar” Guide to Getting Started

Note: occasionally in this post, you will see a lower case “b” next to a note name. This means that the note is “flat.”

Given any note or chord, there are only five positions on the guitar neck from which it can be played. This is an incredibly useful tool considering that there are over 3,500 chords and over 550 different scales that can be played on the guitar. Yet, everything you will ever do on the guitar boils down to understanding these five simple positions. These are the five positions from which a given root note is played with at least one other octave. (Root notes are the notes that define a chord or scale at its foundation. For example, in the C Major chord, the root note is the note C, from which, the rest of the chord gets its name.) In this book, I have labelled these as positions one through five. Add them to your warm-up routine and spend as much time as needed to get familiar with them. We’ll be using these positions quite a bit throughout this book as we learn how to construct numerous scales and chords. Position 1 occurs when the root note is located on the top, bottom, and fourth string. 

Helpful Tips for position 1:

  • There is one fret in between the root notes on the first and sixth strings and the root note on the fourth string.
  • There is one string in between the root note found on the 6th string and the root note found on the 4th string
  • There are two strings in between the root note found on the 4th string and the root note found on the 1st string.
  • The notes on the top and bottom string of a fret are always the same root note.
  • In the open position, the notes E, F, and F# occur in position 1
  • Thanks Robert. Appreciate the lessons, very helpful…

  • David asks “Hello, I saw your videos on the octave positions, but how do you use them for a song and what are they use for?”

    Good question.

    – Because there are five ways to find octaves, there are at least five ways to play each chord. When composing music, I use this knowledge to find interesting chord voicings and create strong call & response chord progressions. For example, you can play a progression once through and then use different voicings the second time through to create more movement. You can even use your knowledge of chord inversions when writing guitar solos.

    Also when memorizing scale patterns, it’s important to remember which octave position the root note of the key is found in. – This becomes a strong “lock and key” approach to playing, unlocking the entire fretboard for any key you want to play in.

    Be sure to sign to sign up for my free newsletter and be on the lookout for upcoming lessons, where I’ll go into more detail about this technique. In the meantime, be sure to learn the five octave positions – because they’ll come in handy!

  • Mark Ayers Sr

    I just revisited learning the fretboard this morning, timely lesson from you. Thanks Robert.

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