Lesson #003: Fretting Hand Technique & The Major Scale

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Uncategorized

In lesson #002, we had the opportunity to work on our picking hand technique.

Make no mistake – basic picking hand technique doesn’t take too long to develop, but it is far more important than most people tend to give it credit for!

But it’s also true that fretting hand technique is where a lot of the action happens. And in this lesson, we finally get to combine fretting hand technique with picking hand technique.

Your Fretting Hand

You’ve already had to learn a few conventions in terms of guitar anatomy, string names, guitar tablature, upstrokes / downstrokes, and more. But trust me when I say I’ve been going easy on you. There are just so many terms and techniques to cover!

Now we get to look at your fretting hand. While important, there isn’t much need to memorize any of this right now. Basically, if you gain a basic grasp of what’s covered here, you’re good.

So, your fretting hand is made up of a thumb and four fingers, right?

That basically means the naming convention for these fingers will be:

  • T = thumb
  • 1 = index
  • 2 = ring
  • 3 = middle
  • 4 = pinky

Fair warning – what finger to use and when often does not appear in guitar tablature, but it does sometimes.

In case you’re wondering, yes, you can fret notes with your thumb. Jimi Hendrix certainly did.

Fretting Notes

There’s more to fretting notes than meets the eye.

And this is crucial to know – we’re not trying to fret chords right now, or anything requiring more than one finger. We’ll get there, but right now, it’s important that we work on one finger at a time.

Anyway, you may recall the frets / fret wires discussed in lesson #001.

The idea is this – by fretting a string at a specific fret, you can produce different notes.

For instance, if you were to fret the first fret on the sixth string, you’d have an F. Although it is still the E string, because you’re fretting it at the first fret, the note becomes an F.

But how do you fret a note? There are some nuances that make it work.

First, let’s talk about positioning. To fret a note, your finger should be placed not on top of the fret, but right next to it, almost as if it’s hugging the fret.

Second, you must apply pressure to the string. The idea is to press and hold the string against the fretboard.

If the note is not sounding clearly when you play it, it’s either because your finger isn’t positioned correctly, you’re not applying enough finger to the string, or both.

At first, fretting notes will feel awkward. This is par for the course! You will get used to it if you keep working on it though.

The Major Scale on One String

Before we try anything too tricky, I always like to start off with something simple.

But now that you know how to fret notes, you’re ready to try your first scale. This scale is called the major scale. In this case, specifically, it’s the E major scale.

We can play the scale entirely on one string (laterally). For this example, we’ll be using the high E string only.

Since this is your first scale, I’ll be offering some suggestions as to what fingers to use on which frets. You don’t need to follow my suggestions exactly, but it would be wise to give each of your fingers a workout.

  • 0 = no fretting required
  • 2 = index
  • 4 = ring
  • 5 = pinky
  • 7 = index (shift your hand up)
  • 9 = middle
  • 11 = pinky
  • 12 = pinky

As with most things on the guitar, anything worth doing forwards is also worth doing backwards, so I’ve notated the exercise in both directions.

Oh, and remember alternate picking? Yeah, I suggest using that here…

E major scale (lateral)

The crazy thing about the pattern you just learned, though, is that you can use it on all the other strings too. It stays a major scale, just in a different key.

Remember the name of the strings? E, A, D, G, B, E. So that means if you played the same pattern on the second string, instead of the E major scale, you’d have the B major scale.

B major scale

Crazy, huh?

Your Assignment

Your assignment for today is to play (and practice) the major scale pattern you just learned on every string.

Yes, that means all six strings on the guitar, from high E to low E. And it’s also recommended that you work your way back the other way, too, from low E to high E.

This exercise will teach you how to play the major scale on every string. That means you’ll know the pattern inside and out relatively quickly!

As a bonus, you’ll get better at switching between strings too. This may seem easy, but beginners do get stuck on this at first.

Always check to ensure your picking hand and fretting hand are lined up with each other for best results.


Just getting started? Hey, I know what you mean, but we’ve had a lot of concepts and technique to cover.

In the next lesson though? You’ll have the opportunity to play a lot more than you have so far.

So, practice lots, and I’ll see you back here for another lesson, alright?