Lesson #003: Fretting Hand Technique & The Major Scale

Lesson #003: Fretting Hand Technique & The Major Scale

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?

Lesson #002: Reading Guitar Tablature & Picking Hand Technique

Lesson #002: Reading Guitar Tablature & Picking Hand Technique

In lesson #001, we did not have the opportunity to play the guitar, because we had a few important things to cover before getting into it.

But today, I hope you have your guitar (equipped with six strings) and a guitar pick / plectrum ready, because it’s time to begin learning basic playing technique.

How to Read Guitar Tablature

Guitar tablature (or “guitar tab” for short) is a simplistic method for notating guitar music.

We won’t be getting into all the details of how to read guitar tab just yet. Consider this a crash course (it will help you a lot with the exercises we’ll be trying later).

Notice how there are six strings on the guitar? If you don’t remember what each string is called, be sure to refer to lesson #001.

This is a good time to remember that the sixth string is the thickest, while the fifth string is the thinnest.

In guitar tab, the six horizontal lines represent each of your strings. The numbers appearing on top of the strings tell you which frets to play and in what order (guitar tab is read left to right).

Guitar tablature

Image source: Acoustic Guitar

For now, all you need to know is a) the horizontal lines represent the strings on your guitar, b) guitar tab is read left to right, and c) 0 means open string (meaning – play the open string without fretting it).

Basic Playing Technique

Not all of us were fortunate enough to be born with – or to have kept – both hands, eight fingers, and two thumbs. Not to worry, plenty of people have figured out how to play the guitar with some disadvantages.

Christian guitarist Phil Keaggy, for instance, is missing half of the middle finger on his right hand because of a water pump accident.

For all intents and purposes of this lesson, though, we’ll pretend like we have all limbs and extremities.

Picking Hand Technique

Let’s begin with the picking hand. If you’re right handed, this will be your right hand, and if you’re left-handed, this will be your left hand.

We’ll look at fingerpicking and other techniques later, but for the time being, it’s important that we learn how to use a guitar pick / plectrum and how to hold it.

A plectrum should be held between your index finger and thumb. The pick should be held close to the tip, and when your hand is in position, the tip should be pointed in the direction of the guitar you’re holding.

How to hold a guitar pick

Image source: FuelRocks

There are two types of picking. There are downstrokes and upstrokes.

First, let’s practice downstrokes on the sixth string (low E). We are working strictly on our picking hand technique right now, so there is no need to do anything with the other hand (your fretting) hand.

To play downstrokes, you’ll want to position your pick above the string.

Give this exercise a try:

Picking hand exercise 1

For the time being, rhythm is not important. We simply want to practice our downstrokes.

Next, we’re going to do the same thing, except we’re going to practice our upstrokes. To play upstrokes, you’ll need to position your pick below the string you’re planning to play. But we’re still practicing using just one string, the low E string.

Give this exercise a try:

Picking hand exercise 2

As I said in the first lesson, repetition is your friend. It’s recommended that you give each of these exercises the attention they deserve, and there is no law against practicing them dozens or even hundreds of times! It all depends on what rate you want to progress at.

Alternate Picking

“Alternate picking” may sound like an intimidating term, but it’s simply a combination of downstrokes and upstrokes.

Now, I’m not going to lie – this can be harder than it sounds. Because the idea is to alternate, back and forth, between downstrokes and upstrokes.

But this picking method is very efficient, and while it may seem unnatural at first, in time it will start to feel like second nature.

Let’s go back to the single note exercise we looked at earlier. This time, though, instead of playing just upstrokes or just downstrokes, the goal is to keep alternating between the two.

Here’s what that looks like:

Picking hand exercise 3

Now, playing just one string is easy. But what happens when you begin incorporating the other strings?

Well, the long and short of it is that it can take some getting used to. All strings basically have the same spacing between them, but when you’re first getting started, you will likely need to keep an eye on your fretting hand to know which string you’re playing.

Which is why the following exercise is well worth your time.

Essentially, all we’re doing is practicing our alternate picking on all six strings. But this is a very important skill to master, for reasons already covered.

This is the trickiest thing we’re going to be working on in this lesson, so take your time, start slowly, and focus on good technique over speed.

Picking hand exercise 4


Now that we’ve got your picking hand all warmed up, we’ve come to the end of another lesson!

The good news is you have some time to process what you’ve learned today before moving onto new concepts and techniques.

So, practice lots, and I’ll see you in the next lesson.