Fretting Hand Position

As I said in the previous article, the fretting hand is your left hand (unless you're playing a left-handed guitar. In this case it'll be your right hand).

The thumb is placed behind the neck and commonly do not participate directly in playing. The fingers press the strings against the frets.

guitar fretting hand position – the thumb guitar fretting hand position – the fingers

Keep the fingers in a roundish form like you would hold a lemon. The taps of the fingers are used to press the strings.

guitar fretting hand position

Do not bend the finger like in the following picture:

little barre example

The exception can be if you need to play a couple of nearby strings at the same fret, in this case you can lay down and press the phalanx of the finger across those strings. This method of fretting is called Little Barre and it's often used in guitar chords.

The fingers on the fretting hand are identified as follows:

  • the index is the 1st finger
  • the middle is the 2nd finger
  • the ring is the 3rd finger
  • and the pinky is the 4th finger.

Note that in guitar anatomy the word fret means a metal stripe located across the fingerboard.
However when talking about guitar playing, the same word fret means the space between the two metal stripes and not the metal stripe itself.

For instance, if you look at some guitar tab and see a note at the third fret, it actually means you need to press the string between the second and the third metal fret to get that note:

The 3rd fret in guitar tab
The 3rd fret on the guitar fingerboard

It's better to press the string(s) near the metal stripe - the one that is closer to the guitar body:

rather than in some random space between the stripes, this way you'll need to apply less pressure to get a buzz-free sound and your fingers will navigate easier around the fingerboard.

Notice and eliminate any unnecessary tension in your hands and arms that can often take place while you're in the beginning stage. Muscle tension is like rust, it makes playing more clumsy, abrupt and hard.

I play guitar for more than a few years now and the same problem sometimes happens to me as well, especially when I need to play something fast but forget to warm up by practicing in slow tempo at the beginning of a session.

Note: Often, in guitar tabs, you will encounter "0" number as a fret number like these ones:


The "0" stays for an open string. In order to play a note on an open string, avoid touching this string with your fretting hand and only pick it with your picking hand. In other words, your fretting hand does not participate in playing notes on open strings.

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This article was last updated on March 30, 2024