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When I first got into guitar, I was given advice to follow a "one finger per fret" rule with the left hand.

Basically, to fret notes with all four fingers, and to follow a pattern such that in any position on the fretboard, each finger has responsibility for fret it is covering.

The key to this technique is that you actually use the pinky as much as any other finger, so it does end up getting used quite a bit and becomes nearly as capable as any other finger.

I hope that description makes sense. I can give more information if it is not clear.

Now on to my question. I notice that practically no one uses this fretting technique. Nearly all blues and rock guitarists use only three fingers, and forego the pinky when playing lead.

I'm not going to change my technique - I'm happy with how I have developed it.

But I would like to give advice to other players, and I'm not sure if the advice I was given is necessarily good advice if it flies in the face of how most blues/rock players actually play.

What opinions or advice do people have for fingering lead licks in a blues / rock style? Three or four fingers for lead work?

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9 Answers 9

i know that if you want to play irish traditional music you NEED to use the "finger per fret" method or else it is practically impossible, there are even situations where you need to have the finger per fret method and then move in and out of the hand position depending on the piece of music.

The finger per fret method has a definate advantage, once learned its something that you should use but not as a set in stone rule, there are some things that just wont suit it :)

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Finger per fret is widely used; and is used by some of the most technical rock/contemporary players in the world.

Paul Gilbert Joe Stump Steve Vai John Petrucci

All use their pinkies in this way;

Use of the little finger simply offers you more note options on the neck; giving you a wider reach without needing to shift hand position.

The more flexible your hands the more each finger can do; the most experienced players often cover 4+ frets with the first three fingers; using the little finger for the far stretches when neccesary.

In the end it comes down to how you feel comfortable; I have found that almost everyone I have advised 'finger per fret' to has seen a massive improvement in their playing and their abilities to remember scale/arpeggio positions/patterns on the neck.

That said; it should only ever be the base technique of your fingering; you will need to alter/adjust fingering for many things.

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That Paul Gilbert video is awesome! –  JohnOpincar Feb 24 '11 at 1:59

Definitely worth learning one finger per fret, and practicing as wide a reach as your hand can take. For many pieces of music I find my little finger is much more useful than my ring finger, despite the ring finger being the 'right' one to use - if I hadn't built my pinky strength up I would not be able to do some of the things I do.

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I've found that it is much easier to play some songs when I'm flexible about my fretting.

For example, when going from A to B to Bsus4 (e.g., the Eagle's "Peaceful Easy Feeling"), I find it much easier to fret my middle, ring and pinky for the A, then slide into the B and barre with my index. Going into Bsus4 means the pinky just slides one more fret:

       A     B     Bsus4
E|-----0-----1-----1-----
B|-----1-----3-----4-----
G|-----1-----3-----3-----
D|-----1-----3-----3-----
A|-----0-----1-----1-----
E|-----------------------

You could go from A to B by fretting the D, G and B strings with your ring finger (bending up at the joint to not fret that little e!), but then going to Bsus4 is much harder!

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To each his own, depending on taste, goals and comfort, of course.

Still, my 2 cents : practicing one finger per fret (and as a consequence, paying more attention to the fingering) will bring you another great and useful tool. The hand position tends to be more "correct" and less diagonal to the neck when you play this way, but there also is a feel to the way you play, and if you think dirty, laid back or agressive blues / blues rock you certainly won't have the same approach as if youre in shred mode. Or fingerpicking, etc.

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Also, someone should mention Django Reinhardt at some point ^_^ –  Pif Jan 20 '11 at 8:44

I wouldn't consider this to be a set in stone rule. However I do feel you should be comfortable playing like this as much as any other style.

Do not neglect your pinky! It could save your life one day.

Ideally you should get to a position where by you slip in and out of one per string ad hoc. Like all things in music, the more diverse your practice routine the more interesting and your playing.

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I notice that practically no one uses this fretting technique. Nearly all blues and rock guitarists use only three fingers, and foegoe [sic] the pinky when playing lead.

Well, it depends on which guitarists you are referring to. Indeed, some of the greatest fretboard exponents were limited in their left hand capabilities. Applying one finger per fret is known as position playing and this is what one should use for the greatest versatility and speed. Sure, one could get by just fine with only three fingers, but getting that pinky up and running makes for a phenomenal leap in left hand dexterity. Of course, there are passages where the best fingering would not necessarily stick to one finger per fret, but in general, one's fingers should always be in position. There are several exercises out there to strengthen the little finger. Whenever I see that little finger dangling in performance, I just cannot shake off that feeling of "Wow, this is poor form." If the player is quite good, this is usually not too worrisome, but if the player is not that great, then this becomes a huge distraction.


I mostly play classical guitar and bass, so you might consider this answer biased, but I consider position playing best practice for all fretted instruments (acoustic, bass, etc).

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The blues scale is a subset of the full scale, so for a blues guitarist it will be easier/sufficient to use 3 fingers as a "simplified" version of the "one finger per fret" rule.

This would in many cases also apply for classic rock guitarists, as the schemes are often similar to the blues scheme.

When you are familiar with using the full "4-fingers", you will have an advantage in playing any style.

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While I don't personally follow the 'one finger per fret' rule, I think it is important to have a strong pinky finger.

If anything I would say I fall into the category of 3 1/2 fingers for lead work. As I'm moving around the fretboard I use the finger that feels the most natural. I try not to focus on which finger it is as long as it feels right. In general that makes things easier to play and more likely that I will remember how to play something when I go back to it.

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