On Justin Sandercoe's site he recommends a flute book for guitarists, this caught my eye:

Why a flute book? because most sight reading books for guitar are written for guitarists and are either in position or are mind numbing boring random notes and scales. This book is full of short beautiful melodies by the greatest composers so the reading is actually fun! As well as that the melodies are real, not exercises so you get "real" experience of reading real melodies. They are also not in position so you get used to choosing a position to read in. There are many time signatures covered too - so you can develop that skill.

I've never heard of the phrase "in position" or "not in position", can someone explain what it means exactly?

2 Answers 2


In playing string instruments, the term "Position" refers to the placement of the left hand along the fretboard/fingerboard. Different instruments might number them differently, but with guitar, I think its the number of the fret that your index finger is would be stopping. So when your fingers are in the "usual" place, at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frets, you are in "first position" (or more accurately, your hand is in first position). When you move up the neck, you are playing in a higher position (seconds, third, etc..., for each next fret higher).

As a side note, even in guitars, the word position can be used in slightly different ways (using different numbering schemes). See here for much more details: I don't understand scale positions.

I think what this advice is saying is that guitar practice books are often written with these mechanical aspects in mind, and either are written in such a way as to take advantage of your hands being in a certain position, and/or have the position actually marked on the music. By suggesting flute melodies, where no positions were even considered when written, the guitarist must decide which position to play in while reading the music, thus giving them more practice in learning an additional aspect of guitar playing (and one which the author apparently feels is neglected).


Having just dug out the flute book in question from my archives (!), it seems like not a bad idea. The first few tunes can be played using open strings and not moving too far up the neck. On guitars, once one learns that there are two octaves available without moving up or down more than 4 or 5 frets, one can play most, if not all of a particular tune in that position. E.g. in A major, start on the 6th string, fret 5, and all the notes you'll need are between fret 4 and fret 7, but some tunes may go higher, and then one may use the next 'position' up.

The idea is good, given that a flute is played at actual pitch, whereas a guitar sounds an octave lower than read. This isn't a problem. The downside is that the lowest note a flute plays is the B found on 5th string, 2nd fret/ 6th string, 7th fret. So one can't practise reading and playing notes lower than this from dedicated flute music.

So, to answer, one needs to look at the whole tune, check highest and lowest notes to be played, and decide where on the guitar is the optimum fret place to play, without having to slide up or down at all, if possible, and generally it is more than a possibility. Obviously, it's o.k. to move to another position for part or all of a tune, maybe to generate a change in tone, using thicker strings, further up the neck, for instance.

So, the term doesn't really refer to the scored music - far more to where a guitarist will want/need to play it.

  • 1
    On a slight tangent, how does one play that B? I thought Middle C was as low as you could go - basically "press everything!" - so is this B3?
    – Mr. Boy
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 18:23
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    There are two different types of "foot joint" that can come with a flute. The (standard?) C foot only goes down to C, while the B foot is about an inch longer, and throws in an extra key that takes the flute down to B. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 18:33

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