A recurring pattern that I see in rock music is that it will often opt for higher frets while lower frets are available. For example, in this tutorial for Alice in Chains - Them Bones, the guitarist chooses to start the solo on fret 8 on the A string. Why couldn't he start on the equivalent fret 3 of the D string?

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  • 5
    This is hardly confined to rock music. In most styles of music, guitarists make use of all the frets accessible on the fingerboard of their instrument. Why would they not?
    – user1044
    Jan 31, 2016 at 4:32
  • 1
    It is a bit hard to explain but certain phrases just work better in certain positions.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 31, 2016 at 7:33
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    Sometimes the reason is ambiguous, but here it is almost definitely due to the (relatively) huge difference between the sound of an open string (the D string) and a fretted note (5th fret A string). Mostly due to the fact that frets are metal, and nuts are plastic/bone/carbon. And other timbre effectors like string diameter, string length. One more thing -- there's a bend on the A string here. Bends are typically much easier on the middle of the string rather than at the end of the string.
    – Andrew
    Jan 31, 2016 at 19:30
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    I must have noticed it more in rock music than classical, because classical always comes in traditional notes, so I tend to play the easiest upper fretting, whereas rock music always comes in tabs, so I follow the height fretting that the composer usually goes for.
    – JoJo
    Jan 31, 2016 at 20:48
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    Classical guitars in general only have access to the first 12 frets. A classical guitar with a cutaway for access to the higher frets (as on an electric guitar) is a recent innovation. Consequently classical music for guitar tends to be composed and arranged with only 12 frets in mind.
    – user1044
    Feb 1, 2016 at 2:26

7 Answers 7


Off the top of my head...

  • the fret spacing is tighter there, so fingering a fast passage may be easier than in the lower position
  • the timbre of the notes is mellower and 'bluesier', which may be the desired effect
  • open strings can sound different to fretted notes, so it can be desirable to avoid open strings.
  • Muting technique is also different with open strings - you can't mute just by lifting the left hand finger. This is another reason to avoid open strings.
  • string bends are often easier to control in the middle of the neck, rather than in the lower positions
  • it's common to extend a note in a solo to a 'power chord', playing the fifth and the octave above - this is easiest to do when the power chord shape spans two frets only. If the root of the power chord is on the D or G string, the shape spans 3 frets.
  • Tighter fret spacing - good point. Jan 31, 2016 at 2:41
  • 5
    Vibrato is barely possible on open notes (you can wiggle it between the nut and tuning machine or bend the neck), but fairly easy for fretted notes. Jan 31, 2016 at 4:39
  • @ToddWilcox - and gets progressively easier the closer towards the 12th fret we get.
    – Tim
    Jan 31, 2016 at 9:58
  • @RockinCowboy of course it depends how big your hands are ("that's what she said!", etc.) Jan 31, 2016 at 20:24
  • Lol. Yes I have seen some guitar players who could span ten frets even on the north end of the fret board! But they still play mostly south of the 7th fret. Feb 1, 2016 at 3:25

First of all, there is more than one way to play almost any riff, solo, or musical phrase on a guitar. Unlike a keyboard instrument, the same note in the same octave can be played in multiple places on the guitar.

There are many reasons why a guitarist might choose one position to play a certain riff over another position. Sometimes it has to do with which direction the notes are going and by how much. It may be easier to get to the highest notes at the end of the riff by starting on a lower string at a higher fret and playing the higher notes on the higher strings - moving more vertically as opposed to horizontally.

There is also a slight tone difference that you get when playing the same pitched note on a fatter or thinner string and that can factor into the decision.

I think one reason you find rock guitarist opting to play solos in positions closer to the body is that rock guitar solos feature a great deal of string bending. It's easier to bend the string closer to the body than it is closer to the nut. Try it and you will see what I mean.

Also many rock solos end up on moving in an ascending pattern towards a crescendo or climax ending on some of the highest notes available on the guitar. It's a long way from the 3rd fret to the 22nd fret.

Having said that, don't be afraid to try different patterns on any given riff or solo to see what works and sounds best for you. Tab written by someone else is nothing more than a way to represent how they prefer to play it. It doesn't mean it can't be played another way or that their way is the only way (until you get to the higher frets on the first and second string) or even the best way!


The different positions of notes have a different tonality to them. Try listening to the same notes in different positions. The open string notes have a purity or clarity to them but the further you go away from the nut the more that type of effect is lost.

It may be a bit hard to explain but listen closely to the same notes in different positions they all seem superficially the same but if you listen closely you can hear they all slight character variances.

It may be a thing that the player would like to exploit.

  • I know. Same pitch but different timbre.
    – JoJo
    Feb 2, 2016 at 2:48

To have a more tensed sound. When low instrument (or string) plays a high note - it will sound tensed. When high instrument (or string) plays a low note - it will sound relaxed. So - if a violin and a cello will play the same note - the violin will sound more relaxed than the cello.

  • The question is about why guitarists choose to play the same note using a particular fret and string. On guitar, same note can usually be played in at least two or three different places. So the question is why do guitarists often choose to play the fretted location of a note when the same note is available as an open note, etc. Jan 31, 2016 at 18:06
  • To clarify the connection to my answer: you can think of each string of the guitar as a different instrument the low string being the cello and the high string is the violin. For the same note, if you play it on a low string it will sound more tensed than if you play it on a higher string (closer to be opened) Dec 24, 2016 at 10:01

I agree with most of what's been said, but I'd like to give an answer that is specific to that first bar.

The vast majority of the notes are A string 5th fret. Thus the music tenses on the notes played on the 8th fret and relaxes on the notes played on the 5th fret. Playing the notes on different strings sounds completely different (both because of the different tones of each string and also because the notes can ring at the same time), so that's out.

The other alternative is to shift everything up one string and down 5 frets. Then we have lots of 0's and a few 3's. Again, the brighter tone of the string and in particular the use of open notes completely change the character.

So in summary, you can play it elsewhere on the neck, but it won't sound the same.

Another thing to note is that the large number of notes on the 5th fret makes the fingering quite easy. The index finger does all the work on the 5th fret with the other fingers covering the higher frets, and it just feels very natural to play in that position.

The 5th fret is a very natural place for the hand to be. The frets are nicely spaced, not too far apart nor too close together. You also have room to be creative, as you have more frets below as well as above, that you can dive down to if you feel like throwing in a deeper sounding lick.

In Maria Maria by Santana you can see him stretch from the 12th fret to the 17th fret in this video. It's on the 1st (high E) string, so there isn't a lower fret fingering available, but anyway it shows there can be an advantage of higher frets. This stretch would be impossible on lower frets.

  • For a particular tonality to suit the effects, distortion and amp used.
  • Because it's easy to play in that position
  • For rock bands, with the bass, drumkit and rhythm guitar occupying most of the lower frequencies, the lead guitar will play up the fretboard and higher in pitch to make their statement clearer and easier to hear.

I didn't read every comment but I can tell you something that you need heaps of physics and mathematics to figure out with music. The formula for frequency has three factors time volume and frequency or tension or stretch. If you play the string on a higher fret then the tone has less sustain which is value influenced by the volume of the string, not audio volume which is confusingly the same thing but the mass of the section of the string you are vibrating having more or less sustain according to the weight of the string between any two points. You have less volume and less sustain the shorter the string and the invention of the modern pickup allows you to compensate for the loss of volume with amplification and a reason modern Rock guitarists use foot pedals to switch up the gain ECT. When they play up the fretboard having less sustain has two advantages one is that you can play faster because the note resonates for a shorter period and the other advantage is that the frets are closer together which equals speed for your fingers. Another effect is that pitch bending is more dramatic because it's a shorter distance required to stretch the string when bending up the notes. If you have read this far then you might appreciate this stuff and I want to change up the subject a bit. If you want awesome tone then buy an old valve radio and convert it into an amp or preamp when music is amplified through a valve the signal gets distorted in a nice way because the energy goes through a vacuum however it isn't a perfect vacuum because that would cause the tube to implode however the imperfect vacuum has resistance which trims the frequency of your pickup vibrations to keep the tone natural, this is really important in a world of transistor electronics which have abrupt and disrupted signals, basically the transistors switch in time with the core clock which will reallign the signal from your music to match it's clock and then cover the effect with tone algorithms, all our music would sound better if we passed it through at least one valve before the speaker in my opinion, but at this point in time I'm still a novice at understanding radiotronic technology.

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