Playing open string vs. fretted note?

Hi there,

I just completed the lesson in grade 2, module 8, on the Open E Minor pentatonic scale and in an attempt to double up practicing the scale and building my hand strength & flexibility, I started to play the scale using the 5th fret note instead of the open string.

This made me curious if there’s any reason or situation (generally speaking) for playing an open string instead of the corresponding fretted note and vice versa - or does this come down to individual guitarists’ personal preference?

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Zak @lost_at_the_disco
I am perhaps not the best person to advise on theory, but I think Justin teaches the open minor E pentatonic at this stage in the journey as it easier. If you where to look to play it fretted you would have to start at the twelfth fret and the fingers used would be different.
Starting at the fifth fret on sixth string is the note a.
More info on the shapes is in this lesson.

By the way welcome to the community😀


I’m not that far along, but what I notice is this:

  1. bigger strings have more lower frequency content than smaller, so you can change the tone a little bit depending on the string you select. Try it - play E on string6, fret 12, then again on string 4, fret 2.
  2. keeping my hand in one position is faster than moving large distances, so hitting a sequence of notes will sound more fluid and less stuttering.
  3. You may want to let one note ring while you play another. If they would be on the same string, then you’d need to play one of them on another string.

One thing I did very early on was to transcribe a simple recorder tune into tab. My goal was to create a musical thing to help practice moving my hand up and down the neck. The initial tab used one string, going from open to fret 14. Turned out I also needed to practice hitting the right strings, so I later created a version with the same notes, but on three strings with my hand not needing to move, just fingers. This gave me insight to what strings were useful to select when playing.

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Hey Zak,

For me its about the sound you’re after, and the context. Open position scales have a different sound and feel to them, cos you’ve got those ringing open strings. Maybe a bit richer/ fuller would be one way of putting it.

Cheers Shane.

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Hi Zak welcome to the forum.
What you’re playing is the next pattern up (there are 5 patterns) of the mimor pentatonic scale. To answer your question if you’re playing open chords and licks between each chord the open strings would be right in the same spot on the neck as the open chords so you wouldn’t need to move your hand.
If you’re playing up the neck you would use one of the other 4 patterns depending on where on the neck you’re playing.

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Just adding another thought: when you fret a note, you have more options on how that note will sound. You can add vibrato, for example, or you can slide into the note or bend it. You can also make it staccato by releasing pressure on the fretted note.

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There’s lots of good answers for this question, but my answer is: open vs. fretted choice is based on -

  1. Playing ease (what notes are in easy reach of your fretting fingers)

  2. The tonal qualities you prefer (fretted sounds different than open)

Once you start getting into playing Blues in E, you will be amazed on how handy that E minor Pentatonic is at the nut. There’s lots of neat things you can do when the open string is part of the scale that you can’t do when all notes in the pattern are fretted.

Have Fun!

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