Learn more about my Create Your Own Arrangement series

The C Position

The C Position is the first part of my series. The second is The G Position. The C Position is the easiest to use and most of (composer) Hans Zimmer’s music lends itself to the C Position on guitar.

Note: the video above is just a promotional overview. Below, you’ll find 3 videos, 4 pages of guitar TABs (with time stamps), and 900 words covering everything in this order of detail:

The C Position

  1. The C Position Basic Chords
  2. The C Major Scale
  3. The Modal Scale
  4. C Position Chord Variations

Adding Color

  1. Trills
  2. Lead-ins
  3. Intervals

Putting it all together

  1. Melody
  2. Melody + Bass
  3. Melody + Chords
  4. Putting it all together (riffing off the melody)

The C position in action

A few real-world examples + TABs of how The C Position is used on this blog.

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You’ll love this. The videos and TABs are available below:

Please download or print the TAB before you get started.

#1 Basic Chords 0:00

These are the basic chords in the C position: C, D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor, B diminished, then C again. When you’re playing in the C Position, these are the chords that you’ll use.

Much of Hans Zimmer’s music uses basic chords in the C Position. He just weaves a simple melody between the chords and voilà — the most famous modern day composer.

#2 The C Major Scale 0:48

The C Major scale comprises all of the notes we’ll use to create our arrangements. Playing through the scale gives our ears a tonal overview of the entire position. If you ever sang do re mi fa so la ti do in elementary school — that’s exactly what a major scale is. The C Major scale starts on C and ends on C (one octave higher).

#3 The Modal Scale 1:07

Essentially, a mode is an infinite major scale. The same 8 notes over and over. Ascending or descending.

Our major scale begins on a C note and ends on a C note, one octave higher. If we continue the exact same scale from the high C note (until we quickly run out of strings) that’s a mode.

If you want to get really technical this mode is called Phrygian.  However, we’ll just call it The Modal Scale. The modal scale is practical because it gives us all of the notes we’ll need to generate our bass and melodies.

#4 Chord Variations 1:35

These are some chord variations that I often use. They are derived from 8 basic chords on section #1 of the guitar tab.

I’ve given you their basic chord names. For instance, the C2 chord is sometimes called C (add 9). This already puts us way too far into subjective chord theory.

We only need to know this: if you play a basic chord shape in the C Position, then adjust one finger to a different note congruent with The Modal Scale – you’ve achieved a chord variation. No need to overthink it.

Adding Color

#5 Trills 0:00

The thrill of trills! Learn to employ trills like composer/guitarist Gustavo Santaolalla; keep your chords and melody simple — then use subtle trills to add technique and tension to your arrangement.

These are some trills in the C Position. I used A minor and D minor for my chords. Trills tend to sound better when paired with minor chords.

#6 Lead-ins 0:50

A lead-in is another technique I lifted from Gustavo Santaolalla. He tends to use entire chords as melody lines. A great way to break up the monotony is leading in with the highest note of your chord first. In many cases, leading in actually buys you time while you get in to the chord position.

#7 Intervals 1:26

Again, Gustavo Santaolalla most famously employed intervals on his (now iconic) Brokeback Mountain score. An interval is when you simply play the low and high note of your desired chord. Not at the same time, but with a staggered affect.

Putting it all together

#8 A Simple Melody 0:00

Here we have a simple 4-note melody from the notes we find in The Modal Scale. Whether you’re writing music or creating an arrangement — sometimes you’ll start with the melody first.

#9 Melody + Bass 0:17

I’ve added some random bass notes to our melody from the lower end of our Modal Scale. Things are sounding pretty good right now. You’ll notice that I employed an interval on the final note.

#10 Melody + Chords 0:32

Rather than intervals, I used arpeggiated chords against the melody line. A happy accident is the ascension effect from intervals to arpeggiated chords.

You could use bass notes and intervals against your melody to keep things low key (no pun intended). Then, you’d employ chord shapes against the melody for emphasis.

#11 Putting it all together 0:50

This is where I took our melody in a new direction by experimenting with other chord shapes from the C Position. I also used Trills, The Modal Scale, and Lead-ins.

As long as you’re playing chords from The C Position, and notes from The Modal Scale — everything you do will sound cohesive. We simply spruce up notes and chords with trills, lead-ins, and Intervals.

#12 How and when to use a capo (tab only)

If you’re writing your own music — the use of a capo depends on your tonal desire. Apply a capo for a higher pitch to your “C Position”.

If you’re transcribing music, using your ear, and creating an arrangement — you’ll need to identify a possible capo position. We do this by memorizing the the shape of our C Position Modal Scale (Phrygian). Within the tab, you’ll see that I drew the neck of the guitar, and dotted in the shape of the Modal Scale.

If you’re playing a melody line high on the neck that looks/sounds like a higher variation of the C Position Modal Scale, you’ll need to apply a capo to the first fretted notes. From there your C-Position will operate as normal.

Please download or print the TAB.

The C Position in action

The greatest example of the C Position in action is Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar. I could have written this entire blog post around this single piece of music. Here’s a few more from this blog that will use capos and slight alternate tunings — while still remaining in The C Position.

Hans Zimmer: Beautiful Lie

Hans Zimmer : Time

Downton Abbey

Hell or High Water

Between the Shadow and Soul

Gustavo Santaolalla: The Wings + TAB

This will be a good start for you to create your own music and arrangements. The next post in this series will be, The G Position.

Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, film composer - Broken Noons, creator of modern content for guitar.