If you’ve read this issue’s interview with Dweezil Zappa, you’ll have seen his mention of thinking in two-string pairs. This is something that I’ve found super helpful in my own playing, not only for generally getting around the neck, but also for adapting to the seven-string guitar for the first time (and later in my playing, the eight-string guitar).
The idea is very simple: if you know where the octaves are, it’s quite easy to break the guitar up into simple patterns on a pair of strings, then move that pattern up to the next pair and the next octave. Once you internalise this system, it becomes ridiculously easy to find your way around the neck and break out of the dreaded ‘always playing in one position’ rut.
Of course, this system would be perfect if the guitar was tuned consistently from string to string in parallel fourths, but we have that weird little glitch where the B is tuned to a major third. However, there’s an easy way to wrap your head around it: y’know how when you look at a straw in a glass of water, the light is refracted and the straw looks like it’s broken into two parts that are offset by a tiny bit? Just think of the ‘no man’s land’ between the G and B strings as the surface of a glass of water, offsetting the dry and wet portions of the straw by one fret. That way, your two-string pattern moves towards the bridge by just one fret on the B string.
Figure #1 shows you where the octaves are in the key of F# on a six-string guitar. Note that this accounts for that weird little warpy effect from the aforementioned tuning issue: the F# octave is found two frets up towards the bridge, and two strings apart for the low E and A strings. But once you cross the gap between the G and B, you hit the warp, and you need to go three frets up (but still two strings apart). So the first two pairs you’ll play in this bar are two frets apart; the other two are three frets apart.
Figure #2 shows a simple six-note pattern across two strings – first played on the E and A strings, then D and G, then B and high E. Because B and high E both occur after the warp, they don’t break up the pattern itself – they need to move three frets towards the bridge compared to the D and G pair, just like the octave offset mentioned in the last paragraph. Got that? Cool.
In Figure #3, we’re going to take the same pattern and show how it can be played on different string pairs. We’ll move it to the more neck-traverse-friendly key of C.
It’s important to practise all of this stuff in this way, too, so you can get the hang of the warp. You’ll notice that the second pair ends on the G string, while the third pair begins on the G. It’s up to you how you’ll go between these portions of the neck, but I’ve notated this in my preferred way: sliding up to the 13th fret with the index finger, then using that same finger to slide down to the fifth fret. It sounds a bit Vai when you do this.
Now, the next step here is to realise that you don’t have to simply play the same exact pattern on each pair of strings, or even the same rhythm. Treat this method like a scale: let it tell you where the notes are, knowing that you should use it to make actual music instead of just treating it as an exercise.