Australian Guitar - - Technique -

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.

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