David Mead addresses your technical, musical and theoretical issues.
Post your playing posers and technical teasers to: Theory Godmother, Guitar Techniques, 30 Monmouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at email@example.com - every wish is your Godmother’s command!
Out Of Reach? Dear Theory Godmother
I’m a bit concerned about the level of reach I have with my fretting hand. I can stretch between the 5th and 9th frets on an electric guitar with not much of a problem, but I’ve seen pictures of players who seem to be able to span much further. Is there a recommended amount of reach - an average among players? Furthermore what are the limitations for players who can’t span large chunks of the fretboard, and is it something I should be worrying about in the first place?
I’d ignore many of the pictures you see of guitarists posing for the camera with outrageous finger spans. I think that at some point there must have been some sort of contest between players to come up with the most extreme fretboard stretches in photographs and most of them have no practical application whatsoever!
As far as an average is concerned, I would say that being able to reach between the 5th and 9th frets is good enough for most things. I’ve just picked up a guitar and can stretch from the 5th to 11th frets at a push - but I don’t think I’d ever need to in the music that I play. I’ve seen players with all manner of hand shapes and sizes learn to play well, so extreme stretches don’t seem to factor much with overall ability.
I’d put more of an emphasis on fretting hand flexibility in general and finger dexterity in particular. It’s far more important to have complete control over any given span than to aim for some kind of gymnastic ability in terms of reach alone. This can be approached with simple scale routines - learning single, two and three octave scales will get the fingers used to finding their way across the guitar’s playing surface.
If you want to consolidate your span, strengthen it and render it more useable, then the exercises in Ex 1 will help. Do them over all six strings, move them slowly down the fretboard and you’ll find that you’ll enhance what you already have, maybe add a little more stretch at the same time, and make your fretting hand fighting fit!
Bar Talk Dear Theory Godmother
I’ve enclosed a bar of music that has been the source of a little confusion. It’s an excerpt from a solo that I found in a book and at first I thought it was a misprint, but looking at a few other transcriptions recently, I see it’s much more common than I thought.
The first 8th note of the bar is rested, but the second is a quarter note. But how can this be right when it seems to be tying the second half of beat one with the first half of beat two? Shouldn’t they have used a tie?
As I said, I’ve found this in other transcriptions and wondered if it’s one of those occasions where there are two ways of notating the same thing. Could you clear things up, please?
I’ve reproduced the bar you sent me as straightforward rhythm rather than pitches, Sam, as it makes it easier to read (Ex 2). You’re right in thinking that the quarter note sitting between beats 1 and 2 might also be shown as a tie (Ex 3) and that this is indeed an occasion where there are two approaches to notating the same information.
I started seeing the ‘in between beats’ back in the 1980s, mainly in transcriptions from the US, and I can only guess that this is the way offbeat notation is taught over there. I was taught to make each beat of the bar stand out individually – the approach Guitar Techniques favours – but I guess it’s a case of horses for courses, so be prepared to meet both approaches. There’s no difference in sound between the two but it may catch you out a few times to begin with, so become used to seeing it.
No Fret Threat Dear Theory Godmother
Recently, I have become interested in fretless guitar, inspired by players like Guthrie Govan and Bumblefoot. However, comments from my fellow players have been fairly negative, their main points circulating around the fact that fretless guitars are expensive and quite rare to find. In view of this it would be difficult to sit down and try one before purchasing, and this would mean ordering one either from a shop or online and hoping that I get on with it when it arrives on my doorstep. I feel that I need to be aware of the pros and cons before committing myself and any input would be very valuable indeed.
The main thing to overcome, Tony, is intonation. On a fretted guitar it doesn’t matter overmuch where we place our fingers when playing chords or single notes, as it’s the fret itself that tempers the pitch and keeps us in tune. Without frets to perform this task, however, we’re responsible for exact positioning of our fingers to produce the correct pitches, as you have to position your fingers where the frets should be, rather than playing behind the frets as normal.
Chords can be a challenge, too; even open Em down at the nut can cause upsets as the notes played on the fifth and fourth strings have to be parallel, played as a part barre and not as we’d normally play it using two fingers (Ex 4).
I know that fretless guitars are quite a rare find, but I would advise you to seek one out just to see if you think you’ll get on with it before spending money, only to find that it’s not the smooth ride you might have imagined.
EXAMPLES - 4