|Using Octave Notes to Get Your Bearings
The Most Obvious Set of Octave Notes.
If you look at the fingerboard of the guitar, without pushing down on any string,
the first 12 frets appear as shown above. You should quickly see that the note
played at the 12th fret of any string is one octave (12 half-steps) above the note played
on the same open string.
But there are other octave notes, and they are very easy to
find. In fact, we're back to mathematical relationships -- simple ones. We'll
use the first 5 frets only to begin this discussion, for simplicity's sake. But
remember that these concepts will apply all the way up the neck.
E Octave Notes. Let's build the
first octave three ways, starting with low E. The low E note is played by picking
the open low E string. We'll call that note E1.
E2 is the E note one octave above
low E. We've already seen that it is found 12 half-steps or 12 frets above E1
on the same string.
This is the same as playing the chromatic scale on a single string.
The formula for finding an octave note on the same string
is that if you can find a fret either 12 frets above or 12 frets below a note, that will
always be an octave note. Let's call this the "12 step"
But E2 is also found 12 half-steps or 12
frets above E1, but over on the A string. In fact, it's 1 string
over and then another 7 frets higher than E1.
How about referring to this as the "1 and 7"
E2 is also found 12 half-steps or 12 frets
above E1, but moved over onto the D string. In fact, it's 2 strings
over and then another 2 frets higher than E1.
Let's call it "2 and 2" for
And finally, E2 is the same
note, whether it's played on the 12th fret of the low E string or the 2nd fret of the D
string. Play each one and listen. Assuming the guitar is properly tuned, they
should sound the same note.
All three of these ways of making an octave result in the
same two notes being played. However, the one which is most often the most useful is
the physically shortest one, using the "2 and 2" formula.
As we'll see, that formula has great application for learning where notes are found.
Now look at the graphic above, with the
"balloons" showing the relationships. Let's slide those balloons up to G,
as is shown below.
G Octave Notes. Now we can see that
the relationships are exactly the same, except that we've "lost" the same string
octave, simply because the graphic stops at the 12th fret. If it went to the 15th
fret, because everything shifted 3 frets to the right, it'd be fine. In fact, your
guitar fingerboard almost certainly goes to the 15th fret or higher.
Without boring you further, it should be obvious that these
formulae hold true right on up the neck.
Move the Balloons. The same formulae
work on the A - D - G strings, and are moveable up the neck in the same way.
D String. Let's try the balloons
moved up another string, to the D string. Let's see -- the 12 step formula works,
the 1 and 7 formula works. Oops! How come the 2 and 2 formula
doesn't line up properly?
Well, this all has to do with the funny way the guitar is
tuned. Remember as you tune your guitar that you match up the 5th fret of any string
with the next higher string, and the tones should match? That's how you get in tune,
right? Well, mostly right. There's one exception: From the G to the B
string, you match the 4th fret instead of the 5th. Because of that change, the
octave formulae are slightly different
Here's how they work:
D Octaves. When starting on the open
D string, the 12 pattern is the same, as is the 1 and 7 pattern. However, what was
before the 2 and 2 pattern is now 2 and 3 ( 2 strings over and 3 frets up.)
That extra half step takes into account the difference
between the G and B strings.
The patterns will now move up the neck just as others will.
G Octaves. Because of the B - G
change, 2 of the formulae are different here. 2 and 7 becomes 2 and 8, and 2 and 2
is now 2 and 3.
This difference may seem difficult, but it's quite easy to
remember with a little practice. Your ear will tell you if the notes are and octave
Conclusion. Look at the charts, move
the balloons around visually, and practice making the octaves on the guitar, so you get
the sounds in your head.
Note where all of the notes of each pitch are found, so you
can see the whole picture.
If you work at learning this, the fingerboard begins to
feel like familiar territory.