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Beyond E Major (Part 9)

Article from One Two Testing, December 1984

and playing beyond the octave

Soloing above the octave. Billy Jenkins puts his fingers close together and prays... sorry, plays.

This month I wanna take you higher.

But there is no time for the wasteful side attractions of mental and physical intoxicants when you're a serious student of the six string.

All you've got to do for stimulation is to look at the guitar and its potential ABOVE the twelfth fret octave. Some guitars offer you limited scope, particularly the Spanish, and though the steel strung acoustic without cutaway might let you reach top G on the E string, the electric can go up to two octaves — twenty-four frets.

Do not feel inhibited if you own a short scale instrument. Whatever single notes you CAN play up high all have a different timbre to the same notes played in a lower position. It may be fret buzz due to lack of use, or a slight neck deformity, but don't think of these as 'wrong'.

It is these extremities that help to give an instrument its own character. An all too often area of neglect is the twelfth fret upwards on the bottom three strings. Check the condition of these frets on your guitar and no doubt they will be unmarked or as near new — proof of inactivity. Why bother to stretch right across the fretboard when the same notes can be played with ease further down the neck?

Play a simple run (say E on the 3rd string down to E on the 5th string) then repeat it on the underused octave area (E on the 4th down to octave E on the sixth string).

Same notes, but what a different sound.

The notes are tighter, clicklike, and more percussive. The string can also be bent further as your fingers are positioned closer to the midway point (the 12th fret) between nut and saddle.

Don't think that if you cannot play fluidly when having to raise your hand to get round the guitar body then it is not worth investigating such areas. Why do manufacturers make them like they do? I don't know any guitar above the octave that has frets only beneath the top three strings and not the bottom three.

A useful gimmick for altering tonal timbre is to place a capo high up the neck — perhaps on the twelfth fret. This is how Johnny 'Guitar' Watson gets such a uniquely clipped sound out of his Gibson 335. For reference, listen to 'Ain't That A Bitch' (DJM Records DJF 20485). Incidentally, it is interesting to note how all Watson's LP's in the last decade or so have three tracks on one side, and four on the other. All follow a similar change of tempo from one song to the next. Collecting definitive Johnny 'Guitar' Watson records is the same as collecting definitive J. J. Cale — buy one and you've got the lot.

Anyhow, capo or not, above the octave on the lower three strings is an area well worth exploring.

Use it for variation during a long solo.

Because your fingering is restricted due to body design, you are forced to rethink your physical application. Throw in the excitement of not knowing exactly how a note will sound on account of the aforementioned fret and neck conditions, and you will delight yourself at the strange dislocated tones coming from your instrument.

It may be coincidental, but when I've deliberately moved up to this area I often find myself making passing references to the Frank Zappa guitar style.

Single position runs suitable above the octave. Top diagram, minor run from 6th string; bottom diagram, minor run from fifth string.

Single position runs suitable above the octave

The two runs illustrated both use the 'Blues' scale with the 3rd and 7th notes flattened. One is from a root on the E(6th), and one from the A(5th) string. The double circles indicate the tonic, and the whole pattern can of course be played anywhere on the fretboard as well as than above the octave. Try this following exercise:

Take your l.h. thumb out from under the neck and hold it alongside your fingers.

Now play around with all the rarely used notes at the very end of the fretboard, jabbing away like an armless man on a typewriter.

What you'll hear should be quite fascinating!

Pitch and high soloing

Bearing in mind that the guitar is tuned to tenor pitch, with the 1st string being the E just above middle C on the piano, it is easy to see why manufacturers started increasing neck accessibility — made easier by the introduction of the solid bodied electric.

In popular music the earliest electrics freed the guitarist from the confines of rhythm accompanist, as he was able to play single note solos at a volume that matched the saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and trombone.

What else was there to develop but a more accessible neck so that higher notes could be reached.

It is important to remember that when soloing with a group, the improvisor should be appreciably louder than everyone else, particularly if playing low notes that match the pitch of the rhythm instruments. With amplification, intergroup balance can easily be obtained if approached sensibly.

But in an all acoustic line up, high soloing is often necessary to enable the player to be heard. It should have the same effect as a descant chorus sung by the females in an average church choir. With a correct balance of the different pitches, the music should become wider and fuller.

And how often do you hear the heavy rock guitarist build his solo to a climax in a cacophony of high wails, screams, and feedback?

If your instrument has the capacity — use it!

Chording above the octave

Like the behaviour of the single note, the high chord sounds tight and trebly. A Mickey Mouse reggae sound.

Again, it is easier to bend whole chords, particularly if only holding three notes at a time. Barre-ing all six strings is not easy if a clean sound is required. The pressure needed from the first finger to hold the bottom two strings is very great indeed — especially if the frets are of the round variety. Also the reduced length between frets makes it awkward for a player with fat fingers — which might explain why Leslie West didn't play a mandolin. I find F shape chords on the top four strings are best for clarity. Alternatively you may wish for some buzz and distortion — if so, barre away.

Aminor6 sus4


This good looking party piece might also be called a min 11 with an added 6th, depending on which way the wind blows.

It's probably the only chord Ritchie Havens knows (witness his performance of 'Freedom' in the Woodstock movie), is the main vamping ingredient on 'Do It Again' by Steely Dan, and can also be used for a passable imitation of the opening eight bars of 'Light My Fire' by Jose Feleciano by alternating bars on the A, then dropping three frets to F sharp.

Only one note, that held by the second finger on the 4th string, makes this chord subtly different from a straight bar across all six strings, but boy, does it look impressive.

The thumb comes round and presses on the fifth fret on strings 5 and 6; the second finger goes on the fourth fret, 4th string; and the third finger lays across the top three strings on the fifth fret.

The root is dictated by the thumb on the sixth string, and of course can be played anywhere on the fretboard.

Series - "Beyond E Major"

This is the last part in this series. The first article in this series is:

Beyond E Major
(12T Apr 84)

All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (Viewing)

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Dec 1984


Tuition / Technique


Beyond E Major

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 (Viewing)

Feature by Billy Jenkins

Previous article in this issue:

> Law The Of Armstrong

Next article in this issue:

> When Is A Computer?

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