Octaves along your Guitar Strings

Getting skilled at using your octaves is a great way to enhance your guitar playing. They can be used in any style and for both rhythm and lead playing. If you are not using octaves already here’s a great start to becoming comfortable playing them. And, the more you work on these ideas the easier they will assimilate into your playing.

When it comes to fingering your octaves there’s two basic ways to go about it. The first is that if playing your octaves on the thick strings you will most likely use your index and ring finger. If playing octaves on the thin strings you’ll use your index and pinky finger.

For all the examples here we’re starting with an root note located on the open strings. That makes things much easier. You can apply the techniques you’ll learn here to any octave progression you might want to try out. The reason these examples start with a root note on open strings is that you probably already know how to play a scale along one string starting at the open note. If not, you’re going to learn how here. It’s not difficult.

The e minor scale, played in octaves on the thick strings.

 e minor scale fretboard octaves

The diagram above is for reference only. If you run your eyes along the thick E string you can see the e minor scale played from root note to 12th fret (8va). The same scales is also played along the D-string, starting at the 2nd fret. At first this diagram may look a little deceptive. You do not play the notes which fall on the same fret. You play the notes which are the same - the two E notes, the two F# notes, the two G notes and so on.

Here’s how that looks in guitar tablature.


The first question that might come to mind is, “how do I play it?” Finger style and hybrid picking work just fine. However, most of the time as a guitarist you’re going to be using just a pick. The solution is to mute the string that is between the ones you are playing, probably with your index finger. The approach is going to vary from the open note octave to the rest of the octaves in the progression. For the first octave you only need to use your index finger (obviously), and that will be the finger you use to mute the unused string. Getting your muting involved is not difficult at all and soon you’ll be doing it so quickly and smoothly you won’t even notice.

You will get a slight percussive ‘chk’ sound when you do the strummed version, but that only adds to the charm. To loose that percussive sound you’ll have to go with one of the fingerstyle approaches.

Here’s the a minor scale in octave along the fretboard.

 a minor guitar scale octaves tablature

For the remainder of the examples we’re not giving you the tablature. Sure, you would learn how to do these octaves quickly effectively. But, working out the octave scales by yourself will improve your fretboard knowledge.

The next two octave patterns are played on the thinner strings of your guitar. You’ll need to use the index and pinky finger for these ones.

Here’s the D Major scale in octaves along the fretboard.

 D Major scale in octaves on guitar

For the first octave in these runs (the open one) fretting with your middle finger works best. That way the two fingers either side (index and ring) are ready to drop into the shape needed for the rest of the scale. Otherwise, the concept is basically the same as the previous examples. Travel upwards through the notes in pairs. Don’t forget to practice descending too! That is from the highest octave back to the open one.

Here’s the G Major scale in octave along the fretboard.

 G Major scale octave guitar

There’s really nothing new in approaching this G Major scale run. Perhaps, the only difference for this one is that you’re playing the edge of the fretboard and the strings are thinner. This means you’re going to have to tighten up your accuracy a little. The thick strings are a little more forgiving when it comes to fretting.

There’s one last thing to throw in for the previous two exercises. When you fret the first octave (the open one) in either the D Major or G Major examples you’ll be fretting with your middle finger. But, can you mute the unnecessary string with your index finger? It’s quite valid and an advanced approach.

Lastly, you can build on the examples above by swapping Major for minor. For example, You can play the first example as E Major. Simply work out the E Major scale along the thick E string and then apply your octave shape to it. In the same fashion can you turn the D Major run into a minor one? The same approach applies. Build your d minor scale along the D string and add your octave shapes. By now you should be able to construct any octave run you want.

Very, very lastly. Try to incorporate octaves into songs by adding just portions of the whole scale. Let’s say you have a I - IV - V - IV progression in E Major. Why not try using the IV and V chords as octaves? Or you can use the octaves as passing tones between chords. (Check out Cherub Rock by Smashing Pumpkins for more ideas). If you have an ascending run you play as a lead player can it be done with octaves? (Epic by Faith No More has an excellent example of that). Really, there’s so many possibilities I just can’t get into it here.

That’s it friends. Have fun working on these ideas and happy jamming.

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