Octaves on Guitar
Post by: Charles White
Playing octaves on guitar can be a very effective technique for strengthening melodies and creating a natural “chorus” effect. You can use octaves for any melody where you play one note at a time. An octave is when a note is played along with another that is the same lettered note but occurs one full rotation of the musical alphabet (12 notes/half steps) either above or below. For example, if your first note is A, the next note to make an octave would be A, either 12 notes/half steps above or below the first A. So your octaves are always the same lettered note.
To start playing octaves on guitar, place the tip of your first finger (index) of your left hand on the fifth fret of the low E string (thick string). Then place your third finger (ring) 2 strings down, on the D string, 7th fret, (two frets up from your first finger.) Now you are pushing down the same note separated by an octave. For ease, place your thumb in the middle of the guitar neck and try to keep your palm parallel with the guitar neck. Have your guitar teacher check your hand position here.
When strumming, you want to touch the A string with the lower part of your first finger on your left hand without pushing it down all the way. This will mute the string when you strum to ensure that you will only hear the notes you are pushing down. When ready to play, push down the strings and let your pick glide through the first 3 strings and have it rest on the G string at the end. If you want to be more free with your strumming then you can bring down the lower part of your first finger to touch the remaining three strings (G, B, and E) to mute them like the A string.
This octave shape can be played on any fret starting on either the E string or the A string. So for example if you wanted to play an octave starting on the 2nd fret A string, your third finger would be on 4th fret G string and you would mute the D string. The octave is always the same shape starting on the A and E strings.
To play an octave starting on D or G strings, you would still start with your first finger for the first note. The next note would again be 2 strings down, but this time it will be 3 frets up and played with your pinky. For example, if your first note is 5thfret D string, then your next note will be played with your pinky (fourth finger) on the 8th fret B string.
Start by playing a melody all on one string and then try playing it with octaves. It’s a great way to strengthen melodies when playing in a band or just by yourself. Try this out in your guitar lessons and ask your guitar teacher for tips.