Examples of using intervals in guitar playing, part 1: thirds, sixths and tenths

Advice & Tips

Single line lead guitar playing is great. But when you have six strings and four fingers to hold them down, why limit your playing to one note at a time? Throughout the history of guitar, players have used two notes (or more) at once, resulting in something halfway between a single note line and a full guitar chord. We do this for a few reasons:

  • It adds depth (useful in trio settings, for example)
  • To create a certain feel (which we will touch upon below)
  • To imply a chord through highlighting certain scale tones
  • To make certain phrases stand out

What is an interval?

An interval is he distance between two notes, in terms of pitch. Thinking of the C major scale (visualize the white keys on a piano), the root note (C) is 1, and the next note (D) is therefore 2, so the interval between C and D is known as a 2nd. More specifically, it is called a major 2nd because it is a whole tone away from C (whereas Db, only a semitone higher, is known as a minor 2nd). The next note in the C major scale would be E, which is called a major third (and Eb is the minor 3rd). I won’t bog us down in theory for this article, but if you need a more in-depth explanation, check out this video from Victoria Williams of mymusictheory.com.

It’s possible to use any interval when playing, especially lead lines. However, some are more effective than others. In this article, I’m going to stick to three types of interval: thirds, sixths and tenths, along with a few well-known examples in music. Go give some of these a listen and see if you can spot the intervals in use.

Thirds

Common in any music with a Spanish in Latin twist, particularly on acoustic guitar. Try going up and down a major scale by playing each note with another note ‘two places higher’ in the scale on the next string up. For example, starting with a C by fretting the G string at the fifth fret, you ‘think up two notes’, skipping D, and playing E by fretting the B string at the fifth fret. The next note in the scale (D) would be played at the same time as F. Going up the fret board/scale, the notes should match up above each other like this:

  • EFGABCDE (thirds)
  • CDEFGABC (base notes of the C major scale)
Picture Credit: GUITARHABITS.com

Check out this useful video by Pete Farrugia, which covers thirds and sixths in greater detail (see below).

It is also the most commonly used interval for twin guitar harmonies, such as:

  • Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town (recurring twin lead line after the choruses)
  • The Eagles – Hotel California (harmony lines at the very end, during fade-out)

Sixths

One of my personal favourites, which I use a lot in my guitar playing. Sixths are essentially an inverted third, where the base note (eg, C) is played highest (such as one the E string at the 8th fret), while the harmony note (E or Eb) is played two strings lower (in this case, the G string, at the 9th fret for E, or the 8th fret for Eb).

Picture Credit: NZMusician.com

They can highlight major and minor chords, and sound great when you slide into them up and down the scales you’re using, as well as chromatically (think of the stereotypical blues ‘ending’). They’re great for soul playing too, implying a chord or scale with only two notes (as with tenths – see below). I’m not alone in this – examples exist across the various genres that the guitar is used for, including:

  • Steve Cropper’s guitar intro to the classic Sam & Dave song Soul Man
  • Chuck Berry on the intro to You Never Can Tell

Steve Cropper’s guitar playing uses this time and time again, on many classic recordings from Otis Redding to The Blues Brothers. He had a knack for finding the right guitar line that complimented the songs he played on, without overpowering them, and rightly deserves his own article looking into his style in greater detail (watch this space)!

Tenths

Tenths are essentially thirds, but with an additional octave between the two notes. This has the interesting effect of creating the impression of a chord, while still leaving a sense of space. It is the interval used in the opening phrase of the well-known classical guitar standard Lagrima. Here’s a chart to demonstrate where the tenth harmony for Bb (played alongside a D, two notes then one additional octave higher) across the guitar fretboard:

Picture Credit: PlayTheAxe.com

There has been a few examples of this in big singles recently. In each case, t tenths are used for the main guitar park in the songs:

  • Scar Tissue by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  • Love Yourself by Justin Bieber
  • Hold Back The River by James Bay

Tenths are also used in jazz. They provide a nice open-sounding stretch which is easy to play on guitar; they implied the chordal harmony while still leaving space for other instruments.

In summary

One thing that all three of these interval types have in common is their ability to reflect a major or minor chord. I think of them as the same interval, using a base note of C as an example again:

  • Third: C, played with an E (2 tones higher)
  • Sixth: An inverted third; C is played with an E a sixth lower (4 tones)
  • Tenth: A third, plus one additional octave between both notes; C, plus E (8 tones higher)

Each has it’s own feel and characteristic, and they are not always as interchangeable as you might think. Try playing around with them, across major and minor scales, then in your solos, and let me know how you get on!

Coming next: Part two of this subject will focus on intervals which can utilised over major and minor chords – fourths and fifths.

Lessons learned from lockdown

Advice & Tips

This year has seen the most use of the word ‘unprecedented’ that I have ever seen, and probably for good reason.

Do what you can now, and if you can’t do it now, plan for later

Getting started on something can often be hard. During lockdown, I’ve found myself exhausted after a full day of childcare, and in those few rare moments I had for me, working on a new composition seemed ridiculous.

Do what you can, in small steps. In fact…

Make a list

List what your daily tasks are, as well as goals for the medium term (i.e., the next few weeks) and long term (post-lockdown, or even post-COVID altogether). It will help you focus, and evaluate what is important.

List making sure was already an occasional habit of mine, mainly because I am aware of my own poor short-term memory. Going forward, I’ll be sticking to daily lists, as they seem to have made me more productive than when I worked from home in pre-pandemical times.

Speaking of lists…

Bring back the ‘weekly shop’

We must have gotten out of the habit of doing the ‘big shop’ only once a week. Lockdown forced us back into this habit, and although it somehow felt more expensive at first, it seems to be better value across the week, especially when it was harder to nip out on a whim for a treat. Give it a try, if you can, and see how it works for you.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Whether it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) or a kind of professional jealousy when another person seems to be working fine at home – you know, the one with all the recording gear in their spare room (or their parents) and no children.

Social media only shows you what people want you to see. Most of the time, it only shows what those people think everyone else wants or expects to see.

Some of it is real. Some of it is less than genuine. All of it is someone else, in a different set of circumstances (however slight that might appear).

Beware of fatigue

Some of my friends have been locked down at home by themselves, working from one room during day, then zoning out in front of the TV in the evening. They told me that even committing to an online quiz via Zoom felt like too much effort. Staring at a screen all day, even for leisure or socially distant socialising, is incredibly tiring. Give yourself time to reset, and do absolutely nothing. Just remember when you do…

Don’t be to hard on yourself

If the fatigue did’t get you, the guilt surely did – right?

This is connected to my earlier heading, Don’t compare yourself to others, but it’s worth looking at again from a slightly different angle.

We’re going through unprecedented times. No one in our lifetime has experienced this, on this scale, before. Survive. Look after yourself and those around you. Don’t feel guilty for doing less.

In fact, don’t feel guilty at all for how you are managing to get through a pandemic.

Do what you love, if you can (and if you can’t make a plan for doing it in the future)

You might have noticed that a few of my recent posts have been short Hailku form poems, or observations from walks with my family. I enjoy writing them. Since I can’t perform live at the moment, they give me some creative output while everything else is on hold.

If you have recently discovered a new passion, embrace it and enjoy it. Share it with the world. And if COVID19 is stopping you from doing what you love and enjoy (as it has for me with my love of playing guitar live), make another list; this time, make it a plan to get your passion up and running again soon, once all of this is – hopefully – a distant memory of an unpleasant time, now disappearing.

Best of luck, and let me know how you get on! Also, let me know what lessons you have learned from the last few months of lockdown by leaving a comment or getting in touch via my usual channels – I look forward to chatting to you!

Black Lives Matter. No ifs, no buts.

Advice & Tips

We live in uncertain and challenging times.

It’s probably been hard to escape the news of George Floyd’s horrific murder in May this year, and the worldwide protests it has inspired.

Although the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been running for several years, it has certainly gained momentum. Perhaps half the world being in lockdown made sure we didn’t miss anything this time, as another unjust killing of a person of colour scrolled by on our new feed yet again…

As a white person, it’s worth recognising the (possibly unconscious) bias inherent in the system, which – despite a far from privileged upbringing – may well have provided me with a leg up from time to time.

How can we change this? Perhaps I’m not the best person to ask. Here’s an article by Dazed which explains how to be a better ally. It’s an important read, which features the main points summarised below:

  • Think twice before sharing violent videos
  • Confront racism when you see it
  • Take action
  • Acknowledge your privilege
  • Practice social distancing*

(*this final point comes because BAME people are more likely to contract or die from COVID19, the Corona virus still sweeping around the globe this summer)

I wholeheartedly encourage you to read the original article from Dazed in full. There’s also this longer article from Gal Dem, which is run and contributed to entirely by women of colour, which explains how non-white people of colour can help to dismantle anti-blackness.

Please read and share these articles.

Will anything change? Companies and trade bodies are in the stage of self-examination. The Musicians Union and British Association for Music Therapy are both looking at how they can do better. It’s our job to keep the pressure up until tangible changes start to become manifest.

Apart from that, ask lots of questions. Be curious. And most importantly, be kind.