Keeping It Simple: How to Play the Same Riffs in Different Places

This lesson will explain how to play the same riffs in different places; some easier than others.

Ultimate Guitar
Ultimate Guitar is a great place to find tabs for pretty much any song you want to learn. Some people use tabbing software, others actually plunk out each note as the tab. While there are no right ways, or wrong ways, to play a tune on the guitar, there are "easier" ways that everyone, especially beginners, should consider.

I recently commented on a tab for "I Love Rock & Roll" from Joan Jett. The person who made a correction showed this for a tab:
While there is nothing wrong with this, I like to teach my student a bit of math when it comes to finding notes on the guitar. Basically, you can take your current note, in this case, the B-17, subtract 5 from it, and that is the fret you will be playing on the high E; e-12. Since they are both E notes, they are both correct, just this way is easier to play:
If you think about it, the tab above falls within the E minor pentatonic:
E|--------------------------------15-12-- it only makes sense to keep it simple and play it within the pentatonic.

Another correction I made was with "Gotta Get Away" from The Offspring. The intro is this:
G|--7-7--7-7-7--4~-----7-7--7-7--7-4~---| x2
PM . . . .
While this is one way to play it, I'm sure no one wants to slide all the way from the 7th fret to the 4th... especially with that pinky stretch on the 10th fret on the B. Below is a way of keeping your entire hand in on spot and play the same notes:
G|--7-7--7-7-7--9~-----7-7--7-7--7-9~---| x2
PM . . . .
When finding tabs anywhere, if you find one that makes you stretch abnormally, or slide around the neck of the guitar, see if there isn't a better way to play the same thing and "keep it simple."

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The article should just be: Play a riff in the easiest way. The end.
    You can name yours that way if you'd like. I believe the article proved that you can play the same riff in different places; meaning if the old riff takes you all over the neck of the guitar, these examples show how to play it differently.
    And later you develop more techniqique and prefer the better (= more original) sound over the easier playing. To me there is not much sense in learning this skill in detail.
    Not sure what you mean by "the better sound" when they are the same notes. If people like playing all over the neck of the guitar to be "more original", that's great. I'm all for originality. I'm merely saying there are many ways, and then there is the simple way.
    Especially when the wound strings are involved, it does make a definite difference to the sound to play it on a different string. The effect is less obvious on the plain strings, but still there. It's rarely a dramatic difference, but it can be worth experimenting with. Your first example is absolutely correct, but I think the second is far more a matter of preference, for a few reasons. First of all, I might play the 10th fret on the B with my third finger, and since the slide isn't a very long one that'd be easier for me to do it like that. Second of all, the same fret on two strings is, at least for me, quite an awkward position. You can bar it with one finger but you're liable to get a fair bit of noise, so again the fret difference between the 5th and the 4th would make that more comfortable for me. The other matter is that, assuming you're using the same notation I'd use, the last pair of notes have vibrato on them, which would be much easier to do evenly between two plain strings than a plain and a wound. Especially since I use 10-52 so the difference is more obvious. None of that makes what you say wrong at all, but it does mean that, for that example at least, there are more factors than keeping your hand in the same place. There's always the matter of where your fingers are and how manageable the resulting position is and, indeed, the sound. That having been said, the general concept is incredibly useful to be aware of, especially for beginners who might be tempted to take the tab as written.
    With either example, I don't notice too much the different "sound" between how I found it tabbed and how I tabbed it to be easier, but you do bring a valid point.The second one can be played as follows: e|-----| B|-----| G|-----12-12-11--9~-----12-12-14 --9~--|x2 D|--12-12--12-12-12--9~---12-12--12-12-12--9~--| A |-----| E|-----| PM . . . . Although, to a beginner, this may sound the same, the D and G strings are thicker, which gives it a thicker sound versus playing either of the first examples beginning on the G and B. If you are into the deeper, "throatier" sound, then play it the way I just tabbed it. If you want it closer to the true sound, either of the first two tabs would be more correct.The thought behind this lesson is, for beginners, you don't have to stick with a difficult tab if you know there's an easier way to play a song. Once you are able to play it the easy way, challenge yourself to play it the way it was tabbed, or find another way of playing the same thing in a different spot on the fretboard. Want a bigger challenge? Play the song on whatever media player you use, see if you can hear how it's played, then create your own tab. This will help you hear the subtle differences between the thickness of the strings.
    Every guitarist who is rather skilled in playing knows how important it's to play in a most ergonomic way. But definetely a great lesson for beginners. Of course, when you have mastered the fretboard it's almost a crime not to spice your playing
    Correct. Mastery of the fretboard is also important. Knowing that you can play the same thing in different places, such as the C major scale can be played starting on the 8th fret of the low E and the same exact pitch of notes can also be played starting on the 3rd fret of the A, can make the difference in knowing where to play many other pieces of music.
    This concept might come in handy when arranging music of other instruments for guitar - keyboard, wind or other stringed instruments like saxophone, keyboards or banjo... or when learning scale shapes. But when it comes to first class guitar-based music and I really want to absorb things, I'd rather practice an entire riff like it was recorded in the studio "as is" or as it was played by the original artist (IF POSSIBLE). Of course there might be countless ways to rearrange the note positions of any guitar riff but by altering the position, sometimes the style, feel and tone is not preserved. For example, rock or country open position guitar riffs with hammer ons and pull-offs tend to get awkward or really unnatural if you transfer them elsewhere on the fretboard.
    couldn't agree more. unless of course it's one of those players with a crazy style, like Chris Poland.
    kinda obvious..
    Not obvious to noobs... I haven't been playing long enough to know where the notes are all over the fretboard. Although I have discovered this type of thing by looking at several tabs of the same song and noting the differences.
    Exactly. While I tend to target my lessons to those who are new to guitar, I have seen people who have been playing for a couple years and how they have developed some bad habits that makes playing songs an aerobic exercise. While there are other more impressive guitarists, Tony Iommi is the type of guitarist that barely breaks a sweat while playing. He keeps it simple.