Real Uses for the Octave Pattern When Learning Guitar

The octave pattern is not as user-friendly for learning to play the notes on a fretboard as many teachers would like players to think. So what are the real uses for the pattern? And how can it be applied to real life uses?

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When beginning to learn how to navigate a guitar's fretboard, one commonly taught technique is the "octave pattern." Using this pattern, a player can easily find two notes separated by an octave (skip to the video below if you've never heard of this pattern).

This common technique may have been shown to you to help you finding and remembering where notes are on the fretboard. Some people idolize this system, noting that when using it, all you have to learn is the notes on the low E and A strings and then simply apply the pattern to find the rest. Initially, this was the way that I was taught as well, but it wasn't long before I realized there had to be a better way.

The reason that it didn't take much was that I wasn't actually able to use it in real life. Initially, I thought it was just me, that maybe I was the one who wasn't good enough to use it. But later in life even my students haven't been able to achieve the results they are looking for either using this method.

The reason that it doesn't work is that it requires more reasoning than other methods: first you have to find the note on the low E and the A string, and then use the pattern to find the note on the D or G, and then again to find it on the B or high E string. For most performers, this just isn't fast enough. Not to mention the fact that it's completely unnecessary.

So what can we actually do with the octave pattern? There are many other ways to use the pattern, and along with any other interval pattern for that matter. Rather than going through them all here, I recorded a video that will show an example where the octave pattern can be used for lead guitar players. I've seen this method used by many famous players, and in fact, I'm sure you have as well; so I'm sure you will find a way to use it in your own solos.

YouTube preview picture

As demonstrated, it's quick and easy to apply this method to your own guitar playing. There are limitless possibilities in creative soloing, along with rhythm playing. Try it out, and have some fun with it - if you've done something original, record it and send me a copy; I would love to hear what you come up with.

About the Author:
Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for music theory applied to guitar.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I agree with what you're saying here wholeheartedly. That was exactly my experience. I used the octave patterns to broaden my fingerboard literacy but eventually realized I was really lacking in fluency when it came to strings G and B. Your approach make much more sense!
    Don't get me wrong, you're a great player and all, but I'd really like to see a tutorial on how to grow an epic beard such as your own. Cheers!
    I respectfully disagree sir. Speaking for myself of course, using octaves as a way of memorising the fret board worked tremendously well. First would be the mental image of the notes using the octaves, meaning I sit without a guitar and see them where they are on the fretboard. The second part would be to help me learn where to feel the note on the fretboard (muscle memory). Mind mapping of the fretboard is very important if you want to properly outline chord progressions etc. and not merely play notes. My 1.5c
    We agree that mind mapping the fretboard is important, and that you need to be conscious on what chord you are and how to outline it. We disagree on the method. Having tried both methods on my students, I am confident with what I say. There are a few people for which the octave pattern method works, but for the vast majority of students it just slow them down, and the other method I explained works best. Again, this is not "my opinion". It's the result of an actual test with actual statistical power. Anecdotal evidence ("it works for me") does not hold up against an actual test. Of course, everybody is free to perform a similar test with their students
    Awesome lesson Tommaso! This stuff really works, I've used it many times in my soloing when you want not only the extra power in your playing but when you want to thicken up the melody for compositional purposes.
    But don't you haveto show your students the octave shapes to play the sounds? Or is it you're saying you show them the shapes individually, to add to their playing toolkit, and as a consequence the pattern is better remembered? I'm all for learning in that manner.
    I could really use a next-level lesson on using octaves... I use them to double up on the third of a chord e.g. 54x6xx or 97x9xx and so on, but I know there's got to be more than that to them! Or not, I'm pretty happy with those shapes, moving the bass around and whathaveyou, but they're such a powerful lead+rhythm hybrid, it would be good to see it expanded upon by an expert.
    M Scholtemeijer
    Agreed, it's a great pattern to use in your playing but it shouldn't be used for navigational purposes. Don't be a bunch of lazy bums - do the work and learn your fretboard, people! It's not even a hard thing to do and more than worth the effort.