Octaves For Beginners

A brief explanation on what an octave is and the way it can be used.

Ultimate Guitar
Before going to the point, I'd like to make clear the following: most people reading this, surely are guitarists with some experience who might think what this article is about is simple logic or common sense and there were no need to write it. So, that's why it's been written for beginner guitarists, for whom some things aren't common sense yet and need to learn some new stuff. Into the matter. First of all, in order to explain what an octave is, it's necessary to remember major music scale: C,D,E,F,G,A,B. In most instruments, like guitar or piano this scale is repeated several times. If you've spent some time with your guitar, you've surely noticed open sixth string sounds an E note, just like fourth string played at second fret and little E string played open.
E E E e|---------0--| B|------------| G|------------| D|-----2------| A|------------| E|-0----------|
So, that's what an octave is: the same note, but played in a higher or lower pitch. And why the name octave? Let's take the major scale again:
C D E F G A B e|-----------------------| B|--------------------0--| G|--------------0--2-----| D|-----0--2--3-----------| A|--3--------------------| E|-----------------------|
If we keep ascending following major scale, we'll find next C note at little E string's eighth fret. If we count, we'll find that there are eight tones from C note at A string to C note at e one (from latin octo, which means eight).
C D E F G A B C e|-------------------------8--| B|--------------------0-------| G|--------------0--2----------| D|-----0--2--3----------------| A|--3-------------------------| E|----------------------------| 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
I used C note from major scale as an example, but the same pattern is repeated with any note all allong the fretboard, always following major scale intervals. Another example: D# E# or F F# G# A# B# or C C# D#
e|--------------------------------------------| B|------------------------------1-----2----4--| G|-------------------1---3--------------------| D|-1---3--------4-----------------------------| A|--------------------------------------------| E|--------------------------------------------| 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
There comes a question: Why should this be useful? Answer:
  • First, because this helps developing a good musician ear. For instance, it's useful in case you want to quickly know if your guitar is correctly tuned. Take your guitar and play A string open. Then, while it's still ringing play G string at second fret. The same A note must be heard, with different pitches obviously. Let's supose you're sure A string is well-tuned. So, if G one doesn't sound the same note as open A, it means it's not correctly tuned. You can also play octaves if you want to know if your guitar needs to be calibrated. Play open little E string, and then, while it's still ringing, fret it at 12 (Natural harmonic). Both sounds should fit the same note. If not, your guitar is lying, as we say in Spanish, and needs to be calibrated.
  • Second, because you can use octaves as a special technique if you want to give your playing more variety. An example: This is a phrase from Carlos Santana's Black Magic Woman intro:
    e|--------------------------| B|-10--86\5------8--65\3--| G|--------------------------| D|--------------------------| A|--------------------------| E|--------------------------|
    Including a higher octave:
    e|-17--15--13\12------15--13-12\10--| B|--x--x---x----------x---x--x-----| G|-14--12--10\-9------12--10---9\-7--| D|-----------------------------------| A|-----------------------------------| E|-----------------------------------|
    Sounds better, doesn't it? Actually, this second way is how Carlos plays Black Magic Woman nowadays. Adding a higher or lower octave to a certain note often gives you a richer sound than if you play an only note. For those lazy people like me, there's no need to always count tones if you want to find the one you need to add to a certain note, in order to get an octaved sound. Here you have all of the patterns for guitar:
  • A.
    e|-3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22-| B|-------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-0--1--2--3--4--5--6---7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19-| D|-------------------------------------------------------------------------| A|-------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------| e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--| G|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| D|-0--1--2--3--4--5--6---7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--| A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| e|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-2--3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--| D|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| A|-0--1--2--3--4--5--6--7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--| E|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| e|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| D|-2--3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--| A|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-0--1--2--3--4--5--6--7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--|
    If you're using a pick, you must block the string between those two you're playing.
  • B.
    e|-0--3--4--5--6--7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--| B|-----------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-----------------------------------------------------------------------| D|-2--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--| A|-----------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-----------------------------------------------------------------------| e|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|-0--1--2--3--4--5--6--7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--| G|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| D|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| A|-2--3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--| E|-----------------------------------------------------------------------------| e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| B|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| G|-0--2--3--4--5--6--7---8---9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--| D|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| A|--------------------------------------------------------------------------| E|-3--4--5--6--7--8--9--10--11--12--13--14--15--16--17--18--19--20--21--22--|
    On the other hand, I must mention there are some special electronic devices created to play octaved sounds automatically. Obviously, these are called octavers. What a digital octaver do is take the note you play, process it and repeat it an octave higher or lower, depending on the setting. Good device for a basic setup; put it together with a sustain pedal, and you'll get dynamite!!! I find two advantages for digital octavers: first, you can play octaved sounds using an only string; second, you can reach higher octaves, especially while using little E string. For instance, let's supose you're playing a note at little E string 12 fret; the octaver will give you the note you're playing and the next octave, which would sound as if you were also playing at fret 24, which most guitars don't have. Finally, the use of digital octavers don't exclude traditional octaves playing. Both can be combined in order to get a more variated sound. Hope it was useful. Cheers, -JC
  • 33 comments sorted by best / new / date

      1st . eeehaaa hmm Not Bad. Gud 4 Bigenners. But the problem is theoretic. If The note is repeated as the 8th note in a major or minor scale. What abt scales which have more or less then 8 notes, say pantatonics ???, Shudnt it be called pentas ??? funny.
      sweet, im a beginner straight up. ive just started, with my moms ancient acoustic guitar. octaves are sweet to learn especially since i just came from all the guitar chords blog and it shocked me, theres really that many...now i just need somebody to start a blog about great beginners songs with chords and without
      hey, nice article. im a complete begginer and i read this just a few hours after someone explained octaves to me, and this cleared things up.
      B-C is a semitone, not a tone. Same for E-F. Therefore an octave isn't eight tones. An octave is either 12 semitones (or half-steps or frets) or 5 tones and 2 semitones. I think. Sorry for confusing anyone. Good article. Patterns are good, except for the mistake.
      Everybody said it already, but I'll just reinforce the point; it's a great beginner's article. It's good to know that people still respect the fact that there actually are beginners here and that they need helpful columns like this. I respect you for making this article, so it's a 10 from me.
      i found it confusing, although i already know what an octave is anyway... not sure but it might be confusing for some beginners too. if its just me, then, nice article!
      i found it confusing, although i already know what an octave is anyway... not sure but it might be confusing for some beginners too. if its just me, then, nice article!
      Well that sounds pretty damn close and is played right around where Carlos plays it on the neck, although in the video I have of him I can't tell if it's the exact frets or not. I think it is right though. I'd like to see your version if you think it's correct.
      crashing worlds
      because it's wrong. i have the correct version for guitar pro, but i'm too lazy to upload it. you'll have to beg.
      2nd kinda understood it im not to good with theroy! but i im not to bad. i understood most of it
      Should B not go: e----- B----- G--- -- D-0--1--2--3--4--ETC.. A----- E-3- -4--5--6--7 --ETC.. On the last line?
      Should B not go: e----- B----- G--- -- D-0--1--2--3--4--ETC..... A----- E -3--4--5--6--7 --ETC..... On the last line?
      fahd wrote: 1st . eeehaaa hmm Not Bad. Gud 4 Bigenners. But the problem is theoretic. If The note is repeated as the 8th note in a major or minor scale. What abt scales which have more or less then 8 notes, say pantatonics ???, Shudnt it be called pentas ??? funny.
      pentatonics are part of full 8-note scales. you just dont play em through the whole way.
      Right on dude, the fact you pointed out for beginners is great, I remember a time when I didn't understand this and articles like this helped. For all the tards that bitch about it being for beginners, don't read the fn thing then. Number two, you weren't born with knowledge of the guitar, everyone starts from somewhere
      Greenday4Life wrote: seriously, the whole 1st 2nd 3rd 4th thing is getting very very tired...
      jealous bastard. great lesson