Monthly Archives: April 2015

Fretboard 101—Five Octave Patterns

Nikki O'Neill

By Nikki O’Neill 

Teaching the five octave patterns is the easiest way for your students to see how the notes are laid out on a guitar. They’ll be able to find their way around the neck, play with more confidence, and broaden their creative palettes as rhythm and lead guitarists.  Here is an in-depth, step-by-step approach for teaching the five octave pattern.

The Five Octave Patterns in C

“Fretboard 101” excerpt from Women’s Road to Rock Guitar by Nikki O’Neill

Grab your guitar. We’re going to locate every C on the guitar with the five octave patterns. Some patterns include two C’s, others three C’s. Notice which strings are included in each pattern. Some have a two-fret distance between the C’s (use your index finger and ring finger to play them); others a three-fret distance (use your index finger and pinkie.)

Once we’ve played through all five patterns, they’ll repeat again in the same order until we run out of frets. Notice how all five patterns overlap each other.

Pattern #1: The two C’s are located on the second string (fret 1) and the fifth string (fret 3), two frets apart. If you play an open C-chord, you’ll find the two C’s located in the same spots.

Pattern #2: The two C’s are located on the fifth string (fret 3) and the third string (fret 5), two frets apart. Play a barred C-chord (at fret 3): you’ll find the two C’s in the same spots.

Pattern #3: The three C’s are located on the third string (fret 5) and the first and sixth strings (fret 8), three frets apart. 

Pattern #4: The three C’s are located on the first and sixth strings (fret 8) and the fourth string (fret 10), two frets apart. If you play a barred C-chord (at fret 8), you’ll find the three C’s in the same spots.

Pattern #5: The two C’s are located on the fourth string (fret 10) and the second string (fret 13), three frets apart. This C-chord shape is common and useful: the two C’s are found in the same spots.

Click the visual at the top to see the guitar neck with all the five octave patterns in C .

Exercise: Find the Five Octave Patterns in A 

Here’s another visual for the octave patterns in A. In this case, you’ll start out with pattern #2, and one of the A notes will be located on the open fifth string. The order sequence of the five patterns remains the same. Pattern #2 is shown to get you started. Now, fill in the other four patterns.

“Exercise: Octave Patterns in A” from Women’s Road to Rock Guitar by Nikki O’Neill

Why Learn Octaves?

-The fretboard will be less intimidating when you play/write a solo, riff or fill.

-Playing a melody in octaves creates a sonic change — the notes get thickened up. This can raise the energy in a song or solo. You can also emphasize a melody this way. Try using an effects pedal for even greater contrast.

-If you want to learn any scales, knowing where the octaves are makes it much easier to learn and remember the scales.

-If you’re not big on scales, you can instead improvise around the notes of the chords you’re playing. The octaves can be really helpful guideposts.

-It helps you break away from just playing open chords and barre chords. It lets you easily locate smaller chords (on fewer strings.) Smaller chords can open up space in a song arrangement; make for more creative guitar parts, and better complement the bass/keys/other guitars.

“Playing Hendrix-Style Octaves in Solos” excerpt from Women’s Road to Rock Guitar by Nikki O’Neill

Exercise: Playing a Melody in Octaves

Some octave shapes are easier to move around than others. Try this exercise and click here to listen to the audio demonstration.



About the author: Nikki O’Neill is a performing artist, guitar instructor and author of Women’s Road to Rock Guitar. The book covers rhythm and lead guitar for different rock styles, gear, song structure, how to figure out songs by ear, and more. Eleven guitarists (incl. Orianthi and Kaki King) share tips in the book. It also features a discography of great female rock and blues guitarists.

For more information, check out Women’s Road to Rock Guitar.

For additional books on related topics, also check out Fretboard Knowledge for the Contemporary Guitarist and Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist.

That Cheapskate Composer Guy

Rick Hirsh

That Cheapskate Composer Guy
By Rick Hirsch

“Where do you get your inspiration to write music?” I get that question all the time, and I’m still not sure how to answer it. There is no divine force that hands me complete tunes out of thin air . . . or even gives me a great 16-bar melody. Yet I manage to produce new music.

Why? It’s because I’m a cheapskate composer.

You see, I don’t like to write any more notes than necessary. When I uncover a little melodic-rhythmic motif with good bones I will see how much music I can squeeze out of it. I’ll sequence it, truncate it, transpose it to a different modality, invert it, slice it, dice it, you-name-it. And then I’ll sift through these ideas to see what I’m inspired to glue together into a larger statement.

My jazz ensemble piece “Chili Today, Hot Tamale” illustrates this concept well. The primary 16-bar melody is a 4-measure motif followed by three variations. A fourth variation appears as a countermelody later on. And a truncated version is used as a background figure behind soloists. In addition to saving me the trouble of having to come up with a bunch of new material, this sort of motivic construction unifies and strengthens the composition. And this specificity gives a piece like “Chili Today” a distinctive character and personality. You can listen and check it out at

This process of motivic development is nothing new. Think about the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, arguably the paragon of compositional thrift. Or check out Oliver Nelson’s tenor solo on “Stolen Moments,” a brilliant improvisation in which he spins out chorus after chorus of motivic variation. And then there is “Hip Song” by Thelonious Monk, an excellent example of thrift by a supreme musical tightwad.”

Share this concept with your students. Have them discover that the music they play is made from small building blocks. Ask them to point out passages in their parts that are—or aren’t related to the main theme. Have fun discovering your favorite musical cheapskates.

Hands-On Learning in Choir Rehearsal

By Melody Easter-Clutter, Teacher and Author

When I first began teaching middle school in Indianola, Iowa, I recognized that my students didn’t truly understand the rhythmic concepts in their performance music. They could echo me and learn by rote, but they had difficulty reading rhythms off the page and grasping the “feel” of more complicated patterns. So, I began to experiment with movement and hands-on learning, in an effort to stimulate sight-reading skills and develop rhythmic comprehension in my students. I wanted to keep the activities short enough to incorporate into my regular choral rehearsals, as well as “fun” enough that my students wouldn’t immediately tune out the information. I used everything I could think of—hand motions, body movements, tennis balls, beach balls, composition projects, etc.

My students loved the lessons! Not only did their reading, notating, and composing skills improve, but my enrollment was impacted as well, almost doubling in two years. Teachers often forget the value of learning by moving and creating, something that is very common in elementary school but fades as students age. I found that young men particularly enjoyed the movement-based activities, and they themselves ended up recruiting other young middle school men to join choir. It was such a joy to see my students excited to come to chorus!

These lessons became the basis for my book with Anna Wentlent: Ready, Set, Rhythm! It is comprised of 80 lessons, which develop sequentially through the basic concepts of rhythm. Each lesson is about ten minutes long, and is specifically designed to be inserted into regular general music classes or ensemble rehearsals as a warm-up, “break” in the middle of class, or concluding activity before dismissal. And the timeline is flexible as well. You may choose to work through a lesson a day, every other day, once a week, or on an as-needed basis to practice particularly troublesome rhythms. Each unit concludes with a reproducible student assessment, as well as all necessary supporting documents, such as student grade sheets. Click here for more information!