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.