Worship guitar techniques uncovered – Playing in sixths

Last night a private guitar student of mine was asking about practical technique ideas for electric guitarists to use in a worship band setting. One idea which I use a lot, especially in gentler moments, is the use of 6ths. I.e. playing two notes in the key separated a 6th apart which gives a particular sound.

To do this I would typically select a pair of non adjacent strings i.e. the G and top E, or the D and the B, or the A and G and play one note on one string and jump to its 6th apart interval on the other string.

In the diagram below, based around 6ths in the key of G I’ve grouped together the notes you should play together by colour order (light/dark). For example the first set of dots shaded dark are the B note on fret 4 of the G string and the G note on fret 3 of the high E string. Then the next set of 6ths would be the C note on the G string and A note on the high E, both fret 5. Next both notes move up to fret 7.

By working sequentially through all these 6ths intervals you’ll be able to cover every note in the key and therefore each increment also works over every chord in the key. You could play over a song just by working up and down these ‘scalic’ intervals but the concept works really well when the 6th you are playing contains at least one of the notes within the chord you are playing over.

For example that first shape that uses the B and G notes works over the chords of G (GBD), Bm (BDF#), and Em (EGB). Shape 2 containing C and A notes works over Am (ACE) and C (CEG) shapes 3 and 6 again works in the same way as shape 1, shape 4 in the same way as shape 2 and shape 5 using F# and D notes works over the D (DF#A) and F# dim (F#AC) or more typical D/F# chords.

These 6th shapes are of course not only limited to the key of G, they work with any key just by changing the frets where you play shape 1 and adjusting the other shapes to suit. For example to play in the key of A simply slide shape 1 to fret 6 of the G string and 5 of the high E to give you C# and A notes over the A chord and shift all the other shapes up the fret board by two frets. The key of C would be frets 9 and 8 on the same strings, the key of D would be frets 11 and 10 and the key of E would be either frets 13 and 12 or down the octave on frets 1 and 0, still of course using the G and high E strings.

Various well known songs use 6ths as some kind of lead riff or motif. The most recent one I came across was the riff on John Mayer’s ‘Belief’. The riff moves between the groups of A and G strings and then G and B strings but it’s all still 6ths and it works really well. Check it out.

Playing in sixths is covered in some depth on our Intermediate Electric Worship Guitar DVDs.