The Grand Staff
Use the illustration below to re-familiarize yourself with the grand staff. Guitar music is written exclusively in the treble clef although the bottom three strings on the guitar are actually in a lower, bass range. Most people are surprised to learn that there is only one virtual line separating the bass clef and treble clef of the grand staff. That virtual line is drawn into the music only when there is a note which needs to be writtenbelow the treble clef. A small bit of that virtual line, exactly big enough to accommodate the note, is added to the music only on the necessary beat. That small bit of the virtual line is actually drawn in and is called a ledger line. In the diagram below middle C is written on a ledger line.
To notate guitar music in one clef, the treble clef, ledger lines are used for notes which are too low to be written in the treble clef. Study the illustration below to help you understand this idea of using a ledger line. To accommodate notes that are going lower and lower on the bass clef, such as the bass strings of the guitar.
Finding And Naming Notes On The Bass Strings
To learn how to find and name notes on the bass strings of the guitar, strings 6, 5 and 4, use the same process and thought patterns you learned while studying the treble strings of the guitar. As you are studying the diagrams below, remember to simultaneously play the notes and say (or sing) the notes with your voice.
As you work on the exercises below, remember the concepts of zero mistakes and looking ahead. Do these drills slowly, patiently and until you have mastered the small bits of material presented here. Keep saying the notes by name while you are playing the notes on your guitar. Do this until it is quite easy for you to name and play all the notes illustrated below.
This portion of the method is critical. Don’t be satisfied to merely be familiar or simply aware of this material, strive for that feeling of certainty that only comes from absolute memorization. We all know when we have something down cold, just as we all know when we don’t. Keep your eyes moving across the page, say and playing the notes simultaneously, and do this at whichever tempo you can do it all perfectly, that is my concept of zero mistakes.
As you know, music is very repetitious and pattern oriented. As you do the exercises on this page over and over again, over the span of a few days, you’ll begin to detect the patterns by looking and thinking ahead you’ll be seeing groups of notes instead of just one at a time. I will say it again, this portion of my method is not only critical, but highly effective –and thankfully I plenty of students to prove it!
One String Songs
Below are three duets, each one of their melodies is written using only one string, as is common practice in music style guitar books and those used in most educational settings. This is probably the only thing that I have found useful in all those books and methods which merely clone and copy each other.
To be fair, I in fact have collected a lot of amazing and wonderful guitar books, written by people who really have something to say and who are gifted communicators. My two favorite guitar book authors are William G. Leavitt, my mentor and creator of the Berkee method and the great Howard Roberts, who founded GIT and is known as one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived.
As before, implement the three-point plan of attack I outlined earlier. (1) Sound out the rhythms of your notes in your head, (2) slowly go through the piece just naming and finding the notes without regard to the rhythm. Before you hit the play button and join in with me, (3) play your part of the duet in time without accompaniment.
Of course, these exercises should be done several times at each practice session and repeated and reviewed regularly as you complete my course. Routinely, the ledger lines become difficult or problematic at this stage of the game, so trying printing out this lesson and labeling every note you see.
To complete this lesson I have written a longer, more involved melody on the three bass strings that I call “Big Blues”. There have been many great instrumental rock tunes written by playing melodies on the bottom two or three strings, this song is in homage to them. I would consider “Big Blues” to be very challenging for someone learning to read guitar music and kind of like your final exam for naming notes on the 3 bass strings of the instrument. If you have any trouble with the tune, try just listening to the song without playing but make sure you are counting each and every be in perfect sync with the steady four to the bar “thump- thump- thump” of the bass drum I have used to keep time in this piece.