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Fingerstyle Magic with Inner Lines

by Steve Herberman

One of the most attractive sounds in solo guitar playing is an inner line running between two sustained notes.

Practice with this technique enhances finger dexterity, literally “awakening” one’s fingers. The following examples use a low root plus a 5th spanning an interval of a 12th. This interval was chosen over a 10th, for example, to allow an extra string to come into play in weaving an inner melodic line. Typically, with a sustained interval of a 10th played on strings 6 and 3, the inner melodic line must remain on strings 4 and 5. With an interval of a 12th, however, we have the option of placing an inner melody on the 3rd string as well. Examples #1A, B, C and D feature an inner line played along one string. #2A, B, C and D utilize two adjacent strings for the inner line. #3A and B find the inner line roaming on three adjacent strings. #4A and B utilize contrary motion on two adjacent strings.

Many melodies begin on the 5th degree of the scale of their tonic key; For example, standards such as “Here’s That Rainy Day” and “Darn That Dream” played in the key of G would begin with a D natural as the first melody note. Instead of using the traditional chord form approach such as the popular Gmaj7 in 3rd position, make an attempt at inner line motion for a refreshing change. Note that the sustained interval of a 12th is always played with the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the left hand. This has proven to be the most flexible fingering though other fingerings can yield different results and should be explored.

I have avoided the use of open strings in these examples so they can be transposed to any key using the same fingerings. Because the two outside (low and high) notes are the ones being sustained for the entire measure, finger crossing becomes necessary to accommodate the inner line while leaving the outside notes unaffected. Finger crossing is shown when left hand fingers 1 or 4 play a note on the 3rd fret where the 2nd and 3rd fingers are already planted. In examples 1D, 2A and 2D you are tucking your 1st or 4th fingers in between the 2nd and 3rd finger so all 3 notes are played on the 3rd fret at that point in time. An asterisk above a note indicates where finger crossing occurs.

Ties are used to indicate when melody notes are supposed to ring over one another. At the end of the first measure, at least 3 notes should be ringing to create what I call the “resulting chord.” This chord is written in whole notes in the second measure of each example. Do not re-strike the chord in the second measure of each example. Think of the resulting chord as a reference to check if the chord notes are ringing at the end of each measure. Examples #1A and B and several others (#2A-D) contain a resulting chord with no 3rd but still convey a major sound especially in #2A-D, as well as #3A, in the use of the B natural in the first measure.

Recommended right hand finger combinations for the whole notes are thumb (p) on the bass note and the ring finger (a) for the note on the 2nd string. Try alternating index (i) and middle (m) for the inner melodic line. For examples 1A-3B begin with (i) if the line ascends and (m) if the line descends. For examples 4A and 4B the two note pairings in contrary motion can be played with repeated fingers, (i) for the bottom note and (m) for the top note. Fingerstyle right-hand technique or pick-and-fingers hybrid picking will work best.

The short example of “Darn That Dream” employs the same concept on several other chords. After practicing this last example you should be ready to try the material in next month’s column. The inner line concept will be applied to the IV minor to I cadence on additional string sets using various sustained intervals such as the tenth, sixth, seventh etc. If you strive for a legato sound letting the notes ring as long as possible, your technique will expand and your playing will sound effortless!

Best wishes and keep practicing,
Steve Herberman


Audio Samples (.mp3): #1A |  #1B |  #1C |  #1D


Audio Samples (.mp3): #2A |  #2B |  #2C |  #2D


Audio Samples (.mp3): #3A |  #3B |  #4A |  #4B


Audio Samples (.mp3): Darn That Dream (Slow) |  Darn That Dream (Medium)



About the Author

"His talent has such an energetic flare, with his own voice, that he cannot help become a major force in jazz," writes Jude Hibler of 20th Century Guitar magazine. Jazz guitarist Jimmy Bruno states "Steve Herberman is one of the freshest new jazz voices on the scene today."

Steve is a graduate of Berklee College Of Music where he studied with Gary Burton, John LaPorta, and Bill Leavitt. He adopted the seven-string guitar in 1993. Steve Herberman has performed at Birdland in NYC, Spazio in Los Angeles, the NAMM shows in Anaheim and Nashville, Blues Alley, The Smithsonian Jazz Cafe, the Kennedy Center and the East Coast Jazz Festival- all in and around Washington, D.C.

Steve Herberman has taught at Towson University near Baltimore since 1999 as an adjunct faculty member. At Towson he directs several jazz ensembles, teaches private guitar lessons and performs in the faculty jazz ensemble featuring original compositions of new music. Steve has taken his workshops to various schools, most recently Virginia Commonwealth University and has written instructional material for Downbeat magazine. He is on the faculty of the Levine School of Music in MD/DC. Steve performed at the First World Guitar Congress in Baltimore and moderated symposiums with panelists and guitar greats Jim Hall, John Scofield, Ralph Towner, Jimmy Bruno, Howard Alden, Eric Johnson and Martin Taylor.


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