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A Painless Approach to the 7-String Guitar

Lesson 1

by Ted Ludwig

The 7-string guitar has been a mystery to many guitar players since its inception, by George Van Eps, in the late 1930's. Why do so many players dread that 7th string? Many guitarists say that they have enough trouble with 6 strings and that an extra string would inhibit their playing. Some believe that it would interfere with the bass player's role in their band, and some are reluctant to adapt to the extra width of the fingerboard.

The first thing to understand is that the 7-string guitar is really a 6-string with an extended bass range. It is tuned just like a 6-string with the addition of a low A string. Once you purchase a 7-string guitar, try playing some of the same tunes you have played on your 6-string. Avoid the low string at first. This can be a difficult task, especially for chord-melody style playing. If you experience difficulties, try playing the same song again, but this time with your eyes closed.

You will probably have more success with your eyes are closed because the 7th string can confuse you visually. Don't worry, you'll get used to seeing the low string as an A instead of an E. You will also get used to the wider fingerboard. The adjustment will probably take place much faster than you ever imagined. Remember that you must put your old 6-string away for a while, at least until you become comfortable with the 7-string.

Let's try playing some chords that use the 7th string. The first thing to do is to take all of the chords with roots on the 5th string and drop them down to the 7th string. This is an easy way to begin playing 7th string voicings.

Here's an example of a C9 chord in the 2nd position. Notice that the root of the chord is on the 5th string. Try putting the root on the 7th string.

Example #1

The 6th string can be used to play the fifth of the chord, which in this case is the note G. The left-hand middle finger can be used to move between the C on the 7th string and the G on the 6th string. Use the right-hand thumb to pluck each bass string. In my opinion, it is more efficient to use the fingers of the right hand rather than a pick.

Example #2

Now, let's add the other notes in the chord and play a bossa nova-style rhythm. Notice that the bass notes occur only on beats 1 and 3. The other notes in the chord are played with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fingers. Remember that the syncopation comes from the chord, not the bass. It might take some time to grasp the feel of this exercise.

Example #3

Let's now put this technique to use on a standard chord progression. The next example will be a turnaround in the key of C Major. Notice the anticipation applied to each of the chord changes. This is a common occurrence for a bossa nova-style progression.

Example #4

The secret to successfully playing moving bass lines with chords is to separate the thumb from the rest of the fingers of the right hand. The thumb must be independent so that the bass and chords can be separate.

The next thing to do is use the 7th string for some walking bass lines with chords. We must try to create the illusion of a guitarist playing chords and a bass player playing bass. The chords must be sustained while the bass line is moving. You can lightly palm mute the bass strings if you wish to make your bass lines sound staccato, much like an upright bass. This next example is a two-bar turnaround in the key of C, but we will add a walking bass line and a swing rhythm to the chords.

Example #5

The 7-string creates larger intervallic spacing between the chords and the bass, naturally separating the chord elements and from the bass line. Let's apply this walking bass technique to a standard chord progression. This example features walking bass-style comping to the first 8 bars of "All the Things You Are". This is a great technique for playing duo with a singer or horn player.

Example #6: First 8 bars of the "All the Things You Are" chord progression.

Walking bass lines while playing chords is a great way to become acquainted with your new 7-string. It is also a great tool for solo guitar and duo accompaniment. Many players who have made the switch to a 7-string say that they would never go back to a 6-string. I can surely attest to that notion. There is so much to learn from the 7-string guitar, but I'll have to save it for another lesson.

I hope you've enjoyed this lesson.
Ted Ludwig

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