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Jazz Guitar Lessons

What To Know About Unison vs. Octave Guidelines



In this JGT lesson, jazz guitarist Leon Rodriguez explains unison vs. octave guidelines in this music theory lesson specifically for guitarists.

Regardless of what we may decide to learn or play on the fretboard, the visual stimulus at the foundation of the musical goal will be either a point, a line or a shape or combinations of the three. It has to be, precisely because the fretboard is a six by twelve matrix; a two-dimensional universe. 

 Each of these next 3 lines is connected by the same note name; a C. When they connect at this angle, I call that a unison line. Each parallel line is a different octave. They don’t insect. Visualize this ‘spine’ for dependable reference. Add this visual to your overall fretboard vision the same way a pianist sees his reoccurring patterns from referencing a single key! We see that the green unison line would be C4, the middle C on a keyboard. Our two dimensions expand our single sonic reference across 20 frets. 

 Follow the core unison line (Middle C) with a harmonized major tetrachord on each for a clear vision of the design of our instrument. Play the C harmonized major tetrachord across the range of your fretboard. Notice the notation below the fretboard for each harmonized tetrachord. 

Visualize periodically the 3 parallel unison lines for all 12 note names. Each note name set will be unique. Add targeting these unison lines to your targeting of notes for your overall fretboard vision. Accept that our unison line has the same note from which to select and reference. Each position on the core unison line (middle C) here offers a unique note range advantage for planning your musical goal. 

We retain the symmetry where it’s available simply because it’s there, a fact. We are imprinting and growing a truthful vision for reference and application, not suggesting a limitation of any kind regarding performance. To a keyboardist, middle C is only one key, to a guitarist, it’s a 20-fret diagonal! Big difference. Simply the truth. Theory is all about the truth regardless of the idiosyncrasies of any instrument. We accept this and move on. 

When the note names in the previous articles lined up in octaves for stringsets of 3, they are perpendicular to the unison lines. Yet, we’ve retained the fingering in all but the {32} stringset, our known exception, so we skipped that stringset to retain our fingerings. For each harmonized tetrachord we’ve ascended in octaves guided by the octave line. So, one angle, we ascend and descend, the other angle we hover but align a range. 

I am obligated to now mention that all these examples are written in actual pitch to impress the location of the middle C diagonal (C4) across our fretboard. That bears mentioning because of a fact that may come as a surprise to many of our fellow guitarists. 

Although the guitar is a concert C melody instrument, it is also a transposing instrument sounding an octave lower than it is written. If it wasn’t transposed an octave, the guitar’s note range would occupy lower ledger lines than notes on the staff. It would look like this: 

To be continued…Books and On-Line Private Lessons available at 

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