5 Unconventional Tactics For Improving Your Guitar Playing With 7 String Guitar
by Tom Hess
When most guitarists play 7 string guitar, they approach it in much the same way as they would play 6 string guitar. Specifically, they tend to take their 6 string guitar playing ideas, transpose them to be played by using the low B string and for most, that is as far as they go with exploring the advantages of their new instrument.
In contrast, great guitarists know how to go much deeper to explore all that the 7 string guitar has to offer and as a result benefit greatly in very unique ways both as guitar players and musicians.
In the past article that I’ve written about 7 string guitar playing, I discussed several general ideas for using this instrument in your music and showed you several things to consider when making the switch from playing 6 string guitar to 7 string guitar. In this article I want to give you some more specific concepts to use to improve your guitar playing and musicianship as a direct result of playing 7 string guitar.
Apply the following 5 ideas to your guitar practice sessions to get the most from your 7 string guitar playing.
Make Greater Use Of String Skipping Technique In Rhythm Guitar Riffs
Due to the additional low string, 7 string guitar extends the low pitch range available to you for rhythm guitar playing. This makes it possible to use the string skipping technique and jump wider intervals more often when playing rhythm guitar riffs (compared to 6 string guitar) while still preserving the heavy feel of lower pitches associated with rhythm guitar playing.
In addition to being an excellent way to boost your musical creativity in 7 string guitar songwriting, application of string skipping technique on the lower strings is also a great tool for improving both your picking hand articulation AND the ability to play guitar cleanly. This happens because the wider neck of the 7 string guitar creates two unique challenges:
1. Your picking hand has to travel further in order to arrive to the correct string.
2. Your guitar playing is more likely to become sloppy since more strings will be likely to ring out (if you are not careful) while doing string skipping on 7 string guitar.
To learn more about this point (and to see some examples of 7 string guitar parts that use string skipping technique), study this free mini course on making 7 string guitar riffs.
Vary How Palm Muting Is Used In Rhythm Guitar Riffs
Although palm muting may seem to be a very simple skill, true mastery of it (just like with most skills) is anything but simple. For example, as I demonstrated in this guide for recording guitar in the studio, one of the most common mistakes guitar players make when recording rhythm parts is having very inconsistent palm muting. This leads to extra expenses (and time) required to redo or edit sloppy guitar takes and/or forces you to accept lower quality recordings.
That being said, a sign of total control over palm muting is the ability to “intentionally” (and consistently) vary the exact amount of palm muting applied to a rhythm guitar part. A cool example of this involves playing a power chord with palm muting, and then gradually (or suddenly) ‘opening up’ the palm muting, allowing the strings to ring open. This sounds especially cool on the low B string of the 7 string guitar because of the extra aggression inherent in the low end of this instrument. This is a very advanced application of palm muting and requires a lot of control to be done right, especially in the studio where parts have to be double tracked, leaving no room for imperfections. This technique is also completely different from the sloppy playing of rhythm guitar where the palm muting is simply ‘inconsistent’ due to the guitar player not being aware that he is losing control.
To hear an example of how this technique sounds and observe the dramatic difference it can make in your guitar playing, study this mini course about 7 string guitar riffs.
Use The Low 7th String On Guitar To Improve Picking Hand Articulation
One surprising advantage of using an extra thick 7th string on your guitar is the ability to challenge (and improve) your picking hand articulation. To do this, come up with a lot of scale sequences (or rhythm guitar riffs) that use ONLY the bottom 2 strings and work on building speed with them, focusing on precise and crisp articulation of every note and using perfect palm muting.
To make this challenge even more difficult, intentionally use a lot less gain/distortion to make the lower notes harder to articulate cleanly (do this temporarily as part of your practicing, when you are not playing for real). By challenging yourself in this way, your picking hand articulation will become very exposed and will have no choice but to improve. Then when you go back to playing in the way you do normally (using more distortion) you will be able to improve your guitar playing and have it sound better, cleaner and faster than before.
Build Musical Tension With Odd Rhythm
The concept of “odd rhythms” is different from the term “odd meter”. The latter refers to the time signatures being played (such as playing in 5/4 instead of 4/4) while the former is about how the note values within a measure of music are grouped and divided. Examples of “odd rhythm” include anything that is different from what the listener expects to hear and can involve unexpected silence/rests in music, playing on the upbeats only, using odd groupings of notes (anything outside of the conventional playing of standard quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes and triplets) or a variety of other possibilities.
Although odd rhythms can of course be played on 6 string guitar also, using them specifically on the extreme low end of a 7 string guitar adds A LOT of additional musical tension to the sound, due to the unique pitch range and timbre of this instrument.
One of my favorite techniques is to insert rests in unexpected places in the ‘middle’ of a beat or a measure. This sudden alternation of sound with unexpected rests creates a very tense feel in music, and that feeling is amplified by the aggression inherent in the sound of a 7 string guitar. To hear an example of this technique in action and to see how you can apply it in your own music, see this free lesson on 7 string guitar playing.
Re-String The Instrument To Add A High “A” String Instead Of A Low B String
Most 7 string guitars are sold and played by using the 7th string as the lowest string of the instrument. However, it is also entirely possible to reverse this by putting on a higher string (tuned to “A” if you are playing in standard tuning) while keeping the other strings tuned to those of a normal 6 string guitar. Doing this will expand your pitch range in the higher register and will help you to come up with more creative phrases in lead guitar solos that wouldn’t be possible on a 6 string guitar or even a 7 string guitar that is set up in a standard way.
Word of advice: if you make this adjustment to your guitar, be careful about starting to “overuse” the new string. Just as very often happens with the low B string for 7 string guitar players, overusing the high A string will make your guitar parts sound repetitive and predictable and will make your listeners bored quickly.
As you can see, the benefits of having a 7 string guitar go far deeper than simply giving you “more notes to play” compared to 6 string guitar. Although the two instruments are alike in many ways, with some creative thinking you can mine a lot of innovative ideas from your 7 string guitar to improve your guitar playing in unique ways.
To see specific examples of how to practice the ideas described in this article (and to get more help with how to apply them into your practicing), make sure to study this free mini course on playing 7 string guitar riffs if you haven’t done so already.
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