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How to Play Higher Registers on Guitar


Many acoustic fingerstyle guitarists live in the first three frets of the guitar and neglect exploring the beautiful higher registers readily available to them. In order to unlock the upper frets and registers meaningfully, we need to understand the strengths and limitations of our instrument as we reach those high notes. That's exactly what we'll be doing in todays lesson!

Welcome to 'Fingerstyle For The World', my online lesson series where I strive to help guitarists around the world become better musicians. Let's delve right into our musical concept for today: Texture in Higher Registers.


Before You Begin:

Download my free resources to guide you along!


Musical Concept: Texture in Higher Registers

We're all familiar with the big, full, bassy sounds of our open chords and with their beautifully deep resonant open strings. That's a sound we've all come to love and seek in playing the guitar, and for good reason too. It's gorgeous! And the best part about it is it's easy to achieve - the first few chords we ever learn make use of these open strings with full sounds.

However, when we start moving up the fretboard, we start to lose the ability to play these open strings and the musical texture changes from full, deep, and bassy to sparse, clear, and trebly.

Now this is NOT a bad thing! It's simply an in-built characteristic of our instrument (the guitar) and in music itself. Naturally as we go higher in pitch, we lose the bass register (or the ability to play it as easily).

The key here is to emphasise and maximise the musical potential of the new material we have in these higher registers, and I'm going to show you how I do it with a musical example.

Musical Example: 'Our God'

In my arrangement of 'Our God' by Chris Tomlin, I chose to play mainly in the upper regions of the 7th-14th frets, while the final section adds contrast by playing in the lower register with fuller open strings.

In these higher registers I use mainly closed position chord shapes (no open strings) and a limited number of notes, creating a very sparse and clear texture where the melody shines through the subtle harmonic accompaniment.

Now I chose to do it this way for two reasons:

1: Stylistic - I wanted this arrangement to be meditative, intentional, and open sounding.

2: Practical - Knowing I can't achieve the same full-bodied sound as in the lower registers, I chose to go the other extreme and open up the texture to allow every note the space to breath.

Let's now try out a simple exercise to start playing in higher registers!

Musical Exercise: Chord Shapes in Higher Registers

In this exercise, we'll be playing a simple chord progression using chord shapes high up in the neck. (check out my chord position guide for lots more chord shapes!)

As you play these chords, I want you to try controlling the volume of each individual note. Make the highest note you play in each chord the loudest and the clearest. If you are able to, add in some subtle vibrato to just the highest note.

In developing this control in your hands, you'll soon be able to articulate the melody (usually the top voice) of your arrangements much better!

Tips & Conclusion

Don't be in a rush to play the exercise. It's more important to listen intently - and not just to the notes, but the silences between the notes. Yes, music is not just sounds but also the absence of sounds. Beyond that, enjoy the beauty of each and every note you make in the process!

Do leave a comment with any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them. Follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website as I share new music videos and lessons on those very music videos, each and every week, to help you along your own musical journey.

Until next time, I'll see you again!

By Neil Chan


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