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Three Notes per String? by Ebaa Khamas

Classical guitar technique, with all its unique characteristics, shares much more with other styles of guitar playing than many classical guitarists might like to admit. Like all instruments, the guitar has its own unique set of challenges. The player must make good choices in fingering, phrasing and articulation. Unfortunately, idiomatic practices are not as widely discussed in the classical guitar world as one might hope.

For example, some of the choices that a guitarist has to make in playing a scale passage are whether or not to keep the melody on the same string (Segovia’s approach), adding legato’s, and fingerings in both hands. This leads to the fact that traditional position playing with connecting shifts, might not always be the best approach for fluid or functional scales. Patterns are extremely important when working through the challenges of scales. Subsequently, why would we learn a scale shape that only applies to a couple of other keys or only one?

Three notes-per-string-scales offer an alternative that can be used instead of or in conjunction with traditional position playing. These scales are widely used in rock, jazz, and more and more by classical guitarists. The reason for this is to eliminate certain challenges that are present in the position approach to scale playing. These challenges are pattern recognition and variation, shifting, connectivity and ease of execution.

For example, if we look at the Segovia C major scale which starts in second position, we notice the position shift that takes place on the third string. This shift can be eliminated if we start in third position, using the first finger as a beginning point and utilizing a “squeeze” shift instead of a “jump” shift to smoothly transition from third position to fifth. Another benefit of the three-notes-per-string approach is the ability to apply varied patterns to the scale (see example), without having to worry about the shift interrupting the patterns.

Finally, the use of ‘ami’ in the right hand as a general rule to this approach, will simultaneously train your arpeggios and tremolo. In short, these scale fingerings provide the performer with different options to facilitate a passages’ playability. For a more comprehensive look at this approach, there’s a wonderful book by Matt Palmer entitled “The Virtuoso Guitarist, Vol. I”. The work covers this topic in detail and has numerous examples from common repertoire.


Ebaa Khamas has been with the OCGO since 2015 and is currently the section leader of Guitar IV. He recently graduated from Cal State Fullerton where he completed his Masters Degree in guitar performance while studying with Martha Masters and Andrew York.

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