Fretless 6-String Guitar Technique – Tim Donahue

VI. Intervals

A good understanding of intervals and their placement on the fingerboard is essential to be able to play chords in tune on the fretless guitar. One should be able to determine from the voicing of a chord, the places where intonation problems are most likely to occur before the chord is even fingered!

It is beyond the scope of this book as to exactly why some intervals are harder to play in tune than others, but let’s make some guidelines.

In general, unisons, octaves, perfect 4ths and perfect 5ths can be regarded as intervals that offer little leeway in terms of how far off they can be and still remain in tune.

Interval studies in 1 position:


Refer to: “Reflections Off An Ocean” in the Musical Examples section.


Note: In all stretches above, only the 1st finger is used.

Perfect 4ths can be fingered easily due to the nature of standard guitar tuning. With the exception of the 2nd and 3rd strings, perfect 4ths should be played on other adjacent strings with one finger. Intonation must be controlled by the finger angle relative to the strings. Ideally, the finger holding down the fourth should be as perpendicular to the strings as possible, if it must be angled to get tune interval in tune, the guitar may: 1, be out of tune, 2, need intonation adjustment at the bridge, 3. need a properly cut nut.

Note: Always use one finger barred in fingering a perfect 4th on adjacent strings other than the 2nd and 3rd. Because of this, sustain may be lost because the fingertip is not in use. Especially on the 1st and 2nd strings, the notes will have to be “worked out” using heavy stationary vibrato.


3rd and 6ths, in the same fashion:


Practicing intervals up the neck (as opposed to across) lends itself nicely to the drone string technique mentioned previously. The possibilities are endless as any drone note can be used as long as it is diatonic to the given exercise. For example, an open D string can be used for exercises in the major keys of D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, and C. The ear needs a reference point and any diatonic drone note can provide it.


On 2nd and 3rd strings with an open D:


On 3rd & 4trl strings with an open A:


A good mastery of intervals leads to the mastery of chords.

Take a breath……..

…section ends

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