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Lesson 2

The Irregular Standard Tuning System
Let's look at a major impediment to harmonic understanding that all guitarists encounter from the
moment we first pick up a guitar. That obstacle (which is also a two edged sword since it has
advantages as well as disadvantages) is the guitars irregular, unequal Standard tuning system. It
has evolved independently of other instruments and their notational systems, and is based largely
on pattern recognition, tablature and fingering considerations. Unlike the piano, with its musically
accessible and repetitive pattern of symmetrically spaced black and white keys that graphically
depict the musical alphabet, the guitar fingerboard is elusive and difficult to visualize, frequently
obscuring musical relationships.
For example, the three major chord shapes in Figure 1 are identical in construction and voicing.
It's highly unlikely that any beginner would realize this fact by looking at them.
Figure 1
E A D


Figure 2 shows that these three chord shapes are indeed identical in construction and voicing.
Come to think of it, how is it that these identically voiced chords appear as three different shapes?
For the answer, we need to examine the standard tuning system.
Figure 2 A Major chord is constructed from the 1
st
(called the root), 3
rd
and 5
th
tones of the Major scale
Formula Spelling
E Major Scale E F# G# A B C# D# E E Major Chord
Tone 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 E G# B
A Major Scale A B C# D E F# G# A A Major Chord
Tone 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 A C# E
D Major Scale D E F# G A B C# D D Major Chord
Tone 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 D F# A

E Major A Major D Major
THE CHORD VOICINGS ARE IDENTICAL
R 5 R 3
E B E G# A E A C# D A D F#
R 5 R 3 R 5 R 3 R 5 R 3

In Figure 3, all the intervals between adjacent strings 6 & 5, 5 & 4, 4 & 3. and 2 & 1 are an equal
distance of the same four letter names apart (perfect 4ths). The irregular interval occurs between
adjacent strings 3 & 2, and is three letter names apart (major 3
rd
).
Figure 3
The Irregular Standard Tuning system
IRREGULAR
(Major 3
rd
Tuning)
4 Letters 4 Letters 4 Letters 3 Letters 4 Letters
Musical Alphabet E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E

Interval Distance - 4
th
- - 4
th
- - 4
th
- - 3
rd
- - 4
th
-
Standard Tuning E A D G B E
String 6 5 4 3 2 1
In Figure 4, notice that the shape of the major 3
rd
interval between string 3 & 2 (two notes
located on adjacent strings on the same fret) is exactly the same as the shape of the perfect 4
th
interval on all the other adjacent strings. In order to produce a perfect 4
th
on 3 & 2, you need to
expand the major 3
rd
shape ½ step (one fret) in either direction along the fingerboard. This is
accomplished by either raising of the second string one fret or by lowering the pitch of the third
string one fret (Figure 5). Accordingly, a series of perfect 4ths across all six strings would
produce the shape in Figure 6.
Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6
M 3 Perf 4
th
Perf 4th
Same Shape Internal Shape Across
on 3 & 2 Fingerboard

Expanding M 3rd Shape Expanding M 3rd shape
by raising 2 by one fret by lowering 3 by one fret
Recognition of the half step (one fret) expansion that must occur between 3 & 2 to equalize the
interval relationships between all of the adjacent strings is the key factor in understanding how
and why all chord shapes, as well as scale patterns, appear as they do across the entire
fingerboard.
For example, let's now return to our original three identically voiced major chord shapes in Figure
7. This time, however, each shape is shown along with the string set it occupies.

Figure 7
Identical Chord Voicings Across Adjacent String Sets
Organizing the six strings of the guitar into smaller units or STRING SETS (a concept developed
and refined by the great George Van Eps in his 3-volume methods "Harmonic Mechanisms¨
Mel Bay, Pub.) greatly simplifies the conceptualization of spatial relationships on the fingerboard.
E A D
"LOWER¨ "INSIDE¨ "HIGHER¨
3
rd
set of 4 2
nd
set of 4 1
st
set of 4


LOWER TO HIGHER ADJACENT SETS
Lower Set To Adjacent Inside Set To Higher Adjacent Se
The E chord voicing occupies the 3
rd
set of four adjacent strings that is comprised of perfect 4
th
intervals. If the 2
nd
and 1
st
sets of four adjacent strings were also tuned to perfect 4ths, then
transferring the E chord voicing (R-5-R-3) to the adjacent 2
nd
and 1
st
sets would not change it's
shape! However, both the 2
nd
and 3
rd
sets include the major 3
rd
between strings 3 & 2 (see Figure
8).
Figure 8
D A E
"HIGHER¨ "INSIDE¨ "LOWER¨
1
st
set of 4 2
nd
set of 4 3
rd
set of 4
HIGHER TO LOWER ADJACENT SETS
Higher Set To Adjacent Inside Set To Lower Adjacent Set

Here are two formulas you can use when transferring any chord voicing across adjacent string
sets that include the 3
rd
and 2
nd
strings:
1. Transferring voicings from a lower to a higher string set. Any note that moves from
the third string on the lower set to the second string on the higher adjacent set must be
raised one fret. Remember, lower to higher, raise string 2 one fret.
2. Transferring voicings from a higher to a lower string set. Any note that moves from
the second string on the higher set to the third string on the lower adjacent set must be
lowered in pitch by one fret. Remember, higher to lower, lower string 3 one fret.
The examples on the following pages, designed for beginner, intermediate and more advanced
playing levels, are practical applications of transferring identical chord voicings across adjacent
string sets. The examples are not restricted only to three sets of four adjacent strings; they also
include four sets of three adjacent strings, and two broken sets of five strings.
I suggest that in transferring any voicings across the string sets, you retain the shape and
fingering of the original voicing until your fingers touch down on the new set. Then, and only then,
readjust your fingers according to the desired new shape.
Lower to Higher Sets (raise 2 one fret) Lower to Higher Sets (raise 2 one fret)
3 SETS OF 4 ADJACENT STRINGS BROKEN SETS OF 5

Cmaj7 Fmaj7 Bbmaj7 Gmaj7 Cmaj7
3
rd
set of 4 2
nd
set of 4 1
st
set of 4 2
nd
set of broken 5 1
st
set of broken 5

5 R 3 7 -- Voicing -- 5 R 3 7 5 R 3 7 R 7 3 5 R 7 3 5
3 SETS OF 4 ADJACENT STRINGS BROKEN SETS OF 5
Gmin7 Cmin7 Fmin7 Gmin7 Cmin7
3
rd
set of 4 2
nd
set of 4 1
st
set of 4 2
nd
set of broken 5 1
st
set of broken 5

R 5 b7 b3 R 5 b7 b3 R 5 b7 b3 R b7 b3 5 R b7 b3 5

Higher to Lower Sets (lower 3 one fret) Lower to Higher Sets (raise 2 one fret)
3 SETS OF 4 ADJACENT STRINGS "INSIDE¨ 2ND SET OF 4 TO HIGHER
1ST SET OF 4 ADJACENT STRINGS
Cmaj7 Gmaj7 Dmaj7 D7#9 G7#9
1
st
set of 4 2
nd
set of 4 3
rd
set of 4 2
nd
"inside¨ set of 4 1
st
set of 4
77
4 4
R 3 5 7 R 3 5 7 R 3 5 7 R 3 b7 #9 R 3 b7 #9
Higher to Lower Sets (Lower 3 one fret) Lower to Higher Set (raise 2 one fret)
"INSIDE¨ 2ND SET OF 4 TO LOWER "INSIDE¨ 2ND SET OF 4 TO 1ST
3RD SET OF ADJACENT STRINGS SET OF 4 ADJACENT STRINGS
D7#9 A7#9 C7b9 F7b9
2
nd
"inside¨ set of 4 3
rd
set of 4 2
nd
"inside " set of 4 1
st
set of 4
4 4
R 3 b7 #9 R 3 b7 #9 R 3 b7 b9 R 3 b7 b9
Higher to Lower Sets (lower 3 one fret)
"INSIDE¨ 2ND SET OF 4 TO
3RD SET OF ADJACENT STRINGS
C7b9 G7b9
2
nd
"inside¨ set of 4 3
rd
set of 4

R 3 b7 b9 R 3 b7 b9

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