Chapter 2:
Play on a single string

The most natural way to find the next note is also the easiest way to move up and down the fretboard.

The simplest way to start improvising a melody is to play up and down a single string.

The most logical place to begin

In The Advancing Guitarist, Mick Goodrick explained it beautifully.

“Playing on a single string is absolutely the most logical place to begin on a guitar,” he wrote.

“Consider the following observations:

  • The simplest way to see notes is in a straight line.
  • A single string is a straight line.
  • On a single string, there is a direct relationship between interval distance and movement in space.
  • Playing on a single string helps to eliminate two potential problems: “paralysis” (fear of movement) and “acrophobia” (fear of higher frets), since the entire length of the fingerboard is utilized from the very beginning.
  • …Elements of fundamental theory can be shown to a beginner in clear and simple visual and aural terms: intervals, scale constructions, chords, arpeggios, etc. The same could be said for dynamics, articulations, and timbre.” (Goodrick, 1987, p. 10)

No tuning required

Playing on one string also has the benefit that we don’t have to worry about being in tune, in the sense that a string is always in tune with itself.

We can pick up any stringed instrument from any random junk pile. No matter how well or poorly maintained, how old or in disrepair, as long as the instrument has one string that can vibrate, it can make music.

No training required

Nearly everyone seems to know how to do this without training, to some degree.

Give a rubber band to a small child, and it’s a safe bet that before long, without any prompting, they will discover how to make different sounds with it.

On a basic level we all know how to make music with a vibrating string.