HOW TO — USE TENTHS ON THE GUITAR

As I’m writing this post, all I have is the title. And it sounds like literally the most brain-murderingly boring thing.

But trust me, tenths (while sounding lame and suspiciously mathy) are super fun (and truly gorgeous) to work with.

So what is a tenth exactly? It’s an interval. A compound interval.

Hang with me…I’ll try to make this simple.

An interval is the distance between two notes. Easy right? Just remember to count the top and bottom notes when you’re measuring the interval.

So the distance between C and E, for example, would be a third. (C, D, E.)

Now let’s talk about compound intervals.

A compound interval is any interval that’s greater than an octave.

So in the case of a tenth, you have an octave (an 8th), plus an extra two notes. In total, it covers ten notes. A tenth. Boom.

Now notes that are an octave apart have the same pitch. So an octave above C is another C.

This means that we can basically ignore the octave when we think about tenths, and instead just measure the interval above the octave.

So from C to the E above that octave (C), is really just a third, but more spaced out. Thirds happen to sound phenomenal (a third is the first part of a triad), and since a tenth is really just a third in disguise, tenths obviously sound phenomenal too.

You can build a tenth on any degree of the major scale and it’ll sound fantastic.

The reason for this is a little complex, but basically, because a tenth is really a third, you’re essentially building a chord on every degree of the major scale, which is the foundation for western harmony (the system behind pretty much everything you listen to, from Tchaikovsky to Timberlake).

Tenths are cool because they can be used for both harmonic and melodic work. They kind of bridge the gap. A lead line with a built-in moving harmony beneath it is like a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles; it shouldn’t need the sprinkles, but the sprinkles make everything about the ice cream a more desirable experience.

Except in the case of sprinkles, you should always get sprinkles.

In the video, I show you how to use tenths specifically in the key of G. I’ve found that they work really well in G, so that’s what I gravitate to, but by no means are you limited to G. You have my permission to play in D as well. 😉

Here’s a diagram of tenths built on every degree of the G major scale:

Tenths built on the G major scale

Think of it as two parallel scales moving together – but offset by a third. Each interval is color-coded to help keep the two scales moving in tenths (play both yellows together, then both greens, then both lavender, etc.). The numbers in the dots indicate left hand fingering.

NOTE: you may have noticed that the lavender dots have two numbers each; that’s because I like to play that interval with fingers 2 and 4 going up, but fingers 1 and 3 moving down. Just experiment with them and figure out what’s most comfortable for you…these fingerings are more suggestions that rules.

Now there’s a lot more to learn about intervals, and this post isn’t trying to be exhausting exhaustive. But hopefully you know enough now to start experimenting with tenths and incorporating them into your playing.

Go get ’em!

Ben Hoppe