Three ways to get more octaves in guitar mode


I’ve been meaning to post on this for a while, though I suspect some or all of it is obvious to many people already. If you’re a guitarist using the I1 to play piano sounds, you quickly come up against the fact that the guitar is a treble-clef instrument with a range of only three octaves (counting from open 6th string to 12th fret on 1st string), which makes it difficult to sound at all convincingly piano-like in the bass. You can of course transpose the whole I1 down an octave, but that shifts the melody range down with it. The Chromatic Grid Piano stacked-octave preset, which originally was the built-in keyboard preset, gets six octaves out of the layout and is great for playing isolated notes, but anything more involves learning a whole new way of playing that isn’t at all easy to master even for keyboardists. But here are three shameless kludges I’ve found useful for extending the octave range while still keeping the fingerboard playable in standard guitar tuning.

  1. Drop the bottom two strings an octave. This is a quick & dirty solution for strum mode, but I mention it because surprisingly often it’s all you need to fake a more keyboard-like range by putting the bottom notes of chords in the bass. I find that most of my melody playing is on the top four strings anyway, and it gives you a fourth octave with just a quick tweak to the Guitar preset, though at the price of a four-semitone gap between the top of the fifth string and the open fourth (including middle C, but that’s not usually a dealbreaker). It never sounds terribly convincingly pianistic, at least when I’m playing, but it works well with synth patches that have a nice oomph in the bass, and a basic walking or alternating bass can sound quite good.

  2. A variation I use in tap grid mode is to use the bridge triggers for the missing notes from Bb1 to C#2, as in the diagram below. This sounds a bit fussy, but apart from the low E the bridge triggers just duplicate notes on the fingerboard anyway, and in tap mode I find I never play them otherwise. Not only does it complete the four octaves, but it gives the other hand something occasionally useful to do, and you quickly get used to using the top five triggers as fill-in notes.

  1. For five octaves you have to get a bit more adventurous, but if you’re modestly comfortable with the different fingering shapes for basic chords and their associated scales and arpeggios (a basic grasp of the CAGED system is fine) you can get five continuous octaves in standard tuning in grid mode by starting from Tap Guitar and simply tuning the bottom six frets (and the bridge triggers) down an octave and the upper six frets up one, like this:

What this does in practice is to split the fingerboard into two zones to be played stick-style by two-handed tapping, the left hand playing chords, lines, and arpeggios in the bass while the right hand plays the melody line. Six frets is all each hand needs to play all the fingerings you can reach from a single root position, and in fact the original Artiphon prototype had only six frets. (Five, on the Jamstik, is definitely not enough.) It’s easier than it sounds, though as usual it takes a bit of getting used to and I found it useful (as so often) to noodle while watching TV to get used to the feel without thinking or looking at my fingers.

I’ve never touched a stick or Linnstrument, but this kind of two-handed tapping (as opposed to the Van Halen style, which is a completely different technique and really hard) turns out to be actually quite a natural way to play – in many ways more so than on a stick, as you don’t have to have all those extra strings because the I1 grid lets you play multiple notes on the same string. Learning to tap with the right hand turns out to be not unlike getting used to a left- or right-hand drive car (except that you’re driving on both sides at once…). As I’m sure stick players know but I didn’t till I tried, the key is that your hands are mirror images, so that when you place them on opposite sides of the guitar the fingers of both have the same things to do to make the shapes, only upside-down. This makes it surprisingly easy to play scales with the right hand if you know the shapes with the left, because despite the inversion of the strings the fingers are hitting the frets in the same spacing and order as when you’re playing right-handed. Arpeggios are more of a challenge because the strings order is reversed, and chords are quite a bit more difficult, but most of that work is going to be in the left hand anyway.

I really like this way of playing, and with something like the Grand Piano 2 from SampleTank it can sound surprisingly like an actual piano being played badly but sincerely; you can close your eyes and imagine you’re one of those fake Spotify artists playing questionable ambient pianoscapes. But it’s also great with synth patches designed to be played across a full keyboard range. (These will often be categorised as Keys among synth presets.) D or Bm is a good key to try it in. Just two things to watch out for: don’t try straddling the line between the two zones (you’re going to try it now, but I warn you it’ll never not sound awful), and don’t ever, ever try this on stage. Your hands barely move and it makes you look like a complete nork.

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Artiphon quirk/gift - Right or Left? Which way should I learn to play?