Octave Drop Chord Building 1

In the last lesson, we took a look at these less-obvious octave shapes that lurk in our chords & scale shapes:

We’ll use them to map out our fretboard in a slightly different way than most of you are used to, but first we need to address a couple minor things.


(This’ll be review for those of you who’ve done the GuitarOS theory course.)


Thing #1: Pilotage & Dead Reckoning

“It’s called wayfinding—knowing where you are by knowing where you’ve been.”


The two principle means of navigation are called Pilotage & Dead Reckoning.


Pilotage is knowing where something is by using names: street names, house numbers, the North Star, and calling the notes on your guitar by their names.


Dead Reckoning is knowing where something is by triangulating against something else: Oregon is north of California, F is one fret up from E, the ice cream shop is across the street from Walgreens.


Neither of these is superior to other, and they get used in conjunction all the time. “Turn right on State Street” is both: the change in bearing from your current course (dead reckoning), plus the name of the street (pilotage).


For our purposes, we can use the name of a note (pilotage):

…plus the shape of an octave (dead reckoning):

…to arrive at another note name:

And if you didn’t know the octave shapes (dead reckoning), you could deduce them from the note names (pilotage).


The two methods of navigation inform one another. If it wasn’t such an overused corporate buzzword, I’d call it synergy.


Thing #2: Minimum Viable Chords


Most of the chord voicings we use on guitar contain redundant notes.


For example, this standard-issue G chord uses all six strings, but really only has three notes:

But the truth of the matter is that ANY combination of the notes G, B, & D is a G chord.

…and these are just the obvious ones!


These simple three-note chords are called “triads”—even when we include redundant notes.


To recap what we’ve covered so far:


  • Shapes and names complement each other, and you can use one to figure out the other
  • Most guitarists play chords with redundant notes, but any combination of the notes in the triad is a legitimate voicing of that chord.


Octave Drop Chord String #1


Let’s start with one that’ll fall readily to hand. The top three notes of your standard cowboy C chord are a fully-fledged voicing of C:

We’re going to displace the top note (the one highest in pitch, not the one closest to the ceiling).


You can use note names (pilotage):

Or you can use octave shapes to achieve the same thing:

Whichever way you slice it, we’re dropping the top note down an octave, from the 1st string to the 4th string.


And now we’re going to do the same thing again, moving the new top note from the 2nd string to the 5th string:

You can do it with note names, or you can do it with octave shapes.


Because (so far) this shape has mapped exactly to your standard C chord, I hope this bizarre exercise is still grokable.


The last go-round of this move has us moving the top note from the open G to the G on the 6th string:

All together, you have one big C chord:

…or four three-note voicings, all of which are C chords:

Wrap Up

Ok, so far pretty straightforward (maybe even a little underwhelming).


You know it when your hands know it? Well unless you’ve never played a C chord before, I imagine you’ve already checked that box.


But if you’d like to practice playing these, you can do it over this looped C chord:

In our next lesson, we’ll apply the same method to a new area of the neck (and with less pedestrian results).


See you there,


Complete and Continue