How perfect 4ths tuning can revolutionize your guitar playing

Ant Law
(Image credit: Rob Blackham)

British jazz guitarist Ant Law is “a game changer” according to The Guardian. He released his fifth album, Same Moon In The Same World (Outside in Music) in 2022. In addition to leading his own projects, Ant plays in Tim Garland’s band with Jason Rebello & Asaf Sirkis. 

Ant is also the ‘L’ in Trio HLK who record and tour with Dame Evelyn Glennie. During his summer semester at Berklee College Of Music, Boston, he had discovered and started using perfect 4ths tuning. Ant’s book on 4th tuning is 3rd Millenium Guitar, published by Mel Bay. 

His favorite tuning is perfect 4ths. Low to high, that’s E-A-D-G-C-F. In this lesson, he demonstrates six of his favourite licks in perfect 4ths tuning.

Example 1. Tapping lick in 4ths

I love tapping, so let’s start with some! This uses the E half-whole diminished scale, which is really easy to move diagonally across the neck in tritones. It might initially feel unusual to use the first finger on your fretting hand as a mute, but it’s worth trying because we can then get a nice clear attack with the fretting hand taps without resonating any open strings. 

I tend to tap with my second and third fingers of my picking hand, so I can keep the plectrum right there at the ready. We normally might associate E7#9 with blues, but you can actually find this chord within the E half-whole diminished scale, so this is entirely legal.

Example 2. Moving geometric maj7 pattern

This lick is a major 7th arpeggio with some chromatic notes added. We then move it down tritones – that’s up one string and down one fret – the opposite direction of Ex 1. I often use this kind of thing when I’m trying to sound interesting in a one-chord situation. 

We are basically alternating between playing Gmaj7 then Dbmaj7 over a Gmaj7 chord. It works because our ears can hold on to what’s going on with the intervals, so there’s a degree of logic even though the Dbmaj7 is a little ‘outside’ sounding. Can you see the appeal of copying a simple geometric shape across the fretboard?

Example 3. Descending in octaves

Here I’m using Gmaj7, Bm7 and Em7 all over a Gmaj7 chord. We take a simple four-note fingering and move it up an octave, then up another octave. Then slide into the next position and descend, down an octave, down another octave etc. It might look easy written out (2 notes per string) but it’s tough to get rhythmically even. 

Example 4. Hybrid picking in 4ths

I stuck together some of my favourite hybrid picking ideas for you here. If you find it tricky, you might benefit from paying close attention to the fingering I’ve notated. I would definitely encourage you to find your own ways of executing all these though, and feel free to change some notes too.

Example 5. String skipping in 4ths

I like these stretchy, string-skipping sequences. Once you’ve learnt the notes, focus on getting rhythmically even. If the sequence sounds a little too obvious to you, try adding or removing a note so that the grouping shifts itself rhythmically. This is a great strategy to make anything sound a little less predictable.

Example 6. Big tapping lick!

Symmetric scales work great in perfect 4ths, so here’s a ‘big’ tapping lick. Remember the fretting-hand first-finger mute technique from Ex 1? We’re using it again here. Shift these patterns around. You can move each hand up and down two frets, together or independently, while remaining within the whole-tone tonality!

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