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Using Open-String Drones in Melodies

The open low E and A strings are often used as drones, facilitating the use of the higher strings for melody playing. Although the G string is situated in the “middle of the pack,” its use as an open-string drone is very distinct and has a great sound quality. One reason for this is that is serves to create the impression of open G tuning, a staple of acoustic and electric blues music.

Because the open-string drone concept is so appropriate for blues-type playing, and we’re utilizing the open G string as our tonic, let’s look at the blues-approved G Mixolydian mode (G A B C D E F) played on all the other strings besides the G.

FIGURE 1 illustrates G Mixolydian played up and down the high E string. Notice that it’s articulated with hammer-ons, finger slides, pull-offs and vibratos, in order to establish the typical manner by which blues guitarists will move through this scale when soloing.

FIGURE 2 illustrates G Mixolydian ascending the B string. Memorize this pattern and then practice it in descending form as well, incorporating pull-offs and slides in order to achieve a legato (smooth and connected) phrasing feel. FIGURES 3-5 show the G Mixolydian mode played on the D, A and low E strings, respectively. Memorize these patterns too and practice both ascending and descending.

A great way to create a bluesy open-G–like sound is to play melodic lines and patterns on a given string while simultaneously sounding the open G string as a drone, or pedal tone. In FIGURE 6, I employ hybrid picking—the combination of fingerpicking and flatpicking—to simultaneously sound ascending and descending phrases on the high E string while also sounding the open G. Use the plectrum to strike the G string and pluck the notes on the high E string with your middle or ring finger.

Now let’s apply this concept to melodic lines played on all of the other strings. In FIGURE 6, half-step bends are used to add flavor to the line. In FIGURE 7, with melodies played on the B string, perform the half-step bends by pulling the string in toward your palm, away from the open G string, so as to not bump into it. In FIGURE 8, a melodic line is played on the D string, and these half-step bends must be performed by bending the strings in an upward manner, by pushing the string away from the open G string.

Now that you’re familiar with this approach, try inventing some lines of your own on the A and low E strings while simultaneously sounding the open G-string drone.