The first time a guitarist tries out a 7 or 8 string guitar, they usually all do the same thing: chug away on the low string for a while, then try to transpose riffs they already know onto the low strings. While there are a few styles of music that don’t take it further than this, you’re going to miss out on a lot if you don’t try to explore what a 7 or 8 string is capable of.
In this lesson let’s look at different exercises you can use to feel comfortable with your 7 or 8 string guitar. These exercises will get you used to the way extended range guitars feel and how they differ from 6 string guitars.
Once you feel comfortable with the technical side of playing a 7 or 8 string guitar, you can start exploring your creative side and come up with new ideas not possible on a 6 string guitar.
If you’re interested in extended range instruments but don’t have one yet, check out my guide on the Best 7 String Guitars. While you could jump from 6 to 8 strings, it’s far easier moving across to a 7 string guitar first. While an 8 string can feel overwhelming to a regular 6 string guitarist, a 7 string can feel very natural almost instantly.
After you feel comfortable with these exercises, check out some 7 string songs to learn here (includes TAB). If you don’t find these exercises challenging, some of the songs in that guide will give you plenty to work on.
Exercise 1: Finger dexterity
This first exercise is designed to get your hands used to playing a 7 or 8 string. If you’re just getting started with an extended range guitar, you may feel your hand struggle to wrap around the fretboard and stretch to certain notes.
To make this as easy as possible, let’s use the classic 1-2-3-4 finger exercise you may already know and use with your 6 string guitar:
This is a great exercise to start with because you don’t need to think about note positions or scales, you simply line all four fingers up across four frets and move one string at a time up and back.
Here’s the 7 string version:
Once you reach the 4th fret of the high E string, continue to move backwards back to the low B string. If you have trouble stretching your fingers across the low four frets, you can shift the entire exercise up the fretboard to a position that feels more comfortable.
For example here is the same exercise moved up to the fifth fret:
This position should feel easier on your fingers – especially when you’re stretching over to reach the low B string. If you struggle in this position simply move the exercise further up the fretboard until you can comfortably play without any issues. Over time try to work your way down the fretboard until you can easily play the entire exercise across the first four frets.
Here’s the 8 string version:
It’s the exact same exercise on an 8 string, only you start on the low Gb string. This is a great way to warm your hand up and get used to the extended range of an 8 string guitar.
Just like the 7 string version, if you struggle to play the exercise in the lower position, simply move the exercise up until it feels comfortable. Then gradually work your way back down. Focus on using a good hand position and cleanly played notes. Aim for accuracy rather than speed.
Exercise 2: String Skipping
One of the challenges with switching from a 6 string guitar to a 7 or 8 string is it can throw off your sense of position on your fretboard. It’s common to get a bit lost when improvising (eg:what you think of as the 4th string may really be the 3rd string). You won’t have this problem when playing riffs or chords, but lead lines that use the middle strings can sometimes throw guitarists off.
Practicing string skipping is a great way to develop confidence in your position across the fretboard. As you learn to jump around, you’ll get a feel for which string you’re on at all times.
For this exercise we’re going to use the A Minor Pentatonic scale to help you start thinking about note positions as well as string positions. We’ll use the first ‘box shape’ position as it’s an easy starting point.
Let’s start with some simple jumps. In this exercise you skip a string, then move back one, skip a string, then move back one, etc.
Here is the 7 string version:
It’s a nice and simple exercise as the low B notes line up with the rest of the box shape. Practice alternative picking with and without palm muting so you can get your picking hand used to moving across the strings.
Here is the 8 string version:
Once you can comfortably jump up and down the strings following this pattern, you can start to mix things up and try some wider jumps. Here are some examples of different string-skipping patterns you can use:
- 2 strings up, 3 strings down
- 3 strings up, 1 string down
- 2 strings up, 4 strings down
- 4 strings up, 3 strings down
Try different variations and focus on any that cause you trouble. If you keep getting stuck with one pattern, focus on that pattern at a slow pace until you can play it perfectly. It might feel frustrating, but that’s a sign that it’s working. If you don’t feel any challenge with these exercises, it’s a sign you’re not working on them hard enough – even advanced guitarists should be able to use simple exercises like these to develop their skills.
Here is an example of
The wide jumps here give you a great way to practice learning what string you’re on at any point in time. At first you may find you jump to the wrong strings, but with enough slow practice you’ll develop plenty of accuracy.
Exercise 3: Note Memorization
If you have already memorized the note positions on a 6 string guitar, you’ll see it’s pretty easy to memorize the notes on the extra strings. The low B string uses the same note positions as the high B string on a 6 string guitar, so that’s half the job done! All you need to do is get used to those positions and make sure it doesn’t mess up your memory of the rest of the strings.
If you’re learning to play an 8 string guitar, the low F# (or Gb) string may throw you off a bit, but it shouldn’t take very long to get used to the positions on that string.
Here is a diagram of a 7 string guitar with all the notes in the C Major scale up to the 12th fret:
Here is an 8 string guitar up to the 12th fret:
There are a lot of ways you can memorize these positions, but to keep things simple, let’s simply go up and down each string while calling the note names out loud.
Here is the low B string on a 7 string guitar up and down:
Make sure you do call the note names out loud or else it’s going to take longer to make the connection between the note name and position.
On an 8 string guitar you can play the same exercise, just remember it’s one string higher from the low F# string.
Here is the exercise for the low F# string on an 8 string guitar:
Notice in this example we’re including the open F# note? This is to get you used to the open string note’s name. You might even want to practice the exercise by calling Gb (say ‘G flat’) out lout as well to remind you that it’s the same note.
This isn’t a very exciting exercise to play, but it’s important you feel comfortable with the notes on these new strings.
Exercise 4: Scales
Once you feel confident that you know the note positions across all strings, the next step is to start practicing scales. If you can already do this on a six string guitar, you’ll find it doesn’t take long to build your skill up to the point where you’re just as confident on your 7 or 8 string guitar.
For this exercise I’m not going to give you a set pattern to follow because that won’t teach you anything. Mindlessly playing scale exercises without thinking about what you’re playing can cause a lot of problems. Instead, I’ll explain what to do and you can start practicing any scale you want.
Here are the steps to follow for this exercise:
- Pick a scale you want to work on (eg: G Major: G A B C D E F#)
- Find the root note on your lowest string (eg: G is on the 8th fret on a 7 string guitar and 13th fret on an 8 string guitar)
- From that starting position, play three notes on that string in the scale
- Move up one string at a time following the scale
- Once you reach the 1st string, move backwards until you return to the first root note
Here is what the above steps could look like on a 7 string guitar:
The important thing about this exercise is that it’s not about exactly following the above example. You should try to come up with different paths and finger positions. You can move across the fretboard in a straight line like the above example or you can move diagonally across the strings. Don’t fall into the trap of only playing one scale shape – try to come up with as many different paths as you can.
For example here is the exact same scale (G Major) following a different path on a 7 string:
You might notice it skips some notes in the scale and there are jumps as you move across the strings. That’s perfectly fine – the point is to learn to feel comfortable with the note positions in a scale – not to play memorized scale shapes.
Here are some other ideas on how you can mix your scale practice up:
- Add string skipping into the scale runs
- Add in hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends and slides
- Play 2, 3, 4, 5 or more notes per string
- Use your picking hand to tap some notes from the scale on each string
The more you mix up your scales like this, the stronger the scales will stick in your mind. Don’t repeat the same scale runs over and over – mix it up and keep trying new things to push your abilities.
If you’re not comfortable with scale theory yet, here are some good scales to practice on 7 or 8 string guitars:
- C Major: C D E F G A B
- G Major: G A B C D E F#
- B Major: B C# D# E F# G# A#
- B Minor: B C# D E F# G A
- F# Major: F# G# A# B C# D# E#
- F# Minor: F# G# A B C# D E
Scales that make use of the notes B and F# are good for 7 and 8 string guitars because they make use of the open strings. Try to find other scale like the ones above that make use of those notes.
Exercise 5: Chords
Some jazz guitarists love 7 strings because of the new chord possibilities it offers. You can play new chord shapes and positions not possible with a 6 string guitar. 8 string guitars offer even more room to play around with chord shapes.
Even if the style of music you play doesn’t make use of many chords and most of the riffs you play use one string at a time, it’s worth learning how to play new chords on your guitar.
Here are a few random 7 string chord shapes to get you started:
Try playing the above chords in a progression to get used to the stretching some of them require. While you can look up a lot of chord shapes, you’re going to learn a lot more when you try to figure out chord shapes on your own.
It’s actually easier than you might think to do this and I’ll walk through an example to get you started. Let’s look at how you can figure out how to play a Cmaj7 chord on an 8 string guitar.
Step 1: Find the notes that make up the chord
In this example Cmaj7 uses the notes: C E G B.
Step 2: Find the root notes on your guitar
In this example let’s create a chord that starts with the root note (C) on the low F# string. As you can see below, C is found on the 6th fret on the F# string:
We will build the chord from this starting position
Step 3: Find the other chord notes within reach of the root note
We already have the position for C, so all we need to do is look on the other strings to find the notes E, G & B that are within reach of the root note. In the below diagram shows the possible notes we could use to build our chord:
Try playing a few chord shapes based on these notes. Make sure any chord you create uses all four notes. If you don’t use all four, it won’t be a proper CMaj7 chord.
Here are some examples of shapes you could have come up with that all start with the root note on the 6th fret:
Some of these chords will feel easy while others may be a struggle to play. Try playing all of them as an exercise to stretch your fingers out.
The main point to take away here is that you can come up with multiple chord shapes for any chord you want. You also don’t need to start the chord with the root note – as long as you have all the needed notes, it will still work.
Try coming up with as many chord shapes as you can for the following chords:
- Em: E G B
- Bm7: B D F# A
- F#: F# A# C#
- Em9: E G B D F#
Also try any chords you already know but try to find new positions that make use of the 7th or 8th string.
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The above exercises help you develop the basics skills needed to get the most out of your 7 or 8 string guitar. Once you can confidently play the above exercises without any issues, you will find it much easier to learn songs using your guitar as well as coming up with new ideas and songs.
Here are some 7 string guitar songs worth learning (with TAB) from a range of different guitarists. Seeing how different guitarists use extended range guitars is a great way to take your playing in new directions.
If you’re looking at buying an extended range guitar, check out my Buyer’s Guide on the Best 7 String Guitars available.
I’ll be working more guides for 7 and 8 string guitars so to stay up to date with new lessons, guides and reviews, subscribe for email updates here.