10 uses for 4 notes (Paul Gilbert Content!)

I’ve had the good fortune to study with Paul Gilbert in a few one-on-one sessions and at his awesome online school at ArtistWorks Rock Guitar School.  A recurring technique he demonstrates are two-note-per-string licks that move across the fretboard in parallel fashion.  These simple shapes are easy to learn and can outline various chord flavors.  In fact, one simple shape can be used to outline 10 different chords!!!  In this post, I’ll show you how it is done.


See below for the shape we will be using.  It consists of a major-second (whole-step) interval played on each string, going up in octaves.  The notes are G, A, C, D:


These notes work well over an Am or Amin7 chord to imply a natural minor or Aeolian sound.  This is because the notes G, A, C, D relative to a root of A represent the b7, root, b3 and 4th interval.  The b3 tells us it is a minor flavor, and the b7 calls out the min7 chord type.

A Aeolian

Application to other notes in the phrase

So, what other chords can this be used over?  The obvious next step is to consider how we might apply this pattern to the other three notes in the phrase : G, C and D.

First, let’s look at the notes G, A, C, D in the context of each root note:

G : root, 9, 4, 5        - 1, 2, 4, 5  : looks like major
C : 5, 6, root, 9        - 1, 2, 5, 6  : looks like major
D : 4, 5, b7, root       - 1, 4, 5, b7 : looks like a D7

For G and C we see notes right out of their major scale, so it looks like the phrase would apply to the Ionian mode.  For D, we have a flat 7.  Since there is no 3rd, it could be either major or minor.  In this analysis, we’ll choose minor only if there is a b3, so in this case, we’ll say that we have a D dominant 7th or D7 which corresponds to the Mixolydian mode.

G Ionian

C IonianD Mixolydian

But wait, there’s more!

We could stop here, but what about notes that are not included in the phrase?  It turns out that there are quite a few examples of where this phrase works well.

Let’s look at the relationship of the notes G, A, C and D to the root notes F and Bb.

F : 9, 3, 5, 6           - 2, 3, 5, 6  : looks like major
Bb : 6, 7, 9, 3.         - 2, 3, 6, 7  : looks like major

The notes G, A, C and D come right out of the major scale, implying an Ionian sound.

F Ionian

Bb Ionian

Next, let’s look at the root notes B and E:

B : b6, b7, b9, b3      - looks like Phyrigian
E : b3, 4, b6, b7       - no b9, but looks a lot like Phyrigian

The Phrygian mode (3rd mode of the major scale) introduces a number of altered notes including the b9, b3, b6 and b7.  This phrase works well over B and E to imply the Phyrgian mode:

B Phrygian

E Phrygian.png

Finally, we can eek out two more modal applications for the roots Eb and F# (why did I name one flat and the other sharp, beats me, that’s just how I think of them!).

Eb : 3, #4, 6, 7         - looks major except for #4 = Lydian
F# : b9, b3, b5, b6      - b3, b5 implies m7b5 which fits Locrian

These may not be familiar modes, but this pattern sounds nice in these applications.  The major scale with a #4 sound over Eb gives a Lydian sound.  The b3, b5 and b9 over F# brings out the highly dissonant Locrian mode.

Eb Lydian

F# Locrian


Well, there you have it, 10 ways to use a 4 note phrase!  There are many more two-note-per-string 4 note shapes and phrases.  I may analyze more of them, but hopefully you now have the tools to explore this idea on your own.

Here is a PDF containing all of the examples above:


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