Modulate the B String to Help Make the Melody Stand Out

Posted on Posted in Announcements, Stories, Tips from Mark

The B-string on a steel-string guitar can be loud – it is the thickest wire on the guitar, even thicker than the wire inside the wound sixth string. The inherent volume of the second string can produce unbalanced melody notes compared to notes played on the first string. Your ear is your guide in determining how hard to pick each string to balance the melody.

However, when you pick the first and second strings simultaneously, it’s not easy to make one louder than the other. The volume differential between the first and second strings may obscure the actual first-string melody note. You want the first string to be at least as loud as the second, if not louder. To accomplish that I’ve included an exercise and some suggestions to help make the first string note stand out.

Exercise: Try picking the first and second strings simultaneously with the ring and middle fingers, respectively – or with the middle and index. Is the first string loud enough compared to the second? Likely you are picking the two strings with the same intensity. If the first string isn’t loud enough, try the following:

1) Put on a slightly thicker first string. For instance, if you use light gauge strings with a .012 first string, replace it with a .013 to see if that helps make the first string louder. I do this when I play with my trio, Acoustic Guitar Summit, just to get more punch from my first string;

2) Try quickly arpeggiating the simultaneous notes – often “pinched” chords of three or four notes –  so that you can pick the melody string harder and louder than the preceding notes. By quickly arpeggiating (or “rolling”) the notes of a chord, you can pick the melody note louder than the others and not disturb the rhythm of the music.  I dedicate an entire section of my Art of Solo Fingerpicking book/audio to “Picking-Hand Rolls” – the art of picking  chords like a harpist plays them.

In my tune “Key to the Kingdom” and many of my ballads I often pick the first and second strings simultaneously, with the more important note – the melody note – on the first string. I strive to make those melody notes louder than the accompanying notes. You can watch some examples here:

“Key to the Kingdom.”

“Georgia On My Mind”


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