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  The 12 string guitar : an instrument which remains to investigate


This is the fundamental principal of the method you have before you. Considering each string individually reveals an altogether different instrument in terms of rhythm, melody, harmony, and sound. Not only that, we also discover a guitar that is at least accessible: enough to oblige us to have another look at that truism about twelve-string being much harder to play than six strings!

If you lay your 12-string flat across your lap, this is what you see.

String numbers (highest sound away from you)


There are the six open strings of the usual guitar, written as capital letters. Each string is paired by another, which makes 6 "courses". The two high strings, B and E, are paired by an identical string tuned to the same pitch, giving the same sound as its twin, naturally. However, the lower pitched strings E, A, D, G are doubled by one pitched just one octave higher. So there are 4 octave strings, written in bold as lower case letters: e, a, d, g.

It happens thus that the highest open string on a 12string guitar is the g octave string right in the middle of them all! It's a tone and a half above the high E strings and broadens the range of the instrument when compared to a 6 string guitar.



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The octave strings fill out the overall sound, but played separately, they can also intervene in their own right in enriching harmony. So we're not talking about 6 but rather 10 strings that we can mix. Available combinations of notes thus increase in spectacular fashion, and the instrument takes on a whole other dimension.

Using the thumb and fingers of the right hand separately, we find that for each of the 4 lower register courses, there exist three possibilities :

Please note that in this book we will use the p,i,m,a notation for the fingers of the right hand. 'p' = thumb, and 'i', 'm', 'a' = index, middle and annular (ring) fingers. " p,i,m,a " are in fact the initial letters of Latin words and are used pretty universally.


1- A light downward thumbstroke plays only the octave string (remember in the image above the octave string is the thinner of the four lower register courses as we are looking at the guitar positioned flat on our lap).

2- A light upward stroke of the index (i), middle (m) or annular (a) fingers plays only the lower-pitched string of the pair. Of course we may still hear the octave string which rings a little (we call this 'sympathetic vibration'), or indeed because we plucked it in error, though there's no reason to worry about this - the precision of the right hand increases with practice. Anyway, we notice straight away that one of the paired strings is clearly emphasized.

3- Played with greater force, fingers or thumb will play both of the paired strings, though in general it's the lower pitched string of the course which predominates. (Here we are playing the guitar just like a 6 string.)

The fingers of the left hand always press on both strings of a course at the same time.

This way of playing implies the use of new techniques for both left and right hands. It leads to the development of a quite specific logic which does not replace the usual approach to 6-string playing but is rather superimposed on it.

Here are some examples.

I note by a figure followed by one + (example: 3 +) when it is the rope octave alone which is played. The tablatures will help to visualize the dexterities. Years of concerts on the twelve-string guitar brought me to develop these techniques which were already in germ on the guitar of the revival, and were worked in particular by Léo Kottke.

I finalized(worked out) a method of twelve-string guitar based on this logic of game (a very accessible game, as we can see it by these examples), a logic which opens wide universes some branches of which I investigated and of which it still remains a lot to discover.

To know more about it, the partitions and the tablatures of my pieces, to participate in or organize training courses of 12-string guitar, to express me your opinion, share your experience on this instrument, and, why not, participate in an international association of " TWELWE GUITAR PLAYERS".


Contact and join me by e-mail : gentils.michel@wanadoo.fr


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