Playing Octaves, Minute by Minute

It’s hard to beat the Doobie Brothers for their contribution to the California sound. Even to this day, the opening riff (in 12/8 time) by Michael McDonald for “Minute by Minute” evokes memories of moving to the Golden State when this album was first released.

I decided to have some fun recreating the title song as a quartet. But for today’s lesson, I’d like to focus on the guitar work, in which I’m playing the melody using octaves.

Octaves are an essential technique for jazz, but for some reason, this style is rarely used in rock or pop music. Oh, maybe once in awhile Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn have a little fun with them, but that’s about it.

Jazz cross-over artists such as George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and a few others really brought it to my attention.

Now, once you’ve heard the song in the context of my “quartet,” let’s break down what I’m doing to achieve the octaves.

This song is a great introduction to octaves because the riff is so simple and repetitive. Here’s a video of just the guitar part, playing the introduction, the verse and the chorus.

I play each section once, and then slow it down to half speed. And I’ve included a chart so you can find exactly where I am on the fretboard.

A couple things to note:

  1. I’m not using a pick, but instead plucking the two strings in a “pinching” style.
  2. There is, of course, a string in the middle of the two notes for the octave, and this I mute by just lightly applying pressure with my index finger.
  3. Although I don’t indicate it on the charts, I’m often “sliding” into the notes from the fret below or above. This is a classic jazz style of playing, and gives the melody a nice laid-back feel.

By the way, the overhead view of the piano should give you a good idea of how to play this riff on the keyboard if you are so inclined.

As always, I hope this lesson helps and if you have any feedback, please let me know!


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