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Diamonds, Abaci, and Hexagrams: Exploring the Pitch Surface of the Guitar Fretboard


guitar, fretboard, cognition, mode, tuning, scordatura


In this presentation, I will analyze the idiosyncrasies, challenges, limits, and affordances of the guitar’s "pitch surface": its fretboard and tuning. Whatever the context—staff notation, music theory, improvisation, performance, and other arenas of guitar activity—the layout of the fretboard exerts a profound influence on how guitarists learn, play, and compose. Inspired by De Souza, Goodrick, and Martino, I will also explore the benefits of creative constraints: scordatura, capo, MIDI tools, and other ways of remapping the guitar’s pitch matrix. These constraints can be used to break the guitarist’s tight auditory-motor link, revitalizing the fretboard as a primary musical space and insightful musical "abacus."


This presentation was first shown as the keynote lecture during the Scholarly Track Day at the Guitar Foundation of America's International Convention on June 26, 2022 (online).

Milton Mermikides is a composer, guitarist, electronicist, illustrator, and academic. He collaborates with artists and scientists as diverse as Pat Martino, Tim Minchin, Evelyn Glennie, John Williams, and Brian Eno. His lectures and exhibits take him to institutes of music, science conventions, and museums, including the Royal Academy of Music, TedX, the Royal Musical Association, the British Library, the Royal Society of Medicine, the British Psychological Society, the Smithsonian Institute, Oxford University Press, and the Science Museum. His work has been featured by the BBC, New Scientist, Times Higher Education and The Guardian. He is published by Viribus, Deutsche Grammophon, Mute, Extreme, Routledge, Cambridge University Press, and Oxford University Press. He gained his PhD at the University of Surrey, where he is now Reader of Music; he is also Professor of Jazz Guitar at the Royal College of Music, Professor of Research at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, an Ableton Certified Trainer, and artist in residence at the Centre of Eudaimonia & Human Flourishing. His first monograph, Hidden Music, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2023. miltonline.com

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