A 6th is a musical interval that spans 9 semitones (9 frets) for a major 6th and 8 semitones (8 frets) for the minor 6th. What interesting about the minor 6th is that it appears in the natural minor and the harmonic minor, but not the melodic minor. This article isn’t about minor scales though; I’ll go into all of that in later lessons!

For now, I’m just talking about the 6th as an interval. Not how to make chords with it. Add 6 chords do exist, but they require a bit more of an explanation to explain the shapes. They definitely fit into the general open guitar chord shapes idea, but let’s just talk about the interval first. Later lessons will talk about the chords.

What Is A 6th?

As the name would suggest, a 6th is the 6th degree of a scale. 6ths come in major (9 semitones) and minor (8 semitones) flavours.

In a lot of general Rock and Pop music, the interval isn’t used too often for chord voicings, but for improvising, knowing your intervals is always handy. For general note finding on guitar, knowing where you’ve jumped to is also very useful.

What Does A 6th Sound Like?

For reference, if you want to hear a major 6th, sing Jingle Bells, the first word is a major 6th: “dashing through the snow…”

For a minor 6th, look to the 4th and 5th notes of The Entertainer by Scott Joplin. Even if you don’t know the song by that name, you’ll know it when you hear it. Trust me.

Playing A Major And Minor 6th On The Same String

A 6th is 9 whole frets, so it can be a bit of stretch to play on a single string. While some intervals you can play in a single position, you definitely need to change positions for this one!

Single String Major 6th On Guitar

Diagram showing a major 6th across one guitar string.

The minor 6th is “only” 8 frets, so not quite as far, but you’ll still need to change positions.

Single String Minor 6th On Guitar

Since it’s just on one string, the interval is the same for all strings on the guitar.

Finding Major 6ths Across Guitar Strings

The easiest way to find a 6th interval on guitar is to remember that an octave is 2 strings down and 2 frets across. A dominant 7th is 1 fret behind the octave, and a 6th is 2 frets below that (3 frets below the octave).

In the diagram below, each 6th interval across the strings is shown in different colours.

Diagram of a 6th interval on guitar.

Just don’t forget that, as usual, you need to compensate for the B string by moving everything up a fret.

Finding Minor 6ths Across Guitar Strings

Since the minor 6th is one less semitone than the major 6th, all you need to do to play a minor 6th is shift the higher string back by 1 fret, as shown in the diagram below.

Diagram showing minor 6th intervals across guitar strings.

How To Practice 6ths On Guitar

Obviously a 6th appears in both major and minor scales, but, if you’re only mostly playing pentatonic scales, you’ll notes that only the major pentatonic contains the 6th degree of the scale. There’s a certain brightness and joy to it. 

But remember, the interval doesn’t have to happen between the root and the 6th degree of the scale. For example, there’s an ascending minor 6th between the 5th and 10th (3rd) of a minor scale. This is a sadder interval that can be thrown into jamming around a minor pentatonic scale.

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