Watch the Octaves online guitar lesson by Robben Ford from Chord Revolution: Foundations
We've talked about playing thirds, playing fifths, two notes at one time. There is another option which would be simply to play octaves. Root note and then duplicate that an octave above. The eighth note of the major scale. It has been used to great effect by Wes Montgomery. His career was practically built on the octaves. It was such a unique sound when he introduced it to playing melodies and soloing in a jazz context. It caught my ear particularly on a recording by Miles Davis. I think the song's called "Paraphernalia". I'm not sure about the name, but George Benson appears on two songs on the Miles Davis record called "Miles in the Sky", and this little vamp is going on in the rhythm section. Very up tempo, and George Benson's playing. It's almost more rhythmic, but there is that harmonic sound of the note that he's playing as well. I just thought it was so cool that he wasn't playing a bunch of chords, he didn't need to play a bunch of chords. Herbie Hancock was playing all this beautiful music down behind. The guitar was there on this Miles Davis record just for effect. It was before Miles really went electric. The first time that he ever used electric guitar, he used it as an effect. It just had a certain quality to it, a certain sensibility to it, a certain feeling to it. I actually wound up taking that concept and using it on a recording I did with the Yellow Jackets.
It was live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, on Russel Ferrante's solo on a song called "Mama's College Fight Song", which he composed. When it went to his solo, it was a two chord vamp, and I just used this chordal thing. I'm trying to remember the key that it was in. But if it was in C minor, maybe the second chord was something like that. I don't think that's the case. I just played very simple basic things right off of the minor chord that the song was built on, the solo was built on. So, again it's just an effect. It's a little device that you can use, and it's something that you really should think about. Whenever you work with other people, sus out what it is that they are doing. Sus out what's needed. Sus out what is not needed. So, my first instinct is whatever anybody else is playing, don't play it. That's the first thing you do. Don't play what someone else is already playing. It has no function. No purpose. If a lot is going on, you play a little, and octaves can be a way to do that.