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Ralph Patt

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Ralph Oliver Patt
Ralph Patt.jpg
Ralph Patt invented major-thirds tuning, which he played on eight-string guitars.
Background information
Also known as Ralph Patt
Born (1929-12-05)5 December 1929
Kittanning, Pennsylvania
Died 6 October 2010(2010-10-06) (aged 80)
Canby, Oregon
Genres Jazz
Instruments archtop hollow-body guitar (6-, 7-, and 8-strings), six- and eight-string classical guitar, 12-string guitar, 6-string bass guitar, eight-string mandolin, banjo, and oud
Years active 1950s–2010
Associated acts Neal Hefti, Frankie Carle, Les Elgart, Benny Goodman, Richard Maltby, Glenn Miller Orchestra
Notable instruments
archtop hollow-body guitars modified with wide necks for 7–8 strings: 8-string Gibson ES-150 modified by Vincent "Jimmy" DiSerio (c. 1965) and several (1938 Gibson Cromwell, Sears Silvertone, c. 1922 Mango archtop, 1951 Gibson L-50, 1932 Epiphone Broadway) by Saul Koll; 7-string by José Rubio (1967)
8-string classical guitar by diSerio (1968)
8-string mandolin

Ralph Oliver Patt (5 December 1929 – 6 October 2010) was an American jazz-guitarist who introduced major-thirds tuning. Patt's tuning simplified the learning of the fretboard and chords by beginners and improvisation by advanced guitarists. He invented major-thirds tuning under the inspiration of first the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg and second the jazz of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

He graduated with a degree in geology from the University of Pittsburgh. After his career as a guitarist, he worked as a geologist and as a hydrologist, often consulting on projects related to the U.S. Department of Energy.


A C-major chord in four positions.
Patt invented major-thirds tuning the better to improvise on the guitar. Chords can be shifted diagonally, horizontally, and vertically, and being shifted they maintain their shape, unlike chords in standard tuning.
The C major chord and its first and second inversions. In the first inversion, the C note has been raised 3 strings on the same fret. In the second inversion, both the C note and the E note have been raised 3 strings on the same fret.
Chords are inverted by shifting notes three strings on the same fret.

Patt was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on 5 December 1929[1] and studied geology at the University of Pittsburgh.[2][3]

Guitar and music theory[edit]

While in Pittsburgh, Patt studied guitar under Joe Negri.[2][3][4] Patt played rhythm guitar in the style of Freddie Green, who played a Stromberg in the Count Basie Orchestra.[5] Having earned his baccalaureate degree, he joined the United States Army and played guitar in an Army band.[2] Following his 1955 discharge from the Army, Patt played with touring bands, for example, Neal Hefti, Frankie Carle, Les Elgart, Benny Goodman, Richard Maltby, and The Glenn Miller Orchestra.[5]

After touring for five years, Patt settled in New York City, where he worked as musician both at ABC and on Broadway from 1960 to 1970; during this period he regarded Barry Galbraith as his mentor. He studied under George Russell,[2][5] whose (1959) Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization Patt edited.[2][3][6][7] Patt also studied with Gunther Schuller, who himself was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and who used Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique for atonal composition. Patt wanted to be able to play and then to improvise twelve-tone music.[5]

Major-thirds tuning[edit]

Patt was inspired by the jazz of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and the atonal music of Schoenberg. Seeking a guitar-tuning that would facilitate improvisation, he introduced major-thirds tuning by 1964,[8][9][10] perhaps in 1963.[5] Patt's tuning is a regular tuning in the sense that all of the intervals between its successive open strings are major thirds; in contrast, the standard guitar-tuning has one major-third amid four fourths.[11] Patt used major-thirds tuning during all of his work as a session musician after 1965 in New York.[5][10]

Major-thirds tuning packs the chromatic scale (the consecutive twelve-notes of the octave) onto four consecutive frets of three consecutive strings, an arrangement that reduces the extensions of the little and index fingers ("hand stretching").[12] Major and minor chords are played on two successive frets, and so require only two fingers; other chords—seconds, fourths, sevenths, and ninths—are played on three successive frets.[13] For each regular tuning, chord patterns may be moved around the fretboard, a property that simplifies beginners' learning of chords and that simplifies advanced players' improvisation.[9][14] In contrast, chords cannot be shifted around the fretboard in the standard tuning E-A-D-G-B-E, which requires four chord-shapes for the major chords; standard tuning has separate chord-forms for chords having their root note on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth strings.[15]

Having exactly three pitch classes for its open notes (for example {C,E,G}), each major-thirds tuning repeats every note in a higher octave, because guitars have six strings. Being regular, M3 tunings repeat each note after two strings: this repetition simplifies the learning of chords and improvisation.[9] Chord inversion is especially simple in major-thirds tuning. Chords are inverted simply by raising one or two notes three strings. The raised notes are played with the same finger as the original notes.[16][17]

Guitars with seven and eight strings[edit]
Saul Koll built this eight-string guitar for Ralph Patt to play in major thirds.

Major-thirds tuning has a smaller scope than standard guitar-tuning,[11][18] and so Patt started using seven-string guitars, which enabled major-thirds tuning to have the E-e' range of the standard tuning. He first experimented with a wide-neck Mango guitar from the 1920s, which he modified to have seven strings in 1963.[5] In 1967 he purchased a seven-string by José Rubio.[18] Patt used major-thirds tuning when he performed as a session musician in New York City after 1965.[5][10]

Later, he purchased six-string archtop hollow-body guitars that were then modified by luthiers to have wider necks, wider pickups, and eight strings. Patt's Gibson ES-150 was modified by Vincent "Jimmy" DiSerio, a luthier who worked in the firm of John D'Angelico, circa 1965.[10][18] Luthier Saul Koll modified a sequence of guitars: a 1938 Gibson Cromwell, a Sears Silvertone, a circa 1922 Mango archtop, a 1951 Gibson L-50, and a 1932 Epiphone Broadway; for Koll's modifications, custom pick-ups accommodated Patt's wide necks and high G (equivalently A);[18] custom pick-ups were manufactured by Seymour Duncan[18] and by Bill Lawrence.[10]

Besides these guitars, Patt regularly played other stringed instruments as a recording musician: classical guitar, 12-string guitar, 6-string bass guitar, mandolin, banjo, and oud. Patt stated that "the only guys that didn't have to double on dates were the Tony Mottolas and the Johnny Smiths";[18] Tony Mottola and Johnny Smith were famous jazz-guitarists,[19][20] and "doubling" refers to a musician's switching from one instrument to another, particularly within a family of instruments.[21] Patt worked primarily as a studio musician from 1970 to 1975.[18]


Patt developed a webpage with extensive information about major-thirds tuning.[22] This webpage was part of website with extensive information for jazz guitarists. Patt's website published his Vanilla book, which contains the chord progressions for four-hundred jazz standards,[3][23] from "After you've gone" to "Zing! went the strings". Its title refers to "Just play the vanilla changes", advice to young pianists from Lester Young. It was updated in 2008.[23]

His website followed earlier contributions to guitar scholarship and instruction. In 1962, Patt wrote his Guitar chord dictionary (1962).[24] Living in New York City in the 1960s, he studied with Chuck Wayne, with whom he wrote The guitar appreggio dictionary (1965),[2][3][25] one of the bestselling titles from the music-publishing firm of Henry Adler.[26]

Return to geology[edit]

As a studio musician in the 1970s, Patt had to play less jazz and more rock and roll, and so he changed careers. He returned to geology while continuing to pursue jazz as an avocation. Around 1975 he began working on his doctoral degree in hydrogeology. Employed by the US Department of Energy, he specialized in ground-water contamination from nuclear waste; as a research hydrogeologist, he accepted assignments worldwide and had extensive travels in Ukraine and Russia.[27]

He was employed by Oregon's Department of Water Resources,[28][29][30] where he served as its expert on the risks to the Columbia River from the Hanford Site.[28] As a hydrological geologist (hydrologist), he was appointed to a panel of outside experts that reviewed and then "slammed" the U.S. Department of Energy's report on the safety of the underground storage of high-level nuclear waste at Hanford.[31]


In 2002 and 2010, Patt's hometown was listed as Canby, Oregon,[1][32] near Portland.[2] Having been diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2007,[3][33] Ralph Oliver Patt died at the age of 80 on 6 October 2010 in Canby[1][3] at home.[32] To honor his memory, the Ralph Patt Memorial Scholarship provided full tuition, room, and board for a college student to attend the Mel Brown Jazz Camp in 2011.[33]

See also[edit]




  1. ^ a b c "Ralph Oliver Patt: Canby, Oregon". Death-Record. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Patt, Ralph (14 April 2008). "Biography". Ralph Patt's jazz web page. Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Williams, Tom (12 January 2010). "RIP: Ralph Patt, guitarist". jazz_guitar: Jazz Guitar Group (YAHOO! Groups). Retrieved 10 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Joe Negri and Patt collaborated in 1989 on this recording: By then, Negri was already nationally known as the guitarist on the PBS children's television-show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, on which he also appeared as "Handyman Negri".
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Peterson (2002, p. 36)
  6. ^ "My grateful acknowledgement to ... Ralph Patt for his valuable assistance in the preparation of the manuscript", wrote Russell (1959, p. [vi] (unpaginated)).
    Russell, George (1959). "Acknowledgements". Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. 40 Shephard Street; Cambridge, MA 02138: Concept Publishing Company. 
  7. ^ Patt recorded "For George Russell" in 2002:
  8. ^ Griewank (2010, p. 1)
  9. ^ a b c Kirkeby, Ole (1 March 2012). "Major thirds tuning". cited by Sethares (2011) and (Griewank 2010, p. 1). Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Patt, Ralph (14 April 2008). "The major 3rd tuning". Ralph Patt's jazz web page. cited by Sethares (2011) and Griewank (2010, p. 1). Retrieved 10 June 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Sethares (2001)
  12. ^ Griewank (2010, p. 9)
  13. ^ Griewank (2010, p. 2)
  14. ^ Sethares (2001, p. 52)
  15. ^ Denyer (1992, "The harmonic guitarist, Intervals, Fingerboard intervals", p. 119)
  16. ^ Griewank (2010, p. 10)
  17. ^ Kirkeby (2012, "Fretmaps, major chords: Major Triads")
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Peterson (2002, p. 37)
  19. ^ Staff (13 August 2004). "Tony Mottola; 86; Composer, guitarist played with Sinatra". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  20. ^ Denyer (1992, "Playing the guitar: Jazz guitar styles, The role of the guitar in jazz", p. 101)
  21. ^ Kostka, Payne & Almén (2012, p. 92):
    Kostka, Stefan; Payne, Dorothy; Almén, Byron (2012). Tonal harmony with an introduction to twentieth-century music (seventh ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-131828-0. 
  22. ^ Sethares (2011, "Alternative tuning guide" (html))
  23. ^ a b Patt, Ralph (14 April 2008). "About The vanilla book". Ralph Patt's jazz web page. Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  24. ^ Patt (1962)
  25. ^ Wayne & Patt (1965)
  26. ^ Freund, John C.; Weil, Milton (1966). The purchaser's guide to the music industries. Music Trades Corp. p. 343. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  27. ^ Peterson (2002, p. 39)
  28. ^ a b Harden, Blaine (2012). A river lost: The life and death of the Columbia. Norton. pp. 143–44. ISBN 9780393344523. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  29. ^ Associated Press (7 August 1991). "DOE (Department of Energy) says report on accidents at Hanford to be released soon". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Yakima. (subscription required). Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  30. ^ Geronios, Nicholas K. (7 August 1991). "DOE accused of concealing report: Document may detail 125 Hanford accidents". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA). (subscription required). Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  31. ^ Dorn Steele, Karen (13 July 1997). "Cracks in Hanford's clean bill of health: Congressional watchdogs want to make sure nuclear facility plugs leaks". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA). (subscription required). 
  32. ^ a b Staff (Winter 2002). "This issue's authors". American Lutherie: The Quarterly Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers. 8222 South Park Avenue, Tacoma WA 98408; USA: The Guild of American Luthiers. 72: 66. ISSN 1041-7176. Archived from the original on 21 October 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  33. ^ a b Niemann-Ross, Mark (6 August 2011). "Mark Niemann-Ross goes to (Mel Brown Jazz) camp, Friday: Proof of concept: Ralph Patt memorial scholarship for returning guitar players". Oregon Music News. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 


External links[edit]