Guitar And Chess II: Middle Game

Read Time 5 Minutes

Yes… This Article Has Audio

Welcome to part 2 of Guitar and Chess. If you have not read Part 1: Guitar And Chess – Opening Game yet I strongly suggest you go back and read that article otherwise there is a great probability that you’ll have little to no idea what I’m talking about here.

Having said that, in part 1 I laid out the ground work that would guide all future decisions. I picked a scale to work with, I narrowed the available tones down to sixty-four, and I assigned the squares of the chess board as I saw fit.

Chess Notation

Before we get to the music (I know, I know) there is just one last bit of information to cover. How does this work? It’s simple, really. In the starting positions the white pieces fill the first two ranks (those are the rows) while the black pieces fill the last two ranks and therefore those matching positions on the fretboard will also reflect this.

For your convenience here is a list of the pieces and their respective abbreviations as well as some other common symbols.


Pawn – Pawns don’t actually have abbreviations. A pawn piece’s movement would simple be written as b4. This is never really a problem in chess, but on a guitar you may find it confusing so perhaps using a “P” or something may help.
Knight – Knights are referred to as “N”.
Bishop – Bishops are “B”.
Rook – Rooks are “R”.
Queen – Queens are dubbed with a predictable “Q”.
King – His royal highness is known as “K”.
Captured piece – When one piece conquers another it is notated as “X”.
Castle Kingside – Castling on the kingside is “0-0”.
Castle Queenside – On the queenside castling is known as “0-0-0”.


Now that we know how the pieces are abbreviated in chess notation that will make it easier to understand chess notation.For example.


“N” is the abbreviation for the knight and the “b2” reflects what square it is moving to. This is how we will be tracking the music.

The Application

Here’s how it works. Looking at the pictures included you can see the chess pieces in their respective starting places on the fretboard, but I found having a picture of the chess board and the fretboard with the squares assigned to be the most useful.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

From here it’s simply just pick a piece and move it. At this point you forget everything you know about music theory and just pick your moves like you would on a chess board. For some it would be deep, artistic strategy, and others it would amount to moving haphazardly with a lot of hoping for the best.

The scale was simply chosen to bring the number of available locations on the fretboard down substantially closer to sixty-four and to ensure it wouldn’t end up sounding like a total chromatic mess. Aside from that it’s not something to get bogged down on.

Now there are still a few ways to approach even this. When notating moves in chess you simply write down the piece that’s moving and the square that it’s moving to. You can apply this in a similar fashion where you simply play the fret a piece is moving to or you could play the pieces starting position followed by the position it’s moving to. That makes for good food for thought on how you want it to sound.

Lastly in the department of application there are ways to apply technique in more specific fashions. Say when a piece is captured. You could represent that with a recurring technique like a pinch harmonic for example. Maybe you would like to represent the fallen piece with a hard vibrato or some whammy bar trick. Perhaps you might want to use slides when a bishop moves and hammer-ons when pawns move. No matter what you do this is an excellent way to give each piece its own personality while adding to the music.

The Game of the Century

Ok, you’ve all been very patient to hear all of this buildup actually come through an instrument. The moment to apply all of this has finally arrived. For the kicks of it I chose the legendary game between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne.

Game of the Century by The Smitchens

Now some notes on the recordings. For the convenience of it I’ve divided this into two guitars. The left channel plays all the white pieces and the right channel plays all the black pieces. I’ve played each piece from its starting fret to the fret it was going to for the sake of a bit more character. This is also easier to do then decide I want to delete the starting frets than it is to not do it at first then decide I wish I’d had them. I’ve played everything in ¼ notes at 80 BPM save for the black castling which was divided into 1/8 notes to cover the moves of both the king and the rook.

As I was recording this I had made a few observations. I had found it to be very important to play it exactly as the charts guide you. There might be only two middle Cs, but there’s only one B2 and that’s what you’re after. Going solely off the sound in this context could prevent you from spotting any would be mistakes made while transcribing a game to notation. There were a couple of times I’d hit a fret and think “wait a minute. This fret isn’t available on the chart.” You can worm out the errors with relative ease at that point.

If nothing else this serves as a great way to move your hand in much more different ways.

Next Time On Guitar-Muse

To say the least there are some parts that sound kinda cool, but the problem is it’s mired in a lot of suck right now because it sounds like exactly what it is. A bunch of notes that only hint at a sense of purpose. The project for next time is to manually extract the awesome out of this and turn it into something that people would actually like to hear. Can it be done? We’ll find out.

The Moves

I figured it would be handy to write down the specific moves that I based this all around just in case any of the more obsessive readers felt like really embracing the dork in this. For what it’s worth I present to you the Game of the Century.

1. Nf3, Nf6
2. c4, g6
3. Nc3, Bg7
4. d4, 0-0
5. Bf4, d5
6. Qb3, dxc4
7. Qxc4, c6
8. e4, Nbd7
9. Rd1, Nb6
10. Qc5, Bg4
11. Bg5, Na4
12. Qa3, Nxc3
13. bxc3, Nxe4
14. Bxe7, Qb6
15. Bc4, Nxc3
16. Bc5, Rfe8+
17. Kf1, Be6
18 Bxb6, Bxc4+
19. Kg1, Ne2+
20. Kf1, Nxd4+
21. Kg1, Ne2+
22. Kf1, Nc3+
23. Kg1, axb6
24. Qb4, Ra4
25. Qxb6, Nxd1
26. h3, Rxa2
27. Kh2, Nxf2
28. Re1, Rxe1
29. Qd8+, Bf8
30 Nxe1, Bd5
31. Nf3, Ne4
32. Qb8, b5
33. h4, h5
34. Ne5, Kg7
35. Kg1, Bc5+
36. Kf1, Ng3+
37. Ke1, Bb4+
38. kd1, Bb3+
39. Kc1, Ne2+
40. Kb1, Nc3+
41. Kc1, Rc2#

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Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

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