.Ok! Let’s face it. As humans we digest something like 90% of our world through our eyes.
So is it any wonder that as guitarists we become strongly “visual” with regards how we understand the fretboard. The guitar is cool in that way because it enables us to connect a visual shape with a musical sound. Not all instruments enjoy that benefit.
For many players that’s about as far as their musical understanding goes and it doesn’t help that some of their favorite players (guitar gods if you will) openly state that they too know very little beyond shapes and patterns. So players make this erroneous connection:
If my guitar god only uses shapes and patterns then so will I-afterall look at what they managed to accomplish on their guitar!
First of all, just knowing shapes and patterns does not make you a competent musician. At best you will be a competent technician.
Secondly, the truth is, that in all likelihood, those guitar gods are where they are because of traits or skills that you or I don’t have. Jimi Hendrix was a great guitarist…but NOT BECAUSE he couldn’t read music or tell you the notes he was playing. He’s had something else going for him that enabled him to transcend that musical limitation. Maybe you do too but the reality is that the vast majority of us do not. We need more in order to be the best we can be.
So it can’t hurt to know a little bit about the notes that are lying directly beneath your fingers on an instrument that you spend enough time with that it potentially will threaten your romantic relationships (Don’t ask). In fact that little piece of sexy knowledge (note knowledge that is) will open up everything you’ll ever need to know about music. Personally, I don’t get why anyone would consciously deny themselves the joy of knowing the fuller extent of the guitar.
So if you are at that place in your guitar journey where you are getting the itch to know this stuff, then you only need to know ONE THING to get you started. Here it is…
As some of you will already know, in music we use only 7 letters A through G. In the figure above, you can see that starting on the 5th string (…and you already know the names of the OPEN strings RIGHT?) the notes ascend in pitch moving up the string until the 12 fret where the A note starts again. The thing to be aware of is the pattern layout among the notes:
A to B = 2 frets (That’s called a WHOLE TONE)
B to C = 1 fret (That’s called a SEMI TONE)
C to D = 2 frets
D to E = 2 frets
E to F = 1 fret
F to G = 2 frets
G to A = 2 frets
It might take you all of 15 minutes to get this information stuck in your mind. Then of course you have to keep RE-minding yourself of this in order for it to stick to your neurons. Eventually (and not long at all) this information becomes a KNOWING and not just a FAMILIARITY.
In the time it would take you to eat a full meal deal at MacDonalds you could already have this simple information starting to stick.
And here’s the really cool part.
Just APPLY this information to each remaining string because this information never changes. So for example on the 1st & 2nd string it would look like this:
It’s the exact same information simply applied to 2 more strings- and you could do this on all the remaining strings too! One little bit of information spread over the whole fret-board and VIOLA you know all the natural notes up to the 12th fret. After the 12th fret everything just repeats but don’t get too concerned about this right now. Also, you’re probably wondering about the spaces between these notes? Well they have names too but they are just alterations to the notes you already know so let’s not fuss about that either for now.
So here’s your whole fret-board mapped out (up to the 12th fret) using only one little piece of information:
YES! It looks scary but now you know the truth of it.
From here, the game is simply to take a few moments out of each practice session, pick a string and start playing up and down that string using the note names (and their physical relationship to each other in terms of tones & semi-tones) as guides. I would recommend SAYING THE NOTES OUT LOUD as you play to help reinforce their location. Of course you will have to play slow enough to be able to identify the note name but just grab some nice hot tea (or beverage of choice) and make this a moving meditation.
I prefer to do this training using backing tracks and you can find lots of them on Youtube. Here’s one to work with today’s session.
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Feel free to leave a comment! I love different perspectives.