How To Memorize The Fretboard

author: rtcx86 date: 05/12/2010 category: the basics
rating: 8.6 / votes: 19 
This is a simple but potent lesson. One of those that lets us bridge the gap between theory and practical playing. A few months ago, my teacher started me on this octaves exercise. He didn't really explain why, he just said to do it every day. The core of the exercise is this:
------|-------|-------|------
------|----13-|-13----|------
------|-------|-------|------
---10-|-10----|----10-|-10---
------|-------|-------|------
-8----|-------|-------|----8-
To play this exercise, it's important to maintain the same hand shape. Grab the 8th fret on the 6th string with the index and the 10th fret on the 4th string with the ring finger. Now... don't change that shape, just move it around. Play steady 8th notes. Say each note out loud: "C, C, C, C, C, C, C, C" Add which octave it is if you're feeling squirrely. "C-two, C-three, C-three, C-four, C-four, C-three, C-three, C-two". Doing this exercise has this meditative quality where the hands are going through this very predictable sliding motion and the conscious brain is busy wiring all these hand positions together with the note names. The key is to do this many, many times. I only showed C, the next thing to go through ALL the notes. To do that, we go through the cycle of fourths. Keep the word "bead" in mind, it will help you memorize the cycle. Now make it weird... add g to the end. Think "bead-g"... beadg... beadg... Congratulations, with the exception of C and F, you have just memorized the cycle of fourths. Now witness the method to my madness. Here is the cycle of fourths: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-B-E-A-D-G It starts with C and F, and then there are two groups of "beadg" - the first with flats and the second without. This cycle is all 12 chromatic notes, and they are all the same distance apart. This also happens to be the strongest harmonic sequence in all of western music... kind of a big deal. So we take that octaves movement and we shift around and play it on different notes. To make sure we predictably cover all the notes, we use the cycle of 4ths. This has the added benefit of ear training us to hear 4ths as we slide between them. Make this part of your warmup. It will quickly get to a point where you don't even think about it. It just becomes this little octave-y meditation It can also be played from the fifth string.
-----|---8-|-8---|-----
-----|-----|-----|-----
---5-|-5---|---5-|-5---
-----|-----|-----|-----
-3---|-----|-----|---3-
-----|-----|-----|-----
Play the octaves, go through the cycle of fourths, say the notes. Do this enough over a long enough period time (a few months), and you will know every note on the fretboard without thinking about it.
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