Navigating The Neck

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: the basics
rating: 9.3 / votes: 32 
No greater day can dawn for a young guitarist than the day they first discover that "I know the neck!!" It's what a teacher of mine called the "aha" moment - where you stop seeing individual frets and notes and names of chords and scales and start seeing music. There are many paths to this destination, but all serious guitarists share in the frustration at getting there. Now, like an explorer who has seen a new world and has returned to the waiting king, I will explain this strange new world to you in a way you've probably never heard it before. The two building blocks of the modes (yes, only two!! Can you believe it? ): - half step - whole step A half step is two notes right next to each other, like E and F, or the open low E and the first fret on that string. A whole step is two notes two frets apart, like F and G, or the first and third frets of the low E string. The major scale (Ionian) is made up of seven of these basic building blocks, in steps:
Whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half
and in frets between notes:
two frets, two frets, one fret, two frets, two frets, two frets, one fret.
Along the open E string (in the key of E major) this would be:
0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12 --> notice the pattern?
All modes in a key are made of the same notes, but the mode is determined by which note you start on. Here are the modes according to the fret they start on in E:
0 - Ionian 
2 - Dorian 
4 - Phrygian 
5 - Lydian 
7 - Mixolydian 
9 - Aeolian 
11 - Locrian
now don't fret (j/k) because it's way simpler than all that. The Entire major scale is as follows:
E Major- 
That covers every note in every mode in the key of E. Move that around to where the note you start on is the same as the key you're playing in and you're all set (well, you're off to a good start anyway. ) You'll notice that in every mode this same pattern repeats itself. Where this pattern repeats you are now beginning the Ionian mode - otherwise known as the Major scale. The only complicating factor is the fact that the B string starts on the 4th fret of the G string rather than the 5th fret like the rest of the strings (all strings, except B, start at the 5th fret of the next lowest string, A is the 5th fret of the E string, D is the 5th fret of the A string and so on. ) Because of this, the pattern breaks at the B string.
E Major - an octave higher 
---------------14-16-17- same pattern except for a 1 fret jump! 
That's it!! Except for the one fret jump when you reach the B string, this same pattern just repeats itself over and over in each key, regardless of which mode you're in. As you practice each mode, try finding where this pattern falls into the mode and where else on the neck you can jump to when you want to pick up the pattern again. You'll quickly find (if you play a lot) that there are three possible fret patterns for each string in all keys, all modes... (Fingers are X's here)
x-x-x - two whole steps 
xx-x - a half step and a whole step 
x-xx - a whole step and a half step
When you develop your ear you will be able to tell which of the three is necessary anywhere on the neck - thus creating the illusion that you "know the neck." Only very studious (and I would say boring) players actually know every single note on every single string while they play. Playing is a matter of recognizing patterns and knowing where they repeat. So take these building blocks and figure out how they fit into the modes. You'll be amazed, I'm sure, at how simple it really is. For advanced players. When you get good at the scales and modes and can rip in and out of one and into another during a solo, try chromatic, or atonal approaches. When it's a good idea to play G over a coming chord, for instance, try descending, or ascending, to G half step by half step. Here is a descending example in G:
C, B, A#, A, G#, G 

or (in frets) : 8-7-6-5-4-3
A way to give this some character is to break from the tempo a little bit - actually fight the harmonic texture of the music a little with your dissonance and timing variations. The resolution at G (which is very nice over a C chord) is accentuated by the tension that precedes it - kind of like a roller coaster ride. Some parts kind of jerk you around and scare you a little, and then you glide into a really smooth, hilly part that kind of balances out the whole ride. Don't be afraid to break rules!! This is just an idea for you in case you feel like trying something different. Happy playing!
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