Organizing The Fretboard

author: clow539 date: 09/18/2008 category: the basics
rating: 7.8 / votes: 15 
Learning how to organize yourself through the fretboard is maybe sometimes a bit hard. You heard about resolutions, scales, and those are all critical processes to learning improvisation or music writing. But they mean nothing if you often get lost on the fretboard. I'm going to assume you know at least the basics of intervals. If you don't, do not read this as it would get you confused. How can I get a resolution if I can't find the next C? How can I change keys if I can't find the E? I will teach you a few tricks to get started with. Note: going higher on the fretboard means actually going, for example, from 3rd to 5th fret, not 5th to 3rd.

A. Starting on the root note.

1. Octaves Let's use the E as reference. Let's suppose you're on the 12th fret on the low E string. It is an E, and you want to find the closest E, but you don't want to move your fingers too much.
E|-------|
B|-------|
G|-------|   There you go! What did you do? You went up two strings and two frets!
D|-----14|
A|-------|
E|--12---|
What if I was on that 14th fret on the D string and I wanted to find the closest E higher up an octave?
E|-------|
B|-----17|
G|-------|    Now you don't go up two strings and two frets, but three frets
D|--14---|    because of the way the strings are tuned.
A|-------|
E|-------|
Let me stop at this point a moment. Check this out. From the low E string to the D string or A string to the G string, if you go up the strings straight away, to the same fret, you will be going down 2 semitones. So if I'm hitting an E on 12th fret of the E string, I will hit a D on the 12th fret of the D string. Got it? So why do I go up two frets? Because then it would get me to that E I want. What about going from the D string to the B string? The difference is that from B to D you've got 3 semitones, not 2. So whenever you go from the D string to the B or the G string to the high E string, straight up the same fret, you are going 3 semitones lower. Instead of going two semitones higher up on the neck to find me the octave I want, I have to high up three semitones! Let's get this smaller:
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       D string 2 frets higher
    A string  -       G string 2 frets higher
    D string  -       B string 3 frets higher
    G string  -  high E string 3 frets higher
Note: Of course there is also the easiest way of finding an octave: going higher up 12 frets. But that would take some time if you're trying to do it fast! For example: C, 3rd fret on the A string - C, 15th fret of the A string. E, open fret on the high E string - E, 12th fret on the high E string Here's where all the E octaves are on the neck:
E|--0----------------12-------------------24-|
B|---------5-------------------17------------|
G|----------------9--------------------21----|
D|-----2------------------14-----------------|
A|-------------7-------------------19--------|
E|--0----------------12-------------------24-|
Before going any further, make sure you feel comfortable with the difference of tuning between the EAD strings and the GBE strings and finding all the octaves with every note. 2. Thirds There are two good ways of finding a third but the second one may feel a little bit confusing to use with the octaves technique. I'm going to explain it second, cause I'm going more in depth with it. Let's now take the C as a reference, as it's major scale doesn't have any accidentals. What's the first thing you think of when trying to find the third? When finding octaves, you didn't have to think, since it's just the same note you were trying to find. But thirds aren't the same note! So let's take a look at the C major scale:
C major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
The third is the E, right? What's the distance between the C and its third? Two whole tones or four semitones. So what's the first thing you should think? Going higher up four semitones. - It is good you get these distances down, it's basic intervals. Get yourself on the C on the low E string, 8th fret. Where should the third be? On the 12th fret of the same string. But that's even higher than how many frets you're supposed to cover with your pinky. For you guys with small fingers or hand, you'd have to move a bit. Which takes us to the second way of finding your third: In the same 8th fret of the low E string, go up a string and down a fret. You have your third, you've hit an E. But what if you wanted to go from the A string to the D string? Same thing. What about D string to G string? Same thing. Then why am I getting so in depth in here? Because the only one that changes is the G string to the B string. Remember when I've told you that the way the guitar is tuned makes a difference about looking for the thirds? It at the same time helps the guitar player and confuses. Except when you were trying to find octaves you were skipping one string. So two methods of finding the octave would need different interval changes from string to string to find your octave. In thirds the difference is that there is only ONE third that you will have to hit a different way. The one from the G string to the B string, which you only have to go a string higher, no frets. So let's get this smaller:
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       A string 1 fret lower
    A string  -       D string 1 fret lower
    D string  -       G string 1 fret lower
    G string  -       B string no fret difference
    B string  -  high E string 1 fret lower
2.1 Minor Thirds Well, since you already know how to find your thirds, a minor third is a note 1 semitone lower than the third, which is actually the major third. Kind of self explanatory, right? Just go lower another semitone.
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       A string 2 fret lower
    A string  -       D string 2 fret lower
    D string  -       G string 2 fret lower
    G string  -       B string 1 fret lower
    B string  -  high E string 2 fret lower
2.2 Perfect Fourth You should just do the same thinking for the minor thirds, except the perfect fourth is a semitone higher.
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       A string no fret difference
    A string  -       D string no fret difference
    D string  -       G string no fret difference
    G string  -       B string 1 fret higher
    B string  -  high E string no fret difference
Stop reading it here and practice all these patterns, you should get along well with the next topics as soon as you get these ones down. 3. Fifths Okay, so I've shown you how to obtain octaves and thirds which are so far one of the most important elements in the scale. What's next? Fifths. They are what get the natural major chord complete. The root note, the third and the fifth. I've also shown you how to get the minor third, so you'll also be able to build minor chords, since it's formula is root note - minor third - fifth. The fifth is sort of simple, if you have already gotten the basics of these methods. Let's take another look at the C major scale:
C major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
The fifth is the G. It is several semitones higher than the C. Specifically, seven. Seven is a huge number to just go straight the same string. Then well, let's use the same logic we used in the third. Get yourself on the C in the 8th fret of the low E string. Go up a string and down two frets, there you go, you hit a G. But of course, there's the G string to B string tuning difference, right? In that case, you've got to go down one more semitone, the same way we've explained before! So let's get it smaller:
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       A string 2 frets lower
    A string  -       D string 2 frets lower
    D string  -       G string 2 frets lower
    G string  -       B string 3 frets lower
    B string  -  high E string 2 frets lower
4. Seventh If you have learned the octave method, this should be piece of cake. But I'll give it a technical explanation for more inside informations. Understanding it makes you come up with your own methods. Maybe you're getting bored, but I'll take another look at the C major scale:
C major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
Check the B out. It is only one semitone away from the C, which is the octave. If it comes right behind the octave, it sure is the seventh. You've already realized by now, don't you? Use the same method as the octave, just lower one semitone. Correct.
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       D string 1 frets higher
    A string  -       G string 1 frets higher
    D string  -       B string 2 frets higher
    G string  -  high E string 2 frets higher
Note: What if I wanted to find the seventh an octave lower? Just lower one semitone, you don't need to find the next octave for it! 4.1 Minor Seventh You should be able to get this one by your own by now. As soon as you've read "minor seventh" you should have already thought of lowering a semitone, right? But you can't forget the G to B strings tuning difference, so it's worth mentioning!
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       D string no fret difference
    A string  -       G string no fret difference
    D string  -       B string 1 frets higher
    G string  -  high E string 1 frets higher
5. All the other notes You could come up with your own methods now for the other notes, or just use the same methods and add or take a few semitones. Make your own methods for the minor second, augmented fourth and major sixth until you get down to the next topic! (You can find an intervals chart at the end of this lesson for reference)

B. From other notes in the scale.

1. From a third to an octave or root If you are on a third, you may sometimes want to get back to the root or an octave. Which is pretty much easy. The first one, going back to the root, it couldn't be easier than just using the root -> third method backwards. But, as always, pay attention to the G and B strings. So thats how it would look like:
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

high E string  -      B string 1 fret higher
     B string  -      G string no fret difference
     G string  -      D string 1 fret higher
     D string  -      A string 1 fret higher
     A string  -  low E string 1 fret higher
But if I want to go an octave up, that's a little bit different. Pay attention so you don't get confused. Sometimes people think that I want to show you how to get to an octave of the third, but no. It's an octave of the ROOT NOTE! If you ever want to get to an octave of the third, I've shown that already, in the very first topic! You'll be using basically the same method for the octave, except for two things. You are one string higher and one fret lower. Let's get the previous octave method: Two strings higher and two frets higher. Take off of it what you already have, one string higher. So you'll have to go one string higher. But what about the frets? You have one fret lower, so you have to add it. Three frets higher! Always paying attention to the G and B strings:
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

low E string  -       A string 3 frets higher
    A string  -       D string 3 frets higher
    D string  -       G string 3 frets higher
    G string  -       B string 4 frets higher
    B string  -  high E string 3 frets higher
1.1 From a third to a fifth Simple enough, just go higher 3 frets. And the good thing is you don't even need to worry about any string tuning difference since its all in the same string. I don't even think this needs a chart but let's do it!
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

 low E string  -  low E string 3 frets higher
     A string  -      A string 3 frets higher
     D string  -      D string 3 frets higher
     G string  -      G string 3 frets higher
     B string  -      B string 3 frets higher
high E string  - high E string 3 frets higher
If you want to find an octave of the fifth, just find the octave of the root note and then the fifth; Going straight from the third to the octave of the fifth gets too complicated. 2. From a fifth to an octave or root Same thing, you don't need to think that much, fifth's are even easier! For the root, go lower one string and lower two frets, exactly the opposite you do to find the fifth.
(Where I want to find   -   Where will it be)

high E string  -      B string 2 frets lower
     B string  -      G string 3 frets lower
     G string  -      D string 2 frets lower
     D string  -      A string 2 frets lower
     A string  -  low E string 2 frets lower
About the octave of the root note, you just go straight one string higher, no fret differences. Try making the chart yourself! 2.1 From a fifth to a third Even easier! Just use the third -> fifth method backwards. Go 3 frets lower. 3. From a seventh to octave or root If you're looking for an octave, check out the explanation in the root to seventh again, and you'll realize you just need to go 1 fret higher, because the octave is right one semitone ahead of the seventh. But if you want to go to the root, you've got to do the same octave method, except backwards and 1 fret lower. But don't forget the G and B strings, etc.
high E string  -      G string 2 frets lower
     B string  -      A string 2 fret lower
     G string  -      A string 1 fret lower
     D string  -  low E string 1 fret lower
3.1 From the seventh to the other notes You may do these one on your own aswell, seventh to third, seventh to fifth.

C. Intervals Chart.

Just as reference, I will keep an interval chart in here:
*__________________________________________________*
|I =                                               |
|ROOT NOTE                                         |
|__________________________________________________|
|II =                                              |
|        +1 semitone : minor second                |
|+1 tone/+2 semitones: major second                |
|        +3 semitones: augmented second            |
|__________________________________________________|
|III =                                             |
|         +3 semitones: minor third                |
|+2 tones/+4 semitones: major third                |
|__________________________________________________|
|IV =                                              |
|         +5 semitones: perfect fourth             |
|+3 tones/+6 semitones: augmented fourth           |
|__________________________________________________|
|V =                                               |
|+3 tones/+6 semitones: diminished fifth           |
|         +7 semitones: perfect fifth              |
|+4 tones/+8 semitones: augmented fifth            |
|__________________________________________________|
|VI =                                              |
|+4 tones/+8 semitones: minor sixth                |
|         +9 semitones: major sixth                |
|__________________________________________________|
|VII =                                             |
|         +9 semitones : diminished seventh        |
|+5 tones/+10 semitones: minor seventh             |
|         +11 semitones: major seventh             |
|__________________________________________________|
|VIII =                                            |
|+6 tones/+12 semitones: octave                    |
*__________________________________________________*

D. The end.

I think you've got the general idea for finding notes. Remember, it will never be useful if you don't practice these patterns! Learn to find yourself on your own fretboard before going further in guitar playing. There will be a time it will become second nature and you will merge it with the scales and modes and you'll find it much easier to get the exact sounds you want. If you guys like it, I may be making a few other basic lessons. Clow
More clow539 lessons:
+ In-Depth With The Pentatonic Scales 04/02/2009
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