I finally broke down and signed up for some guitar lessons after 2+ years. Something the teacher said last weekend confused me.

He was suggesting I should learn everywhere on the fretboard I can play the three notes that make up a chord without regard to whether it's inverted or not. Like, Ab can be played xx111x or C can be played xxx010. He seemed to be saying that I should get to the point (eventually) where I can see all the chord possibilities as I play, like even improve jamming.

I asked whether this meant learning shapes that are then applied up and down the fretboard like with bar chords, and he said, no, it involves knowing where all the notes on the fretboard are and the formula for creating chords.

Now, I know the formula, but I cannot really imagine jamming along and as I shift from, say, A maj to E maj, quickly seeing where every E is on the fretboard, and where every G# and B is in relation to it, so that I can then "see" all my fretting options in an instant.

I suppose a related notion might be to not necessarily "see" the exact notes, but to see intervals based on how the guitar is tuned, so that from any fret position, you "see" where all the 3's and 5's are from that position. This would be more like seeing shapes, I'd think, though perhaps it involves seeing this relations and making up chords on the fly rather than having memorized every possible shape for any chord combination.

So, I'm not sure whether I should try to figure out the different partial chords as shapes and see how they can be used up & down the fretboard (which was my initial thought); whether to focus on memorizing the exact notes and "seeing" them as I play so I can construct chords on the fly (which was what I thought my instructor was suggesting), or focusing on memorizing the intervals around the fretboard so I can make up chords on the fly (which is what I guess makes perhaps the most sense to me, after further thought). What do those who've been playing decades do/see on the fretboard?

Bernie Sanders for President!
I started by learning basic chord shapes, allied with learning scale patterns and applied them when using upper extensions. Eventually when playing, i would then 'see' where i could add extra notes to colour the harmony. All this of course is in context with the key and what other players are playing.
I think there's a couple of ways you could go about it. For an example, I'll use Em in the 7th position.
1) Play the Em in the 7th position.
2) Learn where the root, 3rd, and 5th are in the scale, and make chords out of them.

The other way you can do it is to look at the common barre chords you have available in a certain position. For example, if you are in the 7th position, you have E minor and E major played starting on the 5th string, and B major and minor played starting on the 6th string. Use the upper fragments of these to make your chords. Also, note that while still in the 7th position (for example), you have things like D chord from the 5th position available (inversion beginning with A on the 4th string), except it's under your index finger here rather than under your ring as it would be if you were playing the full chord in the 5th position.

I think you can use both of these ways together, and they will help. The other thing that is really useful is to not only know your chord formulas, but memorize what notes are in the most common chords, like A-C-E for A minor, E-G-B for E minor and so on. I don't think you necessarily have to sit and study this stuff. It comes naturally from playing a scale, and asking yourself, "right, what are the root, 3rd, and 5th notes?". At first you have to stop and think about it, but the more you do it, the faster your brain retrieves the info, until you just know it.

Hope this helps!
Quote by krm27
Now, I know the formula, but I cannot really imagine jamming along and as I shift from, say, A maj to E maj, quickly seeing where every E is on the fretboard, and where every G# and B is in relation to it, so that I can then "see" all my fretting options in an instant.

that's exactly the skill you want to develop! It's understandably daunting if you aren't accustomed to thinking about the guitar that way, but if you spend a little time on it each day for a couple weeks you will find it becomes second nature.

So, I'm not sure whether I should try to figure out the different partial chords as shapes and see how they can be used up & down the fretboard (which was my initial thought); whether to focus on memorizing the exact notes and "seeing" them as I play so I can construct chords on the fly (which was what I thought my instructor was suggesting), or focusing on memorizing the intervals around the fretboard so I can make up chords on the fly (which is what I guess makes perhaps the most sense to me, after further thought). What do those who've been playing decades do/see on the fretboard?


I think you should do exactly as your teacher suggested - try to find as many 3 note combinations as possible everywhere.

Try imposing some order on the exercise:
-Pick a triad
-pick three strings
-start at the lowest position possible

For example, let's say you want to find all the C major combinations on the A, D, and G strings

Step 1: you're looking for C major triad notes, so why not start on C? Fret the lowest C on the A string.

Step 2: Find an E and a G on the D and G strings. Well G is already G, so you can play that string open, and E is on the 2nd fret of the D string. So there you have your first combination: x320xx

Step 3: Move the lowest note up to the next triad tone, and repeat the process. In this example, you'd move up from C to the E on the A string
Yeah, it's a good idea to learn all the root note and triad locations on all the strings. You can then visualize where the other chord notes are (ie, the b7th is moving the root down two, the minor chord has the 3rd dropped a step, etc).

I sometimes use a mental picture of all the chords based on their root position and envision the triads as parts of chords. Here's a lesson for beginners that I wrote that might help translate chord shapes into triads:

Thanks for the responses. I've been looking into this, and here's what I've got so far:

The ways to fret a full major chord (135) in root position, or either first or second inversion, on three adjacent strings, are limited. Root can only be fretted as 135 (not 153). First inversion can only be fretted as 351 (315). Second inversion can only be fretted as 513 (not 531). There are exceptions for some chords, where you can use an open string to allow for fretting some of the other variations, but I think that mapping out those exceptions should be focused on as a separate assignment.

This creates a simple, linear understanding of the three-string chord options, as they wrap around the fretboard from low to high string like so: 135135135135... and so on. And they generally move at a diagonal down the neck as they move down the strings (i.e., higher strings fretted closer to neck). The chord shapes sort of wind around the neck like


Though not at such a straight diagonal. And three of these quasi-diagonal shapes cross the fretboard each octave (one that goes 135135, another that goes 351351, and another that goes 513513). And if you know those three quasi-diagonal lines, you can start the chord on the low E, A, D, or G. Using these "lines" you can readily arpeggiate a chord, too.

Each of those three quasi-diagonals lends itself to four different chording voices, depending whether you start the chord on the low E, A, D or G. So that would be 12 distinct shapes, except there is overlap for shapes starting on the E and A string. For example, the 135 chord shape is the same whether you start on low E or A because there is the same 5 semitone interval between each of the strings you are using (i.e., the four semitone G to B shift does not come into play). So there are only 9 unique chord shapes rather than 12.

Also, for each inversion option, it is roughly the same "shape," except that you have to make slight adjustments to account for the different tuning between the G and B string. Thus, the 135 is basically the same -- root on a string, 3rd on the next string, one fret back, 5th on the next string, two more frets back), except with slight adjustment so that if you start on the D, you slide the 5th (on the B string) up one fret, so it is only one fret back from the 3rd (and this shape is a true diagonal). And if you start on G, you slide the 3rd and 5th up one fret so the 3rd is on the same fret as the 1st, and the 5th is two back from there. Anyway, if you have a good mental picture how the G to B four semitone change affects things, you can think of the three 135 chord shapes as the same shape with three variations depending whether, and where, the G to B shift comes into play, which may make it easier to memorize.

For minor chord options, much of the same reasoning applies. You can only fret it as 1b35, b351, or 51b3. So, again, it is linear 1b351b351b351b35... Also, if you know the major patterns, you can see all these minor shapes as a slight variation of the major shapes (i.e., you just move one string -- the b3 -- down one fret toward the neck.

Again, you will find the minor chord pattern is a quasi-diagonal winding around the neck, with three quasi-diagonal lines per octave depending whether you start on the low E with the 1, the b3 or the 5. And, again, you can think of the shapes as being one pattern for each inversion option, with each pattern having three variations depending whether and where the G to B interval comes into play. Or, in other words, you again have a total of 9 distinct shapes to play all minor chord voices on three adjacent strings.

Also, of the 9 minor chord shapes, 6 of them are identical to major chord shapes, but starting on a different string. For example, the major chord shape for 135 from the D string is a true diagonal (so for Fmaj, it's xx321x); if you move this diagonal shape to start from the G string instead of D string, like xxx321, you are playing a minor chord, in root position (1b35), in this case Bbmin. Anyway, 6 of the 9 minor chord shapes are identical to major shapes that start on different strings. So you only have to learn 3 unique chord shapes for the minor chords. Or, in other words, learning 12 total unique shapes will allow you to fret every possible major and minor chord possibility on three adjacent strings (ignoring how you can use open strings to create some unique possibilities and, of course, ignoring other types of chords, like 7ths, suspended chords, etc.)

I think it could be very useful that there are six different ways you can move around fretting both major and minor chords, if you want to move around very quickly without changing fretting hand shape. On the other hand, I think that learning the three quasi-diagonal lines may serve me better than trying to learn 12 individual chord shapes. The lines let me better visualize the overall fretboard map, and also could be more useful in soloing. We'll, I need to actually get on the guitar with my quasi-diagonal "map" of the fretboard in front of me, and jam a bit, to see what is most useful.

Oh, as most probably could guess, or know from experience, most (but I don't think all) of the 12 chord shapes you can derive this way are simply partial sections of the barre-chords that we all know and love. So, in that sense, learning these shapes (or most of these shapes) generally does not involve learning anything new, but involves learning how to visualize and use what you already know in a bit of a different way.

I'm thinking if I get this "map" down, it could serve as a skeleton of the 1-3-5 intervals from any given root which will be a starting point to having a fast visualization/recall of other intervallic options.

Bernie Sanders for President!
Last edited by krm27 at Feb 3, 2014,
Ken, that's pretty much the way I do this. When you can visualize those patterns around the fretboard, you can find things pretty quickly. Having a way to organize all that information is a challenge until you see the patterns. Let us know what else you discover!
it's easier than you think...

I'll tab out the chord structure moving in the other lateral movement.
Chords just every other notes. If you all see extended the arpeggios to the 7 you'll see the overlapping of notes easier. It'll also alternate between maj and min triads.
It's in the key of Cmaj . Starting from the Fmaj chord or arpeggios.

When you're taught to read music. you're taught FACE and Every Good Boy Dose Fine
FACE are the notes between the lines. EGBDF are the notes on the lines (from bottom up)

If you play CDEFGABC (every other note) you'll see the arpeggios.
The intervals between the notes just changes it into maj or minor.

So you get I, IV V as maj
II, III, VI as min
VII as dim

Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin, Bdim, Cmaj

Last edited by smc818 at Feb 3, 2014,
I've known many great players, from scale shredding gymnastics to blazing chicken pickers' & often surprised how many haven't learned C A G E D first, then how to bar every variation of CAGED shapes up the fret board. More to the point A in open position, maj, min, major 7th, dominate 7, minor 7th, sus 4, sus 2, 9, ...then 11, 13, b5 # 5 etc etc., & bar all the way up the fret board using "A" cord shape. Of course the rest of CAGED cord shapes & alterations up fretboard before taking on inversions as cool & very important as they are. Some cord shapes lend themselves better, but knowing this is critical. The best book on this is "Everything About Chords" by Wilbur Savage, I read through it at least once a year. The truth is this is a lifetime study if you are looking to play different styles, but that's the addiction: there is always more to learn about guitar~!
Sorry for the double post..but lines on the taps got wacked.lol

I'll do like this so you'll see it another way. Use it to train your ear.
You can add the 4th. Do hammers or pulls ...ect later.
The roots are on the A string.


Basic pentatonic in 1 octive maj and min. (you'll notice how it fits into those 5 box shapes.)
If you see it in 1 octive at first. It'll help you later, if you wish to add more notes.
It's also a skeleton

Amin petatonic Cmaj pentatonic

Adding the 2 notes into the diatonic

A Aeolian C Ionian

I'll try adding the 7 to my diagram, see what insights that provides. Thanks for the suggestion.


I have generally used the CAGED boxes in my soloing to date, though I do not generally think of them as boxes where either side is a barre-chord formation, I just have memorized them as five minor pentatonic boxes. Though I did look at some summaries of that system, and I got the gist, I just did not see that it added a whole lot to my understanding of minor pentatonic boxes, particularly since I never really thought I'd be trying to play C-barre or G-barre chords (the notion of using them for partial chord shapes was something I read about and just put off for some later date, which I guess has finally come).

Assuming the CAGED boxes are essentially the same as the five minor pentatonic shape boxes, I have those down pretty well. I also have been working on seeing the whole minor scale, not just the pentatonic notes, for each box, and seeing each box as a way to play the major scale or any of the other modes of the major scale, by shifting which note I use as my root.

Those boxes provide a good way to move vertically on the fretboard in any of the seven modes from the major scale. I'm thinking if I overlay the three quasi-diagonal chord-lines (got to get a better name for them), those could be used for horizontal movement between the five boxes. Well, got to put this into practice to see how that goes.

Bernie Sanders for President!
Haha...now you know how easy it is to learn modes.

From the Ionian...just drop the 7th into a -7. You get the mixolian.
Raise the 4th 1/2 step. You get the lydian

From the aeolian....
Raise the -6 into a natraul 6. (put it behind the -7 on the D string.) Dorian
Lower the 2 to a -2. Phrygian.

From the prygian...lower the 5th to a -5. Locrain

From aeolian. Raise the -7 into a 7. You get the harmonic minor.
If you play the aeolian ascending then decend in harmonic minor. It's call the melodic minor.lol

Im telling you. If you do it one octive at first. You'll see it easier.

here...in two octive going towards the bridge.
Just have to watch out when it shifts up one fret at the high B and E string.
You'll get used to it....

Cmaj pentatonic.


In Dmin...so you'll get use to playing notes here. get more familar with neck.


If you already know the notes in open position. It repeats itself again here.
Just have to watch out when you get to the high B and E string. When it shifts up
one fret

Starting from the E note or E phrygian


Going towards the bridge. Two octive


Of course you already know everything repeats itself at the 12 fret.
Last edited by smc818 at Feb 4, 2014,
Some time ago, when I was trying to "see" patterns in the fretboard, I did an exercise where I just pretended there was a guitar with infinite strings all set 5 semitones apart (no odd interval from G to B), and kept filling in the major scale notes on this fretboard. The idea was that if I can see the smallest, repeating patterns, and see if there is a really simple way to visualize it, I just then need to learn to "adjust" this pattern for the G to B string and that might be the fastest way to get comfortable around the fretboard.

Well, I honestly don't recall just how much I got out of that. The main thing it showed me, that I had not really considered, is that as you move from Low E to high e, you can just sort of visualize the high e then looping back around and picking up on the A string, sort of superimpose the high e on the Low E, so you can sort of "keep going" with the idea of moving "down" the fretboard infinitely because it is a loop. This also means, if I know a chord shape that starts from Low E, I automatically see that I can play that chord using all the same notes except subbing the high e for the Low E to get a different sound.

Anyway, I don't recall thinking this was a brilliant notion, but it did help a bit. I was actually thinking, now that I'm looking at chord partials, and intervallic relationships rather than full scales or barre chords, that I might do something like this again, to help cement in my visualization of the quasi-diagnonal chord-lines that wrap around the guitar neck, or perhaps I'll gain some insight I don't even foresee yet.

I put the "7" into my fretboard diagram, and the 2, 4 and 6, and started mapping out where I'd find the different three-string chord shapes for the other chords within a particular key. Like, from any D-shape major chord starting on the G string (which would be 2nd inversion shape), you can find the mediate running diagonally from the root of that shape (on the B string) to the D string. And you can then find the relative minor running that same diagonal line, but running from G to high e string.

Anyway. I can see that if I want to play all the chords in a key, in partials, I can find lots of ways to play them with relatively little movement of the fretting hand and with different inversion options. It looks like something I really need to jam with for a long time, getting familiar with the options. I have a hunch (?) that this familiarity with these partials will lead me naturally to seeing how I can make choices for chord shapes that create certain melodic lines, like walking bass lines or even contrapuntal melodic lines, perhaps as many as three distinct voices from playing a series of three-note chords.

I don't know if music teachers generally teach an understanding of partial chord shapes, and comfort using them, before the get into these notions like writing a progression with a walking bass line, but it seems to me that this is a logical order in which to progress. It seems like one guitar skill (or music theory skill) naturally leads to another (or, in some cases, to multiple new skills so that in some ways it seems like the more you know, the more you realize there is to learn).

Lastly, when I looked at the fretboard diagram with just the 1-3-5-7's filled in, and focusing on partial chord options, it looked to me like the options for adding a 7 (playing four strings) or subbing the 7 for the 3 (playing on 3 strings) was actually rather limited. Since the 7 is right there adjacent to the 1, and you still need to play the 1, and the 5, and the 7 on the same
Well, part of the problem might be that I realize now I added the 7's, not the b7's. And actually most of my experience playing 7ths is actually playing the b7, not the maj7... The bottom line is, I'm not sure what "epiphane" I was supposed to get from adding in the 7's to my fretboard diagram, but nothing that I would call an "epiphane" really jumped out at me.

Bernie Sanders for President!

So far, I have not focused on learning major modes by memorizing how they different, as a pattern of intervals, from the major scale. I just visualize the major scale around the fretboard and try to use the "2" or "3" or "4" or other note as the "root." So this approach of 'seeing' Mixolydian mode with the root as 1, and me playing b7 rather than 7, is foreign to me. It feels like I'm being asked to memorize seven different scale patterns with that approach, whereas my approach just involves the same pattern with shifting root emphasis.

I ultimately expect I'll get familiar with all intervals from any given note/position, so this sort of becomes a non-issue. However, no one has yet convinced me it is faster / more efficient to learn modes as you discuss them from the get-go. However, if there's a reason this is a better way to go, I'm open to changing my approach.

Bernie Sanders for President!

I'm with you on working out all the patterns. I have sheets of paper with things written out like you. One that I used for a while was to have the root note on either of the top 2 strings and then write out all the other numbered names (like b3, 3, 4, .... b7... 13) and then look at the ways to connect the points to make the different extended chords. Then you end up seeing the notes in a given position as all having a function relative to the root.

When it comes to modes (you might find the lesson I made on modes interesting), I tend to see it as overlaying the different scale shapes on top of the "original" position. This has the effect of what others are describing as changing a b6 to 6th for example. So I use it both as a way of visualizing a scale pattern (ie, a familiar scale pattern but with a different root) as well as seeing the substitution of old and new notes. To be honest, I don't really think in terms of mode names (I should), but I know the 3 minor modes and 3 major modes and can pick from the new set of notes when changing modes.

At a certain point, I think you can try to let go of theory of why you're picking a particular note and just the ones that work (ie, think chromatically).
Well, I was using the three major-chord line-shapes outlined above, seeing how they superimposed over BOTH (1) the five minor pentatonic boxes, and (2) the five CAGED system boxes. Then something clicked over the weekend, and suddenly I was jamming all over the fretboard without even seeing any of these three systems, but instead just seeing all the notes as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 in relation to a particular root, and it was super easy to avoid hitting any "off" notes. I started going very fast, though I've never really practiced shredding or speed work.

The real breakthrough came when I started just focusing on the four-note squares of 7-1-3-4.
The above boxes became my "home base" or "islands" and I'd jam around those four note islands, and then I would just "hop" to the next island that was connected diagonally from the 7 or 4, like

Of course, I had to skip an extra fret when I skipped between G to B, but that was easy to keep in mind. So I just moved between these four-note "islands" all up and down the fretboard for a long time, moving very fast and getting that "locked" in. I knew whatever pair of these notes were on the low E, I could find that same pair on the corresponding high e and vice versa, so I could see these four-note islands spiraling diagonally up and down the entire fretboard. It was SO easy to stay within these "islands."

Then I realized on either of those two lines, I could slide both forward and back 2 frets and hit notes in key:


So 100% of the time, I could branch out with confidence two frets forward or back from the "islands" and find good notes to use. These were like built-in wings off of every island. Seeing that these two strings were identical over these six frets also gave me confidence to hit lots of double stops, and double-stop slides. I also was doing semitone bends on the 3s and 7s knowing they'd hit notes in key (4 or 1). And I was able to confidently slide and hammer within these eight note clusters.

As I was playing these notes and moving all around, I was gradually getting better and better at seeing the relation between the side-pairs (2-6 or 5-2) to other nearby islands (i.e., other than the island between these pairs). And so at first I was always going back to the middle island, then jumping to another island, then branching out, but then I got more comfortable moving from these side-pairs to a new island. And, of course, I knew from any of these numbers, I could find that same number down two strings and over two frets (or over three frets if I was skipping from G to B) which was another way to quickly jump to a new island cluster.

During this time, I was not seeing, and was not trying to see, any particular notes. However, I am familiar enough with the fretboard, that I could stop for a moment, think what note I was playing (like realize the "3" I was playing was actually a C#) and then jump to any of the other C#'s on the fretboard, even on the far side of the fretboard, and then just pick up seeing the new island cluster I was on, and going back to seeing just islands and side-pairs and playing from there.

Anyway, I was pretty much doing improv shredding at this point, even though I never practiced speed soloing or shredding. Just the confidence of knowing where to find "good" notes allowed me to move between notes very quickly.

Now, the funny thing is, the simplicity of these relationships was not new to me. When I started playing guitar a couple years ago, I did a lot of fretboard diagrams, filling in the notes of frets using the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, on the fretboard. I recall back then I saw these four-note "island" clusters and how they were diagonally adjacent to one another. At the time I had thought that might make it easy to move around the fretboard. For whatever reason, though, I never APPLIED that notion to my playing. Instead, I set those diagrams aside and, when I did try to solo, I always went to the five major pentatonic box-shapes and tried to picture those shapes in my playing, and move up and down them very quickly.

In retrospect, I suspect I could have made much faster progress if, instead, I had focused on jamming using the entire major scale and seeing all the 1-7's on the fretboard, focusing on staying on these four-note "islands" and gradually getting more comfortable making forays off the islands. I don't see why, if I had jammed with those images in mind for a while each day, I could not have gotten to where I am now in a matter of weeks or months rather a couple years.

I do think there may be a time / place to learn how you can move through a scale vertically on the fretboard, without moving the fretting hand horizontally along the neck. However, I think WAY to much emphasis is put on using this as a beginning exercise to learn the fretboard. As if it's easier to not hassle beginners with horizontal movement while playing. But I think I'd recommend just playing the 7-1-3-4 island clusters up and down the fretboard without limiting your horizontal movement, and instead getting very comfortable with moving horizontally while playing, then gradually add in the 2-5-6 wing-pairs, and pretty soon you'll be able to find any of these notes all over the fretboard. THEN you can go back and practice/learn ways to move vertically through scales using various shapes, but you'll probably be a lot freer in general from any limiting visualizations.

So, my next step is to work on visualizing where the various chord clusters for all chords within a key are in relation to the 1-7s (where I can find 2-4-6, or 3-5-7 or 4-6-1 or 5-7-2, etc. on adjacent strings). Since these are all major or minor chord shapes, and I've been working out the major and minor chord shape options on three adjacent strings, it's really just a matter of seeing these shapes with different numerical assignments (since was seeing them all in terms of 1-3-5 or 1-b3-5). So then I'll, hopefully, be seeing from any tonic / key, where all the relative chord options within that key (mediate, dominant, etc.) without having to keep going back to open shapes or the standard bar shapes (E or A).

Once that step is complete, I think I'll have a very good handle on jamming / improvising / playing at speed all over the fretboard within a key, at least for major keys. From there, I think I need to learn to see more unusual chording options (7ths, sus4, sus2, etc) and/or see how to change up to seeing the notes in relation to other scales/key options (minor, modes, more exotic scales).

Bernie Sanders for President!
Last edited by krm27 at Feb 10, 2014,
Thanks for posting Ken! Like others, I've approached fretboard patterns in many ways, so I'm going to need some time to digest this...