Learning The Fretboard. Part I

A start to learning the fretboard. No silly formula, no "secrets", just how and what to practice to get to know your fretboard better! Makes use of modes and hard-work.

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Ultimate Guitar
Learning The Fretboard. Part I
39

Lesson 1: Learning the Fretboard

Learning the fretboard is a must for any serious guitarist, but I've noticed that many still use tab, which in my opinion only holds one back as a musician. If you only know your guitar in terms of fret numbers, you might not develop a keener understanding of harmony and how notes and tones relate to each other and why this is so useful.

Having a good knowledge of your fretboard opens doors to many more useful skills such as reading and sight-reading "real" sheet music, improvisation and music theory.

The way I learned the fretboard was not through use of gimmicky programs like Fretboard Warrior or by studying fretboard charts, but through practical experience and clever use of the modes. I assume you have a basic knowledge of the modes, but if not, it isn't a train-smash. If you follow my guide, you will at least learn the modal scale shapes as well as learning your fretboard in the process!

What is written in this guide only provides a guide on how and what to practice. You must put in time and be dedicated and willing to learn slowly and diligently. There are no short-cuts to this - it takes time to learn and I highly recommend you do not rush through this.
Practice this at least 30 minutes daily and in a month you will know your fretboard much better. That is what worked for me! :)

Anyway, I will shut up now. Lets get started.

By learning the modes in the key of C, we will be learning all the "white" notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B - no sharps or flats) of the fretboard. The reason for this is that once you learn all the "white" notes, you can fill in the gaps to find all the sharps and flats.
As an example, you can easily say:
"Well, 7th fret on the E-string is a B, so the 6th fret must be a Bb/A#!".

The Process:
1. Learn these scales and read the note names OUT LOUD, very SLOWLY and try to make a concerted effort to internalise each fret as a note, rather than a number.
2. Learn one scale at a time, one octave at a time or you will overwhelm yourself and not take anything in. Ready? Begin!

First Octave:
E Phrygian

e|------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------
G|------------------------------------------
D|-------------0-2----------------D-E-------
A|-------0-2-3--------------A-B-C-----------
E|-0-1-3--------------E-F-G-----------------

E F G A B C D E

F Lydian

e|---------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------
D|-----------0-2-3--------------D-E-F----
A|-----0-2-3--------------A-B-C----------
E|-1-3----------------F-G----------------

F G A B C D E F

G Mixolydian

e|---------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------
D|-----------2-3-5---------------E-F-G---
A|-----2-3-5---------------B-C-D---------
E|-3-5-----------------G-A---------------

G A B C D E F G

A Aeolian (Natural Minor)

e|---------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------
D|-------------5-7------------------G-A--
A|-------5-7-8----------------D-E-F------
E|-5-7-8----------------A-B-C------------

A B C D E F G A

B Locrian

e|--------------------------------------- Handy tip: while doing this, try
B|--------------------------------------- to start seeing patterns and why
G|--------------------------------------- the notes are where they are
D|---------------7-9----------------A-B-- eg. D is on the 10th fret of the
A|--------7-8-10--------------E-F-G------ E-string. The 12th fret on the
E|-7-8-10---------------B-C-D------------ E-string is obviously an E; .
therefore two semitones down from .
B C D E F G A B E, is D!

C Ionian (Major Scale)

e|------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------
G|------------------------------------------
D|--------------7-9-10---------------A-B-C--
A|-------7-8-10---------------E-F-G---------
E|--8-10------------------C-D---------------

C D E F G A B C

D Dorian

e|---------------------------------------------
B|---------------------------------------------
G|---------------------------------------------
D|----------------9-10-12----------------B-C-D-
A|----------10-12--------------------G-A-------
E|-10-12-13--------------------D-E-F-----------

D E F G A B C D

If you don't already know, can you see how these modes are being formed? The root note is simply "shifting" up one note of the scale at a time to create a new scale! :)

I will stop there for now. I don't want to post the second octaves yet because it'd be better to learn these first so that you can't rush ahead (Mwuahaha!).
If people actually read this article and don't think it sucks, I'll post more! I have many more useful things to share if you are interested. Let me know. Sorry for typing so much. Let me know what you'd like to learn about next! Sight-reading? Intervals? I don't know. The next article (if there is one) will certainly expand on the concepts put forth in this article.

Now go and learn these! One scale at a time! SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWLYYYYYYYYY!!!!! :)

Hope you enjoyed my first lesson!

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35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    srvevh
    just reading this ive gained lots of information im going to start tmrw cuz its 5 in the morning and i dont want to wake my parents up but please do the next one about sight reading!
    escrimador
    Heh, I liked your lesson so much I went to the trouble of making an account just so I can tell you how good it is. I'm a beginner and just started into music theory as it applies to the guitar. After scouring the internet, I'd say your fretboard lesson has been the most readily useful and practicable one I've found so far for training and memorization. Thank you!!!
    redvil
    great lesson..i learned a lot from this..im hoping to see more of these kind of lessons from you..ROCK ON!!!
    shooperman
    I See!! till now all them big words were loaded with theory.. but as I play along with your tab (for now!)I feel there is a path through the wild bush of information to follow. Following your lesson .. and practising with focus. Thank you
    inoknownothiory
    this is good stuff! Ive been learning a LOT of covers and frankly, im a little tired. really wanna play my own music now and think this is a great start for that.. thanks!
    Lolcohol
    The major and minor pentatonic scales are derived from the major and natural minor scales (the ionian and aeolian scales respectively). The major pentatonic scale omits the fourth and seventh notes of the major or ionian scale to prevent unwanted dissonance created by the minor second intervals between the third and fourth and the seventh and eighth notes of the scale. What I mean by this is that if you are to play the first fret and then the second fret as part of your solo, it is more likely that this sound won't work, even if both of those notes are in key and part of the major scale you're using. The minor pentatonic is derived from the 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7th notes of the natural minor, or aeolian scale. You can probably read more about it on Wikipedia, because there is more to it than just that, but I hope that I explained it in an understandable manner.
    skirmisher
    so..the pentatonic scales are like a shorter, easier to play version of these scales?...thanks
    skirmisher
    Which kind of scales do you suggest should be learned? Though I already have the pentatonic scales learned.
    Lolcohol
    The scales listed here are definite must-knows. Also, learn the blues scale. It's the same a the pentatonic, but it has an extra note. Other than that... It depends on what kind of music you play. Harmonic minor is commonly used and cool
    daverolston
    I'm learning the modes now. I'll check back in when I have them committed to memory. Thanx for the lesson. Peace.
    Lolcohol
    I knew you couldn't rate your own contribution! I had resisted the temptation until now, but just had to see what happened.
    Lolcohol
    Thanks! You can also practice this with your electric unplugged. I would like to do one on sight-reading but I'm not sure how to post sheet music on this site? If anyone can help with that, it'd be great and I'll do sight-reading lessons. PS. Excuse the bad layout!
    gabriel417
    Yeah man this is super helpful. Looking forward to the second half. I'll be drilling these regularly now, just started today. Thanks so much!
    slowlybilly
    Pretty good lesson bro...I already knew it, but I'm sure it helped alot of ppl, and it was presented quite clearly.
    musiczay
    this is really helpful im a beginner and i wanna know where to start off! do you have more of these lessons! please help! email me (if you wouldnt mind) featurezay @ gmail.com
    Lolcohol
    No problem. Would you like me to post the second half of these scales soon? I'll give it a week or two but I'll email you soon - I must go to class now
    Lolcohol
    Thank you I'll probably be posting a new lesson in a week or so. I have exams during next week, but I've made plans for the next few lessons, so keep your eyes peeled!
    lfcagger
    I'll be using this when I get round to playing today, thanks! Not bad exercises for actual playing either
    Lolcohol
    I think I'll pop up the next one Wednesday or Thursday Practice this for now
    Lolcohol
    Good luck. It'll work, I promise. Read the next lesson when you're ready.
    Ravenholm
    i'll use this along side my tab. I think you're quite wrong in saying tab holds a person back because frankly what works for you might not apply to another person. People learn differently, its not about intelligence or stupidity, just perception. I personally dont know how to read sheet music but along side the tab that i know i should be fine with this lesson. cheers.
    Lolcohol
    Ok. I guess I am just speaking from experience. Of course you don't need to know how to read music to play well (lots of famous people didn't!), but it certainly helps with making you a more well-rounded musician
    spoonlamp
    Love it. Looks like the perfect place for me to start. I found the explanation very good and it's cleared up a few grey areas for me about these scales. Now if I can just squeeze the hours in...
    Lolcohol
    Cool! Glad you enjoyed it. I'll try to write the other one tonight, in between studying, so hopefully it'll be up in the next couple of days, assuming it is accepted.
    Rosebud23
    I loved this lesson! It helped a lot! please continue posting lessons!!!! Thanks
    PSimonR
    I'm going to give this a try 'cos I've tried lots of other ways to learn all the notes and failed.
    Lolcohol
    You're welcome! This lesson was unavailable for possibly up to a year because of a lesson with an identical name using the title. I only noticed and had it fixed recently, so sorry to anyone who couldn't use this lesson during that time!