Navigating The Neck

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.

Ultimate Guitar
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!

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    great lesson i think.. i understand the parts like whole step, half step thing since my mom used to teach me piano.. and we kinda learn those in band class.. but i dont get, how can you play by ear by "knowing the neck"? how can you know what note is being played?
    Thanks!!!! This is what I needed!!! Where have you been all this time???
    a bit hard to understan for me but i understood most. anyone feel free to email me if you can explain in lamen terms
    MAAN, i always noticed the finger positions, and i always red about major and minor and scales and modes, lol but now i know they r connected
    nice lesson man, everybody needs to now this stuff to play better
    finally a lesson thats rather easy to understand. Great stuff man
    E Major- ----- ----- ----- -----11-13-14 C# D# E -----11-12-14----- G# A B 12-14----- E F# Right? How is that every note? Those are correct right? Firstly I am working on memorizing the notes on the fretboard. 2ndly, Is there a reason they are not whole notes? And if it is in the lesson, I will finish the lesson when i am back from school haha.
    uhh each mode has a diffrent pattern than what this guy is saying ( unless i misunderstood it) but the ionian mode is step, step, half step, another 3 sets of steps and then another half step. Dorian is S , HS,S,S,S,HS,S and the other modes have differnt patterns as well
    This seems a little confusing, maybe because I havent learned for so long lol. But I'll check it out in detail. Thank you. Should help me a lot.
    This lession is really great but hard to understand for me (Im from Germany But i try to do my best
    if you have any books that deal with modes and scales then this is a helpful lesson. if you dont have any books then you might want to get one and come back to this lesson in the future.
    UGTEAM, you are the kings,... I've been playing for years without lessons, I can play anything, and up to now i've been playing only by ear. I now understand what I've been playing through theory, and not just experience.
    well...i guess it`s a great leasson...but I didn`t understand anything...that`s pretty odd too...I expected to find this very easy keeping in mind that I`ve been playing for 4 years and have 2 years of music theory... I guess things just don`t work out as you would hope. if anyone can explain this to me contact me on yahoo... Thanks
    dude i'm only after readin the first coupla paragraphs and its so cool. makes loadsa sense to me.thanks
    This article was great. I wish i could say the same for some other ones that say they will tell you how to do something and they just give you some load of irrelevant crap or they just give you a whole bunch of tabs and expect you to figure it out. But this was a good lesson, thanks.
    i guess your lesson is still by far the easiest & yet the most constructive lesson around UG . nicely done =D