Tommaso Zillio
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Learn your guitar fretboard the right way (incl. video)

Do you know all the notes on your guitar fretboard? If you are reading this, the answer is probably no. Well, you are in good company, as very few guitar players know them. This is quite a strange situation, since in most other instrument the notes is the first thing a beginner gets taught.

Now, the lack of familiarity with the notes on the fretboard also explains why many guitar players find music theory needlessly difficult. This is because it’s very difficult to learn new concepts, like (for example) how a E note work as a 9th over a Dm chord if you cannot immediately find the E note and play it to get some aural feedback. If you don’t know your notes it’s like trying to fine manual work with your mittens on: the work is not difficult per se, there is only an additional layer that is making things hard for you.

The problem here is not only “finding” the notes on the fretboard: it’s also finding them “in real time”. If you can find any note on the fretboard, but it takes 10-15s to find them, then you haven’t really accomplished anything useful. You need to be able to find the notes the moment you think of them for this skill to be actually useful in real musical situations.

As it happens, most guitarists are simply too scared to den try to learn their notes. They put off this task for a long time, and in their imagination it is an immense and impossible task. All the notes? Over all the strings and all the frets? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s probably not worth the effort.

In fact, learning the notes in a permanent way is a quite simple task that most people can do by practicing a specific exercise only few minutes a day for few weeks. It is not going to be boring either. How is that possible? Well, watch the video below to learn what you have to do and how.

A few suggestions to make your learning faster:

  • Make it a game! I used to challenge myself to play the notes with the metronome as described in the video faster and faster, or playing them in a random order. How fast can you go today?
  • Learn with a friend. A game is more fun if it’s done with somebody else. For instance you can call a note and your friend has to play it, and then you reverse roles. In a sense, it’s like Guitar Hero… only with real guitars and with real learning.
  • Don’t get obsessed: as mentioned in the video, you won’t remember the patterns consciously. That’s ok. You will see that very soon you will simply KNOW where the notes are. I don’t remember the patterns either: I find them again on the spot every time I show this exercise. The exercise is just a bridge to take you to the other side of the river, so practice it only until it’s useful.

About the Author:  A professional prog rock musician, Tommaso Zillio is a regular writer of columns about Music Theory for Guitar.

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