What Is Fretboard Theory?

FT-3D-150x150Fretboard Theory is a book that was birthed out of a great need. As a guitar instructor for many years, I noticed a disconnect between many of the guitar method books on the market and the goals of my average guitar students. It seemed that most students were more interested in playing guitar than studying music, if that makes any sense. And they listened to popular music, mostly rock, not traditional stuff. Now, at the time, I was not only teaching forty lessons a week, but I was gigging three to five nights a week as well. I had an epiphany one day when I realized that the way music is traditionally taught and the way modern guitarists actually play are not the same. I had been teaching “by the book,” but playing in a different manner. Then it struck me, what if I taught my guitar students what was going on in my mind when I played instead of what I thought I was “supposed” to teach them? I began to teach my students to focus on the guitar fretboard and visualize everything as shapes and patterns. Furthermore, I related everything to familiar songs by popular artists. Over time, the lesson plans became the book, Fretboard Theory. Later, a second book was written, Fretboard Theory Volume II, and DVD programs were made. Today, the video has been moved to a subscription-based members area where guitarists stream video instruction, download PDF e-books, tune into live webinars, connect with other players, get support, and more.

Here’s a quick overview of what you learn in the first level of Fretboard Theory (learn about Volume II here). If you’re looking for practical, hands-on type instruction to help you understand music and navigate the fretboard like a pro, and you want to play popular styles of guitar music (like what you hear on Top 40 and classic rock radio stations), then this is the perfect book for you!


Guitar Scales

A scale is a series of notes used to, among other things, play melodies, riffs, solos, and bass lines. Scales make patterns on the fretboard which guitarists visualize with their eyes and rehearse with their fingers. There are many different types of scales and no shortage of books that diagram the seemingly endless patterns they create. But guess what? The majority of popular guitar music uses just two types of scale patterns: pentatonic and major scale patterns. In fact, not only are these scale patterns the most used, but you must master their usage before you can apply any other type of scale. Fretboard Theory covers pentatonic and major scale patterns in depth, teaching you how to learn their forms on the fretboard and how to apply them to chords and chord progressions. You learn about major and minor tonalities and how scales function as different modes. You see lots of references to famous guitar songs so you know how scales relate to the music you know and love.


Guitar Chords

Have you ever watched a master guitarist form chords all over the fretboard, using different fingerings and sounding different voicings, and wondered to yourself how they know where to locate notes and keep track of what they play? Well, you begin to learn your way around the guitar neck by using the so-called CAGED system. This system uses the five basic chord shapes used on the guitar, the ones that are used in the open position to play C, A, G, E, and D. Each one of these shapes can be barred and moved around the neck to play different chords in other positions. Each form can be broken down into fragmented chord voicings and inversions, or expanded into a position-covering arpeggio pattern. When you see how these forms connect position to position on the neck, you take the guesswork out of locating chords and navigating the fretboard. Fretboard Theory teaches all these details and shows you how the five CAGED forms relate to some of music’s most popular songs.


Guitar Chord Progressions

How is it that some guitarists seem to know what’s coming next in a song, even when it’s their first time through it? It’s because chords progress in predictable patterns and good guitarists know to follow these trails. Fretboard Theory teaches you how chords are built and how chords fit together to make chord progressions. You learn the number system that is the universal method of tracking chord changes in music. You play “1 4 5” -type chord progressions and many others. You get to know major and minor keys and work with transposing songs. Through it all, you get a backend look at a variety of popular songs.


Guitar Modes

There is perhaps to greater confusion among musicians than that of the topic of modes. The truth is, the modal concept is so simple, most musicians miss it! But everything is in a mode, and recognizing modes is critical to successful composing and improvising. In a nutshell, the mood of a piece of music is affected by which major scale degree is used as the primary pitch. In Fretboard Theory, you see how major scales and their related chords can be arranged to form pieces of music ranging from happy to sad, from Spanish to jazzy. You play all seven major scale modes including Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Any misconceptions about modes that you may have will finally be cleared up.


Music Composition

More than just a book full of scale and chord diagrams, Fretboard Theory teaches you how different elements of music relate and go together. You learn how to play the right scales over chords and progressions. You get to know intervals and how to add chord tones and extensions to chords. You get to know how music “works.” Whether you want to get better at learning songs, composing your own music, or jamming on the fly, Fretboard Theory gives you the know-how to reach your goals.


What Fretboard Theory Does Not Included

Fretboard Theory does not cover rhythm and technique. If improving your timing and honing your chops is what you’re after, then see my book, Guitar Rhythm and Technique For Dummies. Fretboard Theory is not a songbook and it does not teach how to play songs, but rather it teaches the theory behind songs. Lastly, this is not a method for beginners. If you’re just getting started with guitar playing and trying to learn the basics, then go to my beginner guitar page.


Is Fretboard Theory Available On Video?

The GMT Members area features over 20 different streaming video courses and over 150 streaming video lessons that follow the outlines of both Fretboard Theory books.


Is Fretboard Theory Available On DVD?

DVDs have been discontinued, but all previous DVD programs plus several new videos are available for streaming in the GMT Members area.


What About Bass Guitar?

Fretboard Theory is written mainly for guitar players, however lots of references to bass are included. Much of the content applies to bass as easily as it does guitar, and many bass players have benefited from the book and posted positive reviews.


Become a GMT Member

Take a free tour of the GMT Members area to sample its 20 different video courses and over 150 video lessons that teach music theory for guitar including scales, chords, progressions, modes, and more!


About Desi Serna

Desi Serna guitar music theoryHailed as a “music-theory expert” by Rolling Stone magazine, guitarist Desi Serna is a music instructor and author who has written several books on guitar including Fretboard Theory, Fretboard Theory Volume II, Guitar Theory For Dummies, Guitar Rhythm and Technique For Dummies, and How To Teach Guitar and Start Your Own Music Instruction Business. He is known for his practical, hands-on approach to music teaching, with a focus on the guitar fretboard and emphasis on popular songs. Desi honed his craft through decades of teaching, performing, and publishing. He lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area, produces all the instruction featured in the GMT Members area, and is online everyday connecting with his subscribers and giving guitar players personalized training and support.


Read More More About Fretboard Theory

What Is Guitar Theory?

What Scales To Learn

How to Learn Chords On the Fretboard

How to Play Guitar Chord Progressions

What Are Scale Modes?

Learning the Guitar Fretboard