Learning the Guitar Fretboard
The guitar fretboard is the area along the front side of the guitar neck that features inset fret wires, spaces, and inlaid markers. Guitarists press strings down to the fretboard in order to change pitches. With a combination of vertical frets and horizontal strings, the fretboard is essentially a grid.
When arranged and played on this fretboard grid, notes, scales, chords, and progressions make shapes and patterns. Guitarists visualize these shapes and patterns in order to navigate around the neck. Furthermore, guitarists understand how musical elements fit together by fitting their pieces together like a puzzle. In fact, you can build chords, compose chord progressions, and determine correct scales to play simply by relating to shapes and patterns, with little or no regard to key signatures, notes, sharps, and flats. Even if you take the traditional route of thinking, you still have to translate the music concepts to the fretboard and connect the dots, so to speak. This is why guitarists usually prefer to make use of guitar tablature and neck diagrams over standard notation.
Have you ever wondered how it is that so many pro players don’t read music and have no formal training yet music makes complete sense to them on the fretboard? It’s because the fretboard is the real battleground and ultimately what matters most. If you want to understand music as it pertains to guitar playing, then you need to develop a proper fretboard perspective.
Getting to Know Fretboard Notes
Many guitar players set out with a goal to memorize all the notes on the fretboard. While this isn’t such a bad idea, and it can serve a good purpose in some situations, I consider it to be a distraction from a much more needed skill, visualizing shapes and patterns. This doesn’t mean that you can completely disregard notes. You still need to make a connection between shapes and patterns and notes to some degree. What most guitarists do is memorize the notes along the sixth and fifth strings since these strings are where most shapes and patterns originate. Octave shapes are used to trace notes on other strings back to the sixth and fifth strings where the note names are then identified.
Chords On the Fretboard
Getting into the details of guitar chord construction involves learning about major scales, intervals, triads, arpeggios, and chord tones and extensions. All of these musical elements are worked out on the fretboard in the form of shapes and patterns. Guitarists, more so than most other instrumentalists, know a chord by its shape rather than by its notes.
Scales On the Fretboard
Getting into the details of guitar scales involves learning pentatonic and major scale patterns, which are the base patterns guitar players rely on even when other types of scales are in use. Guitar scales and modes are worked out on the fretboard and related to chords and progressions all in the form of patterns. Guitarists know scales more so by their patterns rather than by their notes.
Progressions On the Fretboard
When it comes to how chords relate to one another and how chords combine to make progressions, once again patterns and fretboard visualization come into play. Chords form shapes, and progressions form patterns. Guitarists know chord changes more so by their numbered patterns rather than by their notes. These numbered patterns are used to chart progressions and follow a song’s movement such as 1-4-5, 1-6-2-5, and so on.
Would you like to learn more about music theory for guitar so that you can have a better understanding of how to play and compose songs? Studying theory will uncover the mysteries of music and help you more quickly develop your skills as a guitarist, songwriter, improviser, and composer. Sign up to receive my FREE 6-step email course, “Bedrock Guitar Theory of the Pros“, and discover the 6 simple concepts that will have you rockin’ guitar music like a pro in half the time of ordinary lessons.
Hailed 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, Guitar Picking Mechanics, 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.
Fretboard Basics For Beginners
If you’re just getting started with guitar and need to learn the very basics of playing, then please visit my beginner guitar page which features free guitar lessons for newbies.