What Is Fretboard Theory?

Take your guitar playing to the next level and learn how music "works" on the fretboard with my FREE 6-part lesson series, "Bedrock Guitar Theory of the Pros.”

Plus, get FREE access to the GMT member area where you can preview over 20 Fretboard Theory video courses on the exact scales, progressions, modes, and more that you’ll actually use in the music you play. Skip any pointless information, and learn only the knowledge you need to play like the pros.

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Fretboard Theory

Fretboard Theory bookFretboard 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.

As a teacher, I used to teach “by the book,” but I played in a different manner. One day 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?” At that moment, I began to teach my students to focus on the guitar fretboard and visualize everything as shapes and patterns, and I related everything to familiar songs by popular artists.

Over time, the lesson plans I created became the book, Fretboard Theory. Later, a second book was written, Fretboard Theory Volume II, and DVD programs were made. Today, there is over thirty hours of Fretboard Theory video instruction available in the GMT member area.

Keep reading below for 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 instruction 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 back-end look at a variety of popular songs.


Guitar Modes

There is perhaps no topic in music that causes as much confusion as 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 after completing Fretboard Theory.


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.


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.


Fretboard Theory Video Instruction

Fretboard Theory DVDs transparent 150Hopefully, you now see that studying theory will uncover the mysteries of music and help you more quickly develop your skills as a guitarist, songwriter, improviser, and composer. Your journey begins with the Fretboard Theory video instruction featured in the GMT member area. There are over 20 courses and 150 video lessons pertaining to scales, chords, progressions, modes, and more. Aside from learning these components of music individually, you learn how they fit together to make music. Furthermore, everything is taught from a guitar player’s perspective by focusing on the fretboard and relating all concepts to familiar songs.


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 member area, and is online everyday connecting with his subscribers and giving guitar players personalized training and support.


Take your guitar playing to the next level and learn how music "works" on the fretboard with my FREE 6-part lesson series, "Bedrock Guitar Theory of the Pros.”

Plus, get FREE access to the GMT member area where you can preview over 20 Fretboard Theory video courses on the exact scales, progressions, modes, and more that you’ll actually use in the music you play. Skip any pointless information, and learn only the knowledge you need to play like the pros.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.


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