Your knowledge of the fretboard is weak and you’d like to correct this.
Become well acquainted with the notes by viewing the fretboard through a handful of different vertical and horizontal perspectives.
1) See the same note in different places
A good way of really getting to know each string is to see where its note is repeated. This concept is demonstrated in Example 1, which shows the four locations of the same notes found on the open top strings, the three locations of the open D note, and two of the open A. You might have noticed the omission of the low open E; that’s because there’s only one instance of it on a guitar in standard tuning. Try this same exercise with other random notes on the neck.
2) Connect the dots
Fret markers—those inlays on the fretboard, paired with dots on the side or binding, usually at frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, and 17—are very useful for finding where you are on the fretboard. Play the notes at these frets on each string, as shown in Example 2. Continue the pattern to strings 5 and 6. (In standard tuning, the notes on string 6 are of course the same as those on string 1.) Be sure to say the name of each note as you play it.
Next, connect these dots by playing all of the notes on each string up to the 12th fret—see Example 3—again, saying the name of each note. If you’d like, venture past the 12th fret. Just remember that the notes repeat themselves. Take, for instance, an open E string. The 12th fret is also E, frets 1 and 13 are F, frets 2 and 14 are F#, and so on.
3) Move Some Chords Around
You probably already know that certain chords are moveable—that is, a single shape can be used to generate the same chord type on any root note. Moving chords around is another good way to get to know the fretboard. For example, as depicted in bar 1 of Example 4, take an open-A chord, move the shape up one fret for a Bb chord, one more fret for a B chord, and so on. Continue the pattern up and down the fretboard, naming each chord as you play it, and do the same with an E chord, as shown in bar 2. Try this exercise with other chord types and shapes as well.
4) Work on Scalar Patterns
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Practicing scales is yet another way to get well acquainted with the fretboard. Scales tend to be played across the fretboard, rather than up and down it, and therefore by practicing scales you’re working on a different approach to visualizing the fretboard. For instance, the first two bars of Example 5 show the C major scale in one octave, and the second two bars contain a Db major scale. As with the other exercises, try extending this example to other scale types and fingerings, too.
After working through this lesson’s exercises, take melodies and chord progressions that you already know and try playing them in different positions. You’ll start to see common patterns, and after a bit of practice you’ll know the fretboard without even thinking about it.
Ron Jackson is a New York City-based master jazz guitarist, composer, arranger, producer, and educator who’s played with Taj Mahal, Jimmy McGriff, Randy Weston, Ron Carter, and many others. practicejazzguitar.com.