|Guitar Lesson - Learning the Whole Fretboard|
|Tips to help guitarists memorize note names on all strings|
I remember it vividly... the entrance interview for placement in the Music Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. For six months, I had been fully absorbed in learning exotic scales, transcribing, writing chord melodies, in preparation for this interview. Everything had gone well up to this point, and I was beginning to relax. It was then, my interviewer, the late Peter Harris, casually asked me to complete the following exercise. I fell on my face. Peter instructed:
Play me the note Ab, beginning on your sixth string, then on the fifth string, then on the fourth string, etc. I want you to play the note on all six strings in a steady tempo, at a tempo of your choosing.
This should've been easy... but for some reason, we as guitarists tend to learn some very advanced concepts, long before we master the rudiments. Try the above exercise, substituting a different note for Ab. If you have any difficulty in completing it, keep reading for tips on learning the entire fretboard. The following is for guitarists who have already learned the names of the notes on the sixth and fifth strings, so if you haven't already mastered these, then you'll need to read this lesson first.
1. First String, Same as the Sixth
Okay, this one isn't rocket science. Both the first, and the sixth strings are "E strings". So, if you know the fifth fret of the sixth string is an A, then it makes sense that the fifth fret of the first string will also be an A. Three strings down, and three more to learn.
This is a great way to learn the note names on the fourth and third strings. All you do is find the note you're looking for on the sixth or fifth string, and then find the octave of that note on the fourth or third string, respectively.
If you know the note names on the sixth string, then you know the note names
on the fourth string. Simply count over two strings from the sixth, and up two
frets, and you've found the octave of the note on the sixth string. Let's use
the note C as an example. If we know that C is at the eighth fret of the sixth
string, then by counting over two strings, and up two frets, we also know that
C is at the tenth fret of the fourth string.
Now we can apply the same philosophy to learning notes on the third string. By finding the appropriate note on the fifth string, and counting over two strings, and up two frets, you'll have found the octave on the third string. So, again using C as an example, if we know that C is on the fifth string, third fret, we can count over two and up two to find that C is also at the third string, fifth fret.
3. The Second String... Just Learn It!
Yes, we can apply the octaves philosophy to help learn the note names on the second string. But there are problems, since the "over two, up two" process doesn't work with the second string (due to the differing tuning of the string). What we can do is find the appropriate note on the fifth string, and count over three strings, and down two frets.
use C as an example again for finding the note name on the second string. Knowing
that C is on the fifth string, third fret, we can count over three strings,
and down two frets to see that C is also on the second string, first fret.
While this is a perfectly legitimate way to start learning the note names on the second string, I truthfully always found this to be slightly tedious, and instead opted to just memorize the names of notes on the second string, the same way I had memorized note names on the sixth and fifth strings when I began to play guitar.
When you've gotten comfortable with the above methods of learning these note names, try the initial exercise again... choose a random letter (Bb, or E, or F#, etc) and try to play that note on all six strings, in order (sixth, fifth, fourth...), all in a tempo set by you. If you're able to get through all six strings in tempo, then choose a different note, and speed up the tempo slightly. Getting to know the notes all over the fretboard is an absolutely essential step in getting your guitar playing to that "next level". With this knowledge, you'll be able to begin playing chord shapes and arpeggios all over the neck, playing scale fragments with roots on the third or fourth string, and much more. Just keep at it... a little hard work is all it takes.