Tips for Guitar-and Bass Players to Unlock the Fretboard: Get to Know Your Fretboard NOW!!!

For this article a short brief on the various methods you can use to get to know the fretboard of your instrument better.

Why is it so useful to know the fretboard? Isn’t it enough to play by feel? Having knowledge of where the notes and chords are on the fretboard of the guitar and bass is a must for any improvising musician. In improvised music you need to create music on the fly of the moment. Being able to visualise chordsequences will help you with your creative harmonic-and melodic ideas. Even if you do not play improvised music, having knowledge of the fretboard will help you with your composing of songs and musical arrangements.

When I ask students about a particular note on the fretboard most students start to count their musical alphabeth from any given string. Most people will be able to do this, but can you do this when you are playing? There are tricks to get to know your fretboard quickly:  Make use of the fretboardmakers on your fretboard, work with associations: learn to recognise chordshapes, intervalshapes and inversions.
Okay, most of your reading this article will have heard about these issues so let us get real now:

                             Tip Number One: Have Fun Fun Fun and more Fun!!!

Sounds logical eh? Anyone studying the guitar has fun in their own way. I ,myself, like to create things, things I made, things which come from my heart. That is one of my ways to have fun. How can you apply this to learning the fretboard? Easy! Play a riff of only a handful of notes. Play this riff in one particular area, let us say in first postion (avoid open strings for now!) Play this riff for a little while until you really know it. Now start naming the notes of that riff. In you need to you can write them down. You can even tab your own riff, then write the notes down of the riff.
Next step is: To play the first note of that riff in another place on the fretboard. Maybe you can take it up an octave. Once you have that first, important note, then try to find all the other notes of the riff. Try to find them as close as you can, to all the other notes, just the same as the riff in the orginal postion. See how the shape of the riff has changed, (or maybe it has not!) Play this riff again for a little while. Go back to the orginal postion, then shift again to the new position, all on the fly of the moment. Very good for your technique and visual skills of seeing things on the fretboard. Whenever you work on something, keep things practical and real. This little riff you made here is of you! You came up with it, and you play it. Changes are that they form part of your musical integrity. It shows you something how you use your fingers and what kind of notechoise you have. This is something you need to develp and nuture.
Once you feel comfortable with your riff in the two positions you can move on to a new part of the fretboard. Have you noticed how you forget time while doing this? You are having fun playing your little riff, but in the meantime (I hope!!) you are learning notes in different places on the fretboard.
You can carry on finding new places on the fretboard where to play your riff until you start repeating yourself. For the less adventures of you: Just stop once you feel you have learned enough! Maybe one new postition for one week will do!

                     Tip Number Two: It is not about notenames but intervals!!

Without going to much into detail about how to define a musical interval, in short it is the distance between one note and the next note. You will find intervals in anything you play: Riffs, Melodies, Chords and Partial Chords.
Musical intervals do have a shape, and a shape can be repeated in various places on the fretboard. A notename is just a name, without any further information you can not do much with it. A notename starts to get meaning in context of another note, another interval.
As is often the case with studying theory, there are quite a few different intervals. Without bombarding yourself with a lot of information (Which you will forget soon!) just focus for now on your two chords: The major and minor. Major and minor chords do have a Root, a Third and a Fifth. The Third makes a chord major or minor: Major chords do have a major third: distance of four frets on the guitar—-play C on  3rd fret of A string, then go to E on 7th fret of same string. Now count the distance, or in plain English: How many frets from C before you hit E? Four frets is your answer! 
Now play those same notes over two strings: Play same C —3rd fret on A string— while you play E on the 2nd fret of the D string. Now you can play those two notes at the same time, whereas before we only played them ONE by ONE on one string (which you can not hear as a pair of notes!).
As you play this major third interval, observe the shape and sound of the interval.
Use this interval in simlar manner as the riff in first example: Play it in various places on the fretboard.
You are on your way to become a improvising guitarplayer who uses double stops!
Bonus: Once you play the third you can add another note to create a major chord. Add that note to all the various places where you play your major third to create a major chord. You see how much you have learned from this with such a simple task?!

                       Tip Number Three: For BassPlayers Only: Jaco Said: Play them over one string baby!!      

The great Jaco Pastorius had increadible chops on the bassguitar. He was not only a great bassplayer, he was also a fabulous composer with an insight which instruments would gell very well in a particular composition.
When asked about his fretboardknowledge he mentioned that he preferred to play his arpeggios along the fretboard instead of in postion. It is true that whilst playing in position (no matter how important this is!) you can feel your way around the fretboard. Also most players will use this mode of playing most of the time.  Moving across the fretboard using only a handful of strings is simply a lot more work. You cannot fake it, hit a wrong note and you will hear it straight away! Guitar Players should play their arpeggios in a similar manner, it will give you a more legato (smooth) sound.

Watch Jaco talk about the study of arpeggios himself in this video here. It starts at 6.37

When you watch the whole video observe how Jaco moves around on the fretboard, he hardly stays in one area on the fretboard. He just moves along with the music he hears in his head.
To try some of those ideas for yourself—yes you guitarplayers as well!!— grab a few notes, play them on one string, set up a groove and play, Try sticking first to playing over a few strings, ask yourself what notes you are playing. Move along postions, try developing your first idea by exploring other ideas, and add them to your orginal idea, this is how the compositon grows. If you do this often you will learn to play these ideas on the spot. Very useful and musically satisfying!!


Because I can only give you tips here I do not know your own personal situation: Find out your weaknesses, do you know the musical aphabeth? Do you know what an interval is? Which ones are commonly used in the music you play? Which chords do you play often? Build up a list of what you do not know, and in relation to the fretboard get to work with some of the suggested ideas above. Do not forget to have fun, and whenever you read about theory have your guitar in hand and go through it on the fretboard whatever the book (or website) tries to explain to you.
Needless to say it is a good habit for guitarplayers to learn to read music. Again this will help you, and will aid you to explore other kinds of musics which you did not consider before. Be patient and enjoy. If you have never read any music before I would suggest to start with a simple beginners method. They are quite a few around on the market. They will introduce you to reading by learning simple tunes and musical ideas. Once your reading progresses you can try books from various composers in the Classical or Jazz field. Again these compositions will give you ideas for your own writing and development as a player and musician.
Enjoy, have fun and hope to see you very soon.