The Only Exercise You Will Need To Learn The Fretboard

Knowing the notes on the fretboard is a pretty rare skill even for intermediate guitar players. Why it is so? For all other instruments the first thing absolute beginners learn is how to "find" the notes on their instrument.

One of the consequence of this attitude is that guitar players find music theory needlessly difficult. Indeed it is quite hard to understand (for instance) how to create a controlled dissonance by playing a D note over a Cm chord, if you have no idea where the D note is in the first place and can find it in "real time". Many cool-sounding music theory concepts would be relatively simpler to learn and apply if you can find the notes on the fretboard effortlessly.

Sure, some people will say that they can find the notes all over the fretboard "given enough time". News flash: this is as useless as it sound. If you are playing you have a split second time to find the note you want, otherwise you are going to miss the musical moment.

As it happens, most guitarists are simply too scared to den try to learn their notes. They put off this task for a long time, and in their imagination it is an immense and impossible task. All the notes? Over all the strings and all the frets? It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it's probably not worth the effort.

In fact, learning the notes in a permanent way is a quite simple task that most people can do by practicing a specific exercise only few minutes a day for few weeks. It is not going to be boring either. How is that possible? Well, watch the video below to learn what you have to do and how.

A few suggestions to make your learning faster:

  • Make it a game! I used to challenge myself to play the notes with the metronome as described in the video faster and faster, or playing them in a random order. How fast can you go today?
  • Learn with a friend. A game is more fun if it's done with somebody else. For instance you can call a note and your friend has to play it, and then you reverse roles. In a sense, it's like Guitar Hero, only with real guitars and with real learning.
  • Don't get obsessed: as mentioned in the video, you won't remember the patterns consciously. That's OK. You will see that very soon you will simply know where the notes are. I don't remember the patterns either: I find them again on the spot every time I show this exercise. The exercise is just a bridge to take you to the other side of the river, so practice it only until it's useful.

Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.

Tommaso Zillio