Memorize and Understand Guitar Fretboard notes – for life
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Steve Stine: The idea is to help you better understand how to visualize the connectivity of the positions of your guitar. Um, in this case, we're gonna be using the pentatonic scale, but you could use any scale that you want. So when I used to teach, uh, private lessons a lot, one of the things that I came across a lot with students is people had a really hard time memorizing their fretboard. For instance, if you just took your first position of pentatonic, minor pentatonic in A, for instance...You could take that first position and you could memorize that, but people had a hard time memorizing the other positions and how to see them and how to connect them together.
All right. So what we're doing here is we're talking about three things that you can work on to better be able to visualize your fretboard. Now, the first one is what I call the “Lego connection”. Okay. What happens is if we start understanding that if I play this first position of A minor pentatonic here...If I just take that...And again, you could, you could apply this to any scale or arpeggio or anything that you're doing...I'm just going to keep this nice and easy. Okay? So if I was just learning the first position of A minor pentatonic, what I'm playing is: A, C, D, E, and G, and then it repeats A, C, D, E, and G, and then it repeats A, C, and I run out of strings. Okay. So “Penta”, meaning five, I'm playing five notes over and over and over. Okay? But what I want to do is when I'm memorizing that, that position, I might be thinking for instance, where the A’s are and all kinds of things like that. But what I want to do with this “Lego connection” idea is trying to figure out how to visualize that as two pieces, we're going to call this the back piece and we're going to call this the front piece. Okay? So if we're looking at that Lego piece sitting there, we've got five, eight, five, seven, five, seven, five, seven, five, eight, five, eight.
So if we think about the two pieces, we've got one piece that's five, five, five, five, five, five. And we've got the back piece here. We'll call this the front, and this is the back. Okay. So we've got eight, seven, seven, seven, eight, eight. You can call them whatever you want, but okay. So if we think about those two pieces of this one thing, okay? We think about the...Again, whatever you want to call this, I'm calling this the backside and this is the front piece or the back piece, and the front piece. Okay. So I've got fives and I've got eight, seven, seven, seven, eight, eight. So when I play this one position, it actually consists of two pieces because when I learn the second position, I've got eight, ten, seven, ten, seven, ten, seven, nine, eight, ten, eight, ten.
And what I need to understand here is that the second position is using the backside of the first position as the front side of the second position. So it's still the same because if you think about it, no matter what scale you're playing - in this case, we're using A minor pentatonic - I'm playing the same notes over and over and over. I have to play A, C, D, E, and G, no matter where I go on the guitar, I'm not all of a sudden going to have an F sharp or something. If I'm playing A minor pentatonic, my notes are A, C, D, E, and G. Okay? Over and over and over... So as I start moving up, if I think about this as Lego pieces, they're merely snapping together on top of each other. They're never shifted. They're snapping together on top of each other. So as I'm playing the second position, I now have, eight, ten, seven, ten, seven, ten, seven, nine, eight, ten, eight, ten.
So I'm still using that thread or membrane of eight, seven, seven, seven, eight, eight. That still exists right there. But now I've got this new backside, if you will, right front and back here, which is ten ten ten, nine, ten, ten. So if I start trying to visualize those and how they click together, okay? And I keep going, instead of just seeing them all as independent pieces, if I start trying to learn to see how they connect together with that membrane in the center, right. And I'm going to use that now, this is the second tip to this, and we're going to talk about this twofold. But what I did was I just jumped out on the internet and I downloaded a chart. So this is a fretboard chart right here. When I was in high school, whenever I was in my study halls and things like that, um, what I would do, because I didn't have my guitar with me is I would take these to study hall and I would practice writing down right here.
Okay. I would write down what I wanted to study. So for instance, right here, what I've written are the two positions. You probably can't see it very well, but I've written the two positions that I just played you of A minor pentatonic. And then I circled the routes. I circled the A's. Okay. And what I would do in the study hall is I would sit and I would study that I would just look at it and I would visualize all the different ways I could move in and out and back and forth in those positions. And then what I would get home and I would practice. What I would do is I would set this up for instance, on my, you know, music stand or whatever. And I would look at it. So as I'm practicing, and again, I'm not jamming to any music or anything. I'm just practicing. As I would look at this, I would start visualizing how I could slide in and out of each one of these positions. And, and of course, I only wrote two positions, cause that's what I'm showing you for today. But you could do that in any position that you want.
So step number one is learning to see each one of your positions as a Lego piece, with a backside and a front side, and then how it connects to the second position. And when you, when you connect to that second position, they're actually using the same thread or membrane in between. And then maybe you move to the third position and you see the same thing between the second and the third and the third and the fourth position. You see that same thing again. And you just keep trying to visualize that as you go across the guitar.
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Now back to the podcast.”
Now, you don’t need to be in any hurry with this, but I think the one thing people get wrong a lot is that we tend to think that practice only occurs when we have the guitar in our hands. Now there's no doubt that when the guitar’s in our hand, that's when the physical aspect of playing is, but we can do this anytime we have some spare time, even if our guitar isn't around. We can do this when we're at work or when we're traveling or something like that, I can sit and I can study this and visualize it and absorb the concept in my head without having to have the guitar around. I just can't actually practice the physical application without the guitar of course. But if that kind of makes sense, that's what I want you to start thinking about. Number one is the connection of the Lego pieces across the fretboard.
The second thing is, is practicing by visualization, not with your guitar in hand necessarily, but understanding that you can practice any time when you have this available. Okay. So I used to do a lot of practicing in school. When I had extra time, I would just sit and I would just study things. I would just look at them. So when I got home and I looked at my guitar, what I was really doing is visualizing this thing slapped on top of my guitar, right?
Okay. So the third thing I want to talk to you about, which I always thought was really cool once I started thinking about it is that if you were to visualize your entire fretboard, let's say you're visualizing a minor pentatonic and you visualized for instance, from A right here, our first position and our second position and our third position and our fourth position and our fifth position, right? Well that fifth position, which exists right below the first position, right? We know there are octaves here. So the fifth fret and the 17th fret are an octave. So the fifth position actually exists underneath here. And of course, the fourth position exists underneath there. So we have room to work underneath here, too. We just, we just work until we run out of frets, right? Either on this side or on this side. But if we wanted to play in another key, let's say we wanted to play in B minor pentatonic instead of A minor pentatonic. Well, then we have to shift everything up. So if you think about the guitar and the fretboard is almost like a treadmill on a guitar, and what you're really doing is you're just moving it like this. Okay? So when you want to be in B, you're pulling everything up this way. And some of the stuff on the top here is going to fall off like a treadmill, and it's going to come around this side and now it's going to be down here. Okay. So as we keep moving to a different key, right, we moved to the key of C then. So we shift this up a little bit. Everything stays intact. All of these Lego pieces stay intact all the way. It's just that some of it is going to fall off the top side and it's going to come around the bottom side as we keep moving up. Okay. Or of course, if we had to move back to G we would do the treadmill the other direction. Some would fall off this side and come back around to this side. So the most important thing to understand is no matter what key you're in, whether you're in, you know, A minor pentatonic or B minor pentatonic or D minor pentatonic, the connectivity of all of those Lego pieces stays the same the entire time. It's just, there's a limitation of how many frets you have on the guitar. So some of the stuff is going to fall off and come back around the other side and vice versa. Okay? So if you think about those three things that the connectivity of one position or one box or whatever, you'd like to call it the second one with that membrane in between understanding that they're just Lego pieces that click together. And then what you do is, instead of worrying about all the positions, you just start...Because you've heard me talk about meandering, I'm sure...Cause I've, I've talked about it in these Monday guitar motivations too, but you take those two positions as you start learning to visualize them both with the Lego piece and with this. And then you start learning to meander between those two to develop, you know, control and comfort and confidence for that matter with those two positions. And then you can move to the third position. You can start developing that one in and make that part of the whole thing, but just memorizing all five positions to say, you know how all five positions to me, it doesn't really matter. It's not important. It's not musical. What's the most important thing to me is that you make music with what you know. So I'd rather have, you know, two positions on the guitar, but really make great music with it, then all five positions just to say: “Hey, I can play all five positions up and down”! Learn to make music with what you know, and then do the third position and then do the fourth position. And that sort of thing as you keep going.
So again, to recap quickly, before I go here.
First thing, Lego connections, right?
The second thing, learning to visualize the fretboard and learn to practice when you don't have your guitar available, learn how to use a piece of paper like this, to study things when you don't...You know, maybe you're flying, you know, somewhere and you've got time on an airplane, but you don't have your guitar with you, you can always study things. I'm always studying things all the time. Speaker 2: (13:32)
So first thing, those Lego connections, the second thing, writing it down and studying it. And the third thing is understanding that treadmill idea. So as you move to another key, you're not redoing anything. It's exactly the same thing. It's just moving it up, which means some of this stuff is going to come down here, right? It's going to fall off the top of the guitar and it's going to come down here and vice versa as you move this direction.
So anyway, everybody has a wonderful week's practice, as much as you can. If you don't have time to practice, you can always do something like this, where you write some things down. When you're traveling in the car, when you're with relatives, whatever, and you've got some extra time, you can sit and you can study some things like that. So take care, stay positive and keep practicing.
Next time on the Steve Stein guitar podcast:
“I'm going to be talking about a riff. It's nothing fancy. We're just talking about a Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin today. And the reason I want to talk about this, maybe you know, this, maybe it's an old song for you. Maybe you've played it a thousand times, but that isn't the case for everybody.
What I do want to talk to you about is the importance of finding songs that do two things. Number one, they keep you motivated. And number two, they focus on certain elements of your playing that you want to focus on. So if you think about it, like when I was a kid, when I first started learning how to play guitar, it was because I loved Ozzy and I loved AC/DC and I loved Kansas and I loved Styx. And I loved all these bands, which is the reason I started playing. And then when I was playing, you know, I, my, my teacher was giving me, like, exercises to use with a metronome. And that is really important to do. Okay. But think of it this way, if you ever lose your motivation and you're just feeling like God, I, you know, I'm so sick of doing the same things over and over and over, remind yourself why you started playing in the first place, which was to play songs that you liked. And what I found is if I can incorporate with students, if I can incorporate songs that they like with techniques that they need to focus on and put the two together, we've got a win-win.”
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Millions of YouTube views and decades of teaching made Steve Stine into one of the biggest guitar-teaching authorities in the world. His university-level guitar fretboard courses are now available on guitarzoom.com.