About the Author
Just Rijna is a guitarist and educator based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. He is the founder of StringKick, an online training academy for guitar players. StringKick is focused on helping you to train your ears, learn music theory and develop your musicality, all with the goal of making your musical journey more fun and fulfilling.
Getting to know the entire fretboard can seem like a daunting task. It might also seem like something that's not very musical and, frankly, quite dull to learn. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are ways to get to know the fretboard that are both musical and fun, and that can give you a greater sense of freedom on your instrument. In this article, I’ll share three playful approaches that will make you feel more comfortable on the guitar neck.
1. Improvisation Limitation
For this first approach, you need two things: a scale shape you know well, and a song (or backing track) you enjoy improvising over using that scale. Let's consider the A minor pentatonic scale, which consists of five different notes: the root, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Here’s one position on the neck where you can play this scale:
Let's assume that you're familiar with this position. Can you identify other places on the neck where you can play these same notes? For instance, you might play them in the following way:
Or play the scale higher up the neck:
Find a position on the fretboard that you're not too familiar with and that feels somewhat uncomfortable. Discovering this position is useful, but the real progress occurs in the next step. Turn on the song you selected and begin improvising, restricting yourself to this new position! Gradually, you'll become more comfortable with it. Once you do, move on to another position you want to learn.
This method works with any scale you prefer. It playfully guides you in exploring a new part of the fretboard in small, manageable steps. To advance this technique, try limiting the number of strings you're 'allowed' to use. Playing the minor pentatonic scale on just two or even one string encourages you to think 'vertically' on the fretboard. This approach is excellent for integrating all the shapes you've learned.
2. Reposition Licks and Solos
Learning to play a solo by one of your guitar heroes and accompanying the record is immensely enjoyable. It's an excellent way to acquire licks for your own improvisation. Typically, we learn to play these licks in one position and stick to that method. However, in this exercise, the aim is to transpose those licks to various locations on the fretboard. Similar to the previous method, identify a new position on the fretboard that feels somewhat unfamiliar and relocate the lick there. You might even attempt to shift an entire solo you've mastered to different positions. While this may be challenging, it's an enjoyable challenge!
The effectiveness of this exercise lies in the fact that you're already familiar with the lines and licks in the solo. Transposing them to different areas of the neck can be quite revelatory. This way, you're leveraging your existing knowledge to gain increasing comfort across the fretboard.
3. Smooth Chord Switching
When playing chord progressions, it's beneficial to know how to play the same chord in different positions on the fretboard. While you could learn this by simply moving a single chord around, a more engaging and realistic practice method involves alternating between two different chords. For instance, many songs feature transitions between a C chord and an F chord. Therefore, being adept at switching between these chords in various locations across the fretboard is extremely useful.
Quick disclaimer: This next part requires some knowledge of music theory for guitar to understand. But I’ll keep it as simple as possible.
As you may be aware, chords such as C and F are known as 'triads', meaning they consist of three different notes. In this exercise, we're focusing on major triads, which are composed of the root note, major third, and perfect fifth.
A C major triad is formed from the notes C, E, and G. Similarly, an F major triad consists of the notes F, A, and C. Here's how the exercise works: We'll start with a C chord. Then, we'll transition each note to the nearest note that belongs to an 'F chord'. For example:
Let me highlight a couple of key points:
- We only needed to alter two notes: the E was moved up to F, and the G to A. Both the C chord and the F chord contain the note C, so we can retain that one.
- We rearranged the notes in the F chord. Instead of the usual F-A-C, we have it as C-F-A. This rearrangement is known as an 'inversion'.
Now, the question is, how would we convert this back into a C chord as we continue up the fretboard? Here’s the method:
Conclusion: The Power of Games
These were just a few examples of how you can playfully find your way around the fretboard. Naturally, you can apply this same principle to pretty much anything you practice: Make it into a game. There’s a reason people spend dozens of hours trying to beat video games: it’s fun to be challenged. So use that to your advantage to develop your musical skills.
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