Memorizing the guitar fretboard?

Hi Guys,

Any tips for memorizing a fretboard? My approach thus far has been:

  • visualizing the guitar, and trying to “see” an image of the notes overtop the guitar.
  • playing root note shapes. Like, play every “G” note
  • Slowly working through Guitar Fretboard Workbook

The issues I have are:

  • When I try to visualize, it works “zoomed-in” like when looking at only the first three frets, but when I zoom out, the imagry gets blury. It feels like to much to keep in my head at once, but maybe that’ll just improve over time?
  • It all feels so regular that I can’t tell anything apart. I’ve tried a few times to use stock mnemonics, like smashing a big fat grape into the fretboard where there is a G, but even with that, … it’s grapes everywhere. Maybe having individual / differentiating things for each note would help “make it special”

Any tips to approach this from a memory point of view?

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Nice to see another guitarist here - I also play :slight_smile:

Your brain doesn’t have enough space in its RAM to visualize the details of an entire guitar fretboard, which leads to the effect you described:

When I try to visualize, it works “zoomed-in” like when looking at only the first three frets, but when I zoom out, the imagry gets blury. It feels like to much to keep in my head at once […]

The solution is that when you’re visualizing to look around the fretboard, so e.g. to scan up and down for Gs.

More effective in general would be to learn these in context, e.g. by getting the guitar and playing scales such as D major, C minor, or arpeggios of the same, starting in different places on the guitar. In this way your fingers will learn where to find the notes.

My final comment is that many guitars have markings on them like this. If not you can just stick your own ones on however you like. I found that it was most useful to learn these first. E.g. I know that on the E-string they’re on G, A, B and C#. Learning these 4 gets you most of the way there, as then e.g. the 4th fret is just one semitone after the G, and so it’s G#/Ab.

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Don’t forget to go layer by layer, and take your time! When you add a visual review it 5 minutes later, 1 hour later, 1 day later, then 1 week later. Reviewing too much may also be the cause for your troubles. At first, try setting up some very basic visuals, maybe just enhance the fret board. Music divides great because it works out of base 12. It is always best to try to use the brains natural abilities for remembering, assuming you give it visual aid as well. So my suggestion is to divide the fret board up into thirds. And only focus on the first 12 frets at first because as you already know, the second 12 frets repeat. (counting the open strings as a fret), you would then imagine the first three frets covered in peanut butter. Imagine pushing your fingers through it and maybe visualize taking the peanuts out because you meant to get creamy peanut butter for your first three frets (counting the open strings as the first fret). Then the next three frets are a real life Sponge Bob square pants and you can push on these sponges and feel a real sponge, additionally when you touch it too hard, sponge bob gives his famous laugh. The next three frets could be marshmallows, golden brown and sticky, the last three frets could be covered in mash potatoes. This would be your day 1 visualization work. Make sure you do not do all of it at once! People have a tendency to repeat things they learn at first over and over and this leads to your brain visualizing mistakes! Trust me.
REMEMBER: The actual first fret on the guitar will be viewed as the second fret because we are counting the open strings as a spot. So get the first three down (more like the first 2 frets) and then walk away and come back 5 minutes later and review, then walk away and come back 1 hour later, then review, then 1 day later. After the 1 day review you can then begin to start playing but make sure to review 1 week later. You can add the next three after 1 hour of the first three. These visuals will be plenty enough to aid your perception of your fret board. Adding too much will muddy the waters.

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Sorry if this starts too basic, I’m not really sure what level you’re at, it is a great question to ask though, I certainly didn’t learn the locations of the notes early enough.

First things first is what @Daniel_360 said, the fret markers are your friend. As you look down on your guitar you should be looking at the smaller markers on the side of the fretboard. I’m not sure how vital it is to know specifically what those notes are, but it is vital to know what fret numbers they represent. You can’t know which note is where if you don’t know where you are, start by trying to hit fret numbers.

Build it up slowly. The most important notes to know at the beginning are those on the two bass strings, as they’ll be the root notes for 95% of your early chords. Think about them in terms of the natural notes (i.e. not sharp or flat) they will be obvious once you’ve learnt the more important part. Even if it isn’t your style, try to play some power chord songs slowly, they will all be based on the notes on the bottom two strings, from there you will be able to play all bar chords which will get you a long way

Next learn scales and arpeggios and say the notes as you play them. Start with C major and A minor, as they are have only got natural notes. The scales should be easy enough to find online. From there, improvise while saying the notes - it will sound terrible but that isn’t the point - go the tiniest bit quicker than you need to to get them all correct easily and you will start to say them naturally

Then play the scales on one string. It’s the best exercise for dexterity but that isn’t why you’re doing it, it puts you out of the positions you’ve learned from playing scales and teaches you to string them together. Again, say the notes as you play them, then improvise while saying notes as you play them. The point isn’t to sound good, it’s to surprise yourself into thinking of the notes which had left your mind, while learning the scales, i.e. the context in which you’ll actually use the notes

You may be disappointed with this advice. After all, it’s not the sort of way that we tend to think about memory on this site. But it isn’t the knowledge that’s difficult to get, so a system would become irrelevant after a couple of hours. If you learned the string names, and knew 1 fret was a semi tone and they repeated after 12 frets, you could work out any note within 10 seconds anyway. What you want is to be able to identify the notes within fractions of a second and developing the understanding to get there means that you will be better placed when you do get to that point

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Wow, thanks for all the advice everyone!

For a little context, at the moment I have about 30 mintues a day to practice guitar or ukulele. However, I have much more time that I am free to think (but can’t make noise). So, I thought why not learn where the notes are so that music will start to make more sense.

I totally see that in order to internalize this info (into my fingers without thinking), that it will take physical practice.

This is what I tried from your advice.

  • Stay zoomed-in and just “pan” the field of view
  • Visualize zones, like peanut butter on frets 0-3 (love it!)
  • Say the notes while I pantomine playing the fingerings and visualize the guitar in my hands.
  • Focus on the dotted frets 3,5,7, 9 --> visualize walking across them.
    • So for fret #3, it’s Grape, Car, F****ing, A flat tire, Dog, Grape all of which is smashed into peanut butter. Seeing the fret marker helps too.
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How is the book? Is it helping?

I haven’t been able to play guitar in over 10 years because of hand problems, but I started relearning recently. I saw this video on YouTube last night and thought the method was interesting.

Hi Josh. I’m sorry to hear about your hand man. I hope you find something that works for you. :slight_smile:

I am enjoying the book. I couldn’t say if the method is “the best” or not, but I feel like if I diligently go through the book over the course of a year then it’ll work, and I’ll just know what notes are under my fingers.

I’m digging learning music in general. It’s more fun as an adult with fewer hang ups and going about it with a general sense that improvement just takes directed effort. It’s funny but with music, if I notice the most microscopic improvement I’m so pleased.

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Thanks, medication is working, so I recently started playing again. I forgot nearly everything, but some of it is coming back after I play a bit. I’ll take a look at the book.

By the way, what kind of guitar music do people here play?

I’m restarting as well. I’m doing JustinGuitar.com and enjoying pop songs and fingerstyle.

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You could try and memorize each piece of information as a mnemonist. That would be, extracting all the information to be memorized and create patterns to identify and memorize such with images and the method of loci.

This is overkill and probably better not to do:

For instance: number of fret (1-14), string (1-6) and note name (1-7 alphabet) would be a piece of information to be memorize. Just 72 notes. That you can identify by numbers of pairs, instead of 1,2,3 you think of, 01,02,03…, now each note will be the equivalent of a 6 digit combination: fret - position - note. And there are patterns to help you memorize the notes faster:

fret1 - position1 - note(Alphabet to numbers)
fret1 - position2 - note(//)
fret1 - position2 - note(//)
fret1 - position3 - note(//)
fret1 - position4 - note(//)
fret1 - position5 - note(//)

You will have 14 of these, and simply memorize the numbers, as numbers, then recall giving it the meaning they have.

Obviously, you could already notice that this is overkill and more work than needed, after all, the fret and position is not what you want to know, but that in the fret-position, there is a particular note.

This should work:

Use the image loci method or dedicated loci method:

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Use a loci for the fret and position, select a room, or object or whatever for the fret, on this Fret loci you now select a within/on/around but in tandem with or to this Fret loci, six positions, this then will be the Fret-Position loci.

2

Now place on your Fret-Position loci each note with a particular image.

This method is also good to memorize language grammar, consider that all the cases of the nouns for Russian can be memorized within 18 loci. The use of peg should be made whenever it reduces work.

For the notes, I’d use a alphabet peg for the notes and nothing more but the technique. This I have not tested in this particular case.

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I’ve heard that it’s a good website. I got his metronome app and note trainer apps a few weeks ago when I saw them.

I’m experimenting with mnemonics while I work through this book, but the ideas are still in the early stages.

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Here’s another video with some ideas on memorizing the fretboard. YouTube probably suggested it because I watched the other one. :slight_smile: