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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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:

Amazing! I came across this video on YouTube and yes it works! Though the guy discourages memorization, says it will all come together.

I am an old beginner on guitar. Having started by good old strumming using all the open major chords (except b) and the major (sic) minor chords a, e and d. Felt I was doing great without the complicated power chords and trying to play solos.

Recently, I discovered that the guitar was a huge instrument when I went to YouTube. Pentatonics, chords progressions etc blew my mind.

I’m following this discussion keenly. Thanks!

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Small update. It’s been ~ 1 year and 500 hours of practice since I picked up the guitar again.

I realized just practicing the skill of the guitar is more important than memorizing anything, so this project has taken a back seat. However, I’m still working through that Guitar Fretboard Workbook slowly at about 10min / day. I’m on to learning different scale patterns. It’s starting to work. For a few fingerstyle songs, if I pause and think, I can work out which chords are being outlined.

@LEgomyegobro I’ve been working on your layering advice and that really helps. I used peanut-butter, jelly, marshmallow s’mores and hot coals. Since doing that I automatically form some mental connections when playing things without trying just because it’s funny. Gmaj in 3rd position is “all jelly” and Fmaj is PB&J, etc.

Since doing the layering, I’m starting to be able to add more details. Like the strings in the nut slots.

I’m hoping that eventually I can see all the strings with notes over-top.

Also, I had a CRAZY IDEA! I could buy a cheapo replacement guitar neck and make a Lukasa board, gluing on beads? That probably won’t help me play better, but it might help me recall the notes better? I could probably do it for < $100. Not sure if it’s worth the effort though!

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Hi,

I thought I’d jump in as I’ve been using various memory techniques to memorise the Guitar successfully for a number of years (I’m a guitarist and teacher and have use these techniques with my students over the years).

Its worth thinking about what you mean when you’re asking about “memorizing the fretboard”, because there are multiple dimensions to this that you may not be aware of, and they’re all interacting to a greater or lesser extent when I’m playing. Let me see if I can spell some of them out.

  1. Learning the notes in an absolute sense. For example, “can you find a C or a Bb on the 4th string”. (This is probably where you’re coming from in the original question).

  2. Learning the relative intervals (or note functions) from any given pitch.
    So for example I could ask you to put your index finger on any note and play it. Now we’re going to treat that as a root note and I will ask you to play a flat 5th or major 3rd or minor 7th interval from that note.

  3. Learning shapes and patterns, for example chord shapes, bar chords etc, Scale shapes major minor, diminished, Pentatonics, arpeggio shapes etc.

  4. Learning motor-skills, and classes of movement. This is possibly not what you might think of as a mnemonic technique, but you will find that there are classes of movement that reoccur often when playing the guitar. once your hands learn these, you’ll find you’re able to build on them and reuse them in other applications and accelerate learning.

A great example of this is the 3 note per string scale shapes. These are scale shapes that are arranged with exactly 3 notes on each string. The down side is that you can get some quite tricky stretches when you try to play them. the up side is that you can take these skills to accelerate playing many other similarly laid out scale shapes and patterns.

There are whole host of others too (2 notes per string, 1 note per string, alternating 1-2-1-2 or 1-3-1-3 etc).

  1. Ear training and Relative pitch as applied to the guitar (or perfect pitch if you have it - I don’t). This is about directly playing the music in your head, not playing shapes or dots you’ve memorised. It’s about knowing what a 5th or 6th sounds like and being able to recognise it as such.

Relative pitch seems to be much more trainable than perfect pitch, and there are a few different routes into this, for example learning tunes and melodies that demonstrate intervals.

Anyway, sorry for being so long winded, but I think it’s useful to understand what we really mean when we talk about learning the neck.

Regarding learning the notes on the neck (paragraph 1 above), slightly ironically that is probably the one area that I recommend just learning it by rote rather than using and clever mnemonics, as this becomes really useful when you have instant recall.

(Unfortunately as this is my first post I cant attach links, but happy to discuss aspects of this further if you’re interested).

Regards

Steve

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Wow. Thanks for the wonderful reply.

I could imagine how the hand proceduralizing from “here” to the 3rd or 5th (etc) would be really cool. I say the scale degrees when I play scales. I imagine think one day that is going to help towards knowing immediately how to play a function or interval.

I have been working on relative pitch too, using “Functional Ear Trainer App” and singing solfege with for another 15min/day activity. In the end though, as a hobby and to keep it fun, I split the time between just playing for fun and trying to improve. :slight_smile: There are only so many drills you can (make yourself) do if you aren’t aiming to be a performer.

Regarding all the memory tricks, I think in the timeline of learning, they really help sometime after rank beginner and before intermediate. For example, surely instant rote recall of what note is under your finger can’t be done with memory tricks. However, in my experience, the memory ticks can get give you a boost making it easier to start working toward the intermediate task. Take for example programing, memorizing the python modules won’t immediately help you create better programs, but it will remind you where to look before setting off to reinvent the wheel and give you a hook to hang ideas off of. I think there is some parallel with music and guitar. All that said, I am a beginner with music and music (like sports) seem to depend on learning by doing moreso than theory.

What do you think?

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How is that one? I got two similar ones a few months ago: Complete Ear Trainer and Perfect Ear.

It’s free based on https://www.miles.be/.

It seems to really work better than just drilling intervals because it helps you associate the sounds in a context by always starting with a mini I-IV-V-I progression.

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Thanks, I’ll try it. I think the ones I got were $4 or $5 each. They are both good, but I was using Complete Ear Trainer most recently.

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Regarding all the memory tricks, I think in the timeline of learning, they really help sometime after rank beginner and before intermediate.

Yes, though the way I describe them is that they help in getting shapes off the paper and into your memory. There are a huge number of scales - many more than I normally use (and I’ve been playing for 40 years!) so the techniques are still useful to me now as an advanced player.
Here’s an example of me talking about one that I use to teach the major/ natural minor scales
(I cant post links still so you’ll have to build the url by hand)
youtu.be/GKp7vpAVuD4

For example, surely instant rote recall of what note is under your finger can’t be done with memory tricks.

Yes exactly, my hands just “know” these shapes, I don’t consciously think about them, just like when a tennis player runs for a shot, they don’t focus on how to move their legs in order to run correctly they’re just thinking about the ball and how to win the point.

Regarding ear training, there’s a little subtlety that may help you. Everything we hear has context. It is in the context of the key that the note is played against and also the chord/ harmony of the background. So if you hear the note B in the context of a piece of music in B major it will sound very different to a B in the context of a piece of music in C major.

Many Ear Trainers just give you random pairs of notes and ask you what the interval is between them. There is no context between one pair of notes and the next so you may struggle to do this. the reason being that your brain has latched on to the previous pair of notes and is now using that context to try and figure out the next pair.

The more useful type of ear trainer gives you notes from a specific key and asks you what the interval of that note is from the root. This maintains context through the exercise and is much more applicable to the real world. Here’s an example of one.
(again you’ll have to build it).
www musictheory net/exercises/ear-note

This is not to say the interval based one is useless, just that this one tends to give faster results that are more applicable to real music.

Good luck with it.

Steve

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