Learn the Foundational Concept That
Will Enable You to Master Guitar!
Is the guitar neck a mystery to you? Tired of the hunt-and-peck, trial-and-error approach? Are you beginning to think that there must be a better way?
This 5-lesson series will give you THE foundation from which a complete understanding of the guitar neck derives. You will learn:
The names and locations of 12 notes.
How to memorize and practice these 12 notes in the most optimum way possible.
From these 12 notes you will learn to visualize all other notes on the neck without memorizing every note on every string. You will be able to find ANY note - ANYwhere on the neck!
From these 12 notes all chords, scales, arpeggios, etc. can be visualized!
BONUS: The 3rd & 4th lesson include valuable technique tips as well as a video demonstration proving that this is so easy even a 7-year-old can do it!
This lesson series includes:
17 fretboard diagrams, pictures and other graphics
8 demonstration video links
Most lessons available from Master Guitar School presuppose these 5 lessons:
Lesson 1: Six Notes
Note the names and locations of 6 notes in this order: B - E - A - D - G - C.
They alternate on the 6th and 5th strings and occur on frets that have dots (frets 3, 5 & 7)
- or whatever the fret markings are on your guitar.
1) Play and recite note names. Memorization aid: notice the word, BEAD. So all you have to remember is BEAD-G-C.
Sharp (raise) the Six Notes.
2) When a sharp sign (#) occurs after the letter (e.g. A#), the sound goes up a half-step (1 fret).
Flat (lower) the Six Notes
3) When a flat sign (b) occurs after the letter (e.g. Ab), the sound goes down a half-step (1 fret).
4) Many notes have more than one name. For instance, G# and Ab are the same sound. The technical term for this is enharmonic. Enharmonic definition: one sound, different spelling. There are reasons to call it G# and other reasons to call it Ab. You don't need to understand all that now, all you need to know is that many notes have more than one name. It's not a big deal - hat/cap, couch/sofa, car/automobile - lots of things have more than one name. The original 6 notes you learned (B-E-A-D-G-C) are sometimes referred to as natural, as in, A natural as opposed to Ab or A#.
So at this point, you have memorized the names and locations of 6 natural notes, 6 sharped notes and 6 flatted notes - that's 18 note names - and all you have to remember is BEAD-G-C!
If you can play the following note-sequences and recite the names of the notes without referring to the above diagrams, you are ready to proceed to the next lesson.
Lesson 2: Add C & F to the Six Natural Notes
We're now going to add C and F to our six notes from the previous lesson. C and F are not on a fret marked by a dot like the other 6 naturals. There is only a half-step (adjacent frets) between B and C as well as E and F. All other naturals have a whole-step (a fret in-between the 2 notes) between them.
Because there is only a half-step between B and C you generally don't see B# because that's the same thing as C. You generally don't see Cb because that's the same thing as B. In other words, B# and C are enharmonic. The same goes for E and F. The word, "generally" is an equivocation - there are exceptions. If you know anything about the piano keyboard, you know that there is no black key between B and C as well as no black key between E and F. This is merely the guitar equivalent.
Also this lesson introduces the fact that there are 2 completely different places to play the exact same C. If you play one and then the other you will hear that they are the same pitch. This demonstrates the fact that, unlike the piano, the guitar is a non-linear instrument. There are multiple places to play almost everything. On the piano, there is one, and only one, place to play the octave above middle C. On the guitar there are five. And so the confusion begins!
So at this point, you have memorized C-F-BEAD-G-C ...and... you understand the concept of sharping and flatting notes which gives you the notes in between the naturals. That's a LOT of notes! AND you know the names of all of them!
If you can play and recite the names of the naturals:
without referring to the diagrams above,
and you understand the concept of sharping and flatting notes,
you are ready to proceed to the next lesson.
Lesson 3: The Circle of Keys
The Circle of Keys is also known as the Key Circle. If you start at the top (C) and move clockwise it is known as the Circle of 5ths. If you move counter-clockwise, it's the Circle of 4ths. It is the latter function that's relevant to our purpose - as is indicated by the arrows - since the guitar is tuned in 4ths.
The Circle of Keys is deep and has many functions. However, we are using it here for a single purpose: as a mechanism to memorize names and locations of 12 different notes (13 if you count C twice) on the 6th and 5th strings.
Start at C on the 6th string (8th fret). Move counter clockwise around the Circle (the left side) and stop at Gb (at the bottom of the Circle). You'll notice that you alternated between the 6th and 5th strings, and all the notes you played were on frets that were between the dots (or whatever the fret markers are on your brand of guitar). You may use any finger you're comfortable with.
Memorize the names and locations of these notes in cyclical order, i.e., the notes on the left side of the Circle:
C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb
Notice that Gb and F# are the same note, they have the same location - 6th string/2nd fret.
The technical term for this is "enharmonic". It means that there's one sound, but different names for that sound. There is a reason to call it Gb and another reason to call it F# but we're not concerned with that now (many notes have enharmonic spellings). We're going to call it Gb in order to maintain the symmetry of the circle.
So, continuing our counterclockwise movement around the Circle, we will move from Gb to B. We are now on the right side of the Circle. All the notes on this side are located on frets that have dots. Memorize the names and locations of these notes in their cyclical order, i.e., the notes on the right side of the Key Circle: B - E - A - D - G - C.
The C that we ended on is in a different location (5th string/3rd fret) than the C that we started from (6th string/8th fret). However, both C's have the same pitch - they are the same note. This illustrates the fact that the guitar is not a linear instrument like the piano - there are multiple places to play almost everything. That's one of the confusing things about the guitar but never fear, I've got this!
So the goal of this lesson is that you can play the notes of the Key Circle and recite out loud the names of the notes as you play them, without looking at the Circle of Keys diagram (you can look at your hand as much as you want).
C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G - C
Memorization Aid: Notice the word "BEAD" in the above sequence. On the left side of the Circle the "BEAD" is flat: Bb - Eb - Ab - Db. The right side of the Circle the "BEAD" is natural: B - E - A - D. In addition the "D" is always followed by a "G". So "BEAD-G" happens on both sides of the Circle. Add "C" and "F" to the beginning and "C" to the end and you've got it.
Left side: C-F-BEAD-G (the BEAD-G is all flats.)
Right side: BEAD-G-C.
Once you can do that, drill it every day for a week. Play the notes and say the names as many times in each practice session as you can tolerate. Almost everything we do will be based on this.
A 7-year-old can do it!
Technique Tip: Place your finger as close to the body-side of the fret as possible. The string doesn't vibrate from your fingertip, it vibrates from the fret-wire. All you have to do is push the string down until it touches the fret-wire, any more force than that is wasted energy. If your finger is on the headstock side of the fret (left picture below), you have to push the string farther to get it to touch the fret-wire. If your finger is right up behind the fret-wire (right picture below), you don't have to push the string as far. Placing the finger at the proper place right behind the fret-wire results in less effort being expended and also increases the potential that you'll get a good sound with no buzzing.
If you can play and recite the names of the notes of the Key Circle without referring to this page then you are ready to proceed to the next lesson.
Lesson 4: Octaves
An octave is the 8th tone of a major scale ("oct" is Latin for "eighth", e.g., octopus = 8 tentacles, octagon = 8-sided shape, etc).
All octaves from a given root have the same letter name as that root. This means that, if you know the notes of the Key Circle, and you have a method for finding octaves, you can find any note anywhere on the guitar neck. Thus, you know the notes on the other strings (4th, 3rd, 2nd, & 1st strings) by a pattern based on the Key Circle notes.
Here is a pattern for finding octaves from Key Circle notes:
The octaves based on the 6th string roots are on the 4th & 2nd strings. The Key Circle note is the root that we know the name of. The octave on the 4th string is the first octave from the Key Circle note and has the same name - whatever it is. The octave on the 2nd string is the second octave from the Key Circle note and also has the same letter name.
The octaves based on the 5th string roots are on the 3rd & 1st strings, which are the first and second octaves, respectively, from the 5th string Key Circle notes and have the same letter name.
The memorization and drilling of the octave pattern around the Key Circle should be done in 2 stages:
STEP 1: Play the root (the Key Circle note) and the first octave together using the index and ring finger. To play the first and second octave together, put your index finger where your ring finger was (the first octave) and use your pinky to play the second octave. This drill is very important because this is the most functional way to play octaves, it's how they are fingered when actually used in songs.
Actually playing melodies and solos with octaves in a musical and fluid manner is an advanced skill. It's not something you can master in a week or two. Just be able to play 1st and 2nd octaves around the Key Circle as in the video above however slowly you need to do it to avoid mistakes.
Technique Tip: Use fingers of your left hand to mute unwanted strings.
On first octave from 6th string root:
index finger mutes strings 5, 3, 2 & 1.
1st octave, 5th string root:
index finger mutes strings
6, 4, 2 & 1
2nd octave from 6th string root: index finger mutes strings 5 & 3, middle finger mutes 6th string, pinky mutes 1st string.
2nd octave, 5th string root: index finger mutes strings 4 & 2,
middle finger mutes strings 5 & 6
STEP 2: The octave pattern is extremely important from a conceptual viewpoint. You will need to be able to visualize the octave pattern on the fretboard abstractly, that is, independently of any given fingering.
To that end, drill by playing the root note (the Key Circle note), the first octave, and then the second octave, and back, with the same finger. You should do this with each of the four fingers. If you can do this without mistakes, that tells us that you are visualizing the pattern on the fretboard without tying it to a specific fingering. That's a very good thing to be able to do and will have a plethora of uses as you progress on the instrument.
If you can play the first and second octaves from each Key Circle note with a single finger - any and every finger - and recite the names of the notes as in the above video with no mistakes, you are ready to proceed to the next lesson.
Lesson 5: Alternating Octave Patterns in a Single Key
Now we're going to take the two octave patterns you learned in the previous lesson (6th string root and 5th string root) and put them in the same key. There are two pieces of new information circled in red on the diagram below:
If you can keep these two relationships straight; 2nd string to 5th string and first string to 6th string, you can play both the 6th string root octave pattern and the 5th string root octave pattern in the same key. The two patterns simply alternate until you run out of neck. As stated previously, all octaves from a given root have the same letter name as that root.
You now have a conceptual framework that enables you to find any note – anywhere.
Merely having the conceptual framework is not the same thing as having this pattern internalized. And this pattern does need to be burned into your cerebral cortex! To do that, you must drill, drill, drill!
The optimum method would be:
1) Play the first and 2nd octave from each root with fingers 1 & 3 for the first octave and fingers 1 & 4 for the second octave. Start with the key of G (6th string, 3rd fret). Taken literally, the above diagram is in G. Go all the way up the neck and then all the way back down. You must be able to go either direction.
2) Then drill in the key of C starting at the 5th string, 3rd fret. Keep in mind you are now starting from a 5th string root so the above diagram is not literal - the 5th string root in the above diagram is now the 3rd fret. Drill it up the neck as far as you can go and then back down.
3) Now you need to drill in every key around the Circle. Don't forget to recite the names of the keys as you go. Start from the Key Circle note whatever it may be and play the octave pattern up the neck as far as you can go. Then go back down, past your starting position, continuing on as far as you can go.
Note: There will be 5 keys that have open strings: E, A, D, G, and B.
4) Next, play the octaves from each Key Circle note as above - only now do it with a single finger.
Play the Key Circle note, then the octaves all the way up and all the way back down, as far as you can go in both directions.
Do this with each of your 4 fingers. Don't mix things up - do every key using your index finger, then every key using your middle finger, and so on. By playing with a single finger you are abstracting the pattern, visualizing it independently of any given fingering.
You are now set up for the future because everything we do from now on will be based on this. The ability to visualize octaves all over the neck is the key to being able to play anything, anywhere, in any key. All chords, scales, arpeggios - everything - are visualized from a 6th string root, and its attendant octaves, and a 5th string root, with its attendant octaves.
Thank you for going through these 5 foundational lessons! If you have any questions don't hesitate to contact me.
If you would like to download a PDF of this 5-Lesson Foundational Series to your device of choice for free, GO HERE.
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The guitar has been a Grand Obsession of mine for over 50 years. I love everything about it. I've been a full-time professional performing musician since the early seventies. I've taught 50-100 personal students a week since the early eighties.
I know what it takes to play, teach and learn. I'm passionate about playing as well as helping people obtain the priceless value that I've received from music and the guitar.
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