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Basic Fret Board Memorization

by John 18. December 2011 06:31

Memorization of the fret board is one the hardest and most challenging projects that a guitar player can undertake. A certain amount of memorization is required with just about anything you do. Think back to when you had to learn to multiply. You had a lot of multiplication tables to memorize, but the more you worked with multiplying the easier it got because you learned certain patterns that made it easier to remember. The Guitar Fretboard is basically the same idea. You do have to memorize a few things and the more you work with it, the more you will begin to notice patterns that will make it easier to remember.

Step 1: Learn the natural notes on the E and A string

In your study of the guitar, you probably already have the E and A String at least partially memorized especially if you have gotten to the point of learning Bar Chords (specifically the E and A type Bar Chords). We are going to start with these two strings because it seems logical to start with something that you already know or if you haven’t gotten to bar chords yet, you will have a little head start in committing the E and A Strings to memory.

Table 1: Natural notes on the E and A strings

Table 1 shows all the natural notes on the E and A string up until the twelfth fret. We also know starting with the 12th fret, the pattern just repeats itself. We can also sharpen or flatten any of these notes by moving up or down the fret board respectively. Essentially, once we have the E and A strings committed to memory, we have 50% of the Fretboard memorized; although this does not even remotely give us a good vision of the Fretboard. What we need is a method for tying all the strings together in order to get a more realistic vision of the Fretboard.

Step 2: Movable pattern of octaves

The great thing about the guitar is that we can learn basic patterns like the Major and minor scale. These patterns are known as movable scales for the simple reason that they can be moved up or down the guitar neck to change the key in which you are playing. We are going to take this same theory of movable patterns and learn to visualize the guitar neck. The pattern that we will use is the “movable pattern of octaves.” (Shown Below in Table 2) This pattern when applied to the guitar neck will assist us to identify the locations of any particular note on the Guitar neck.

Table 2: Movable pattern of octaves

With the E and A string firmly committed to memory, we can move on and learn how to apply the pattern in Table 2 to find any note on the guitar neck. First we will examine the pattern a little closer to firmly understand it. In both of the above patterns, the first starting on the A string and the second starting on the low E string, the first octave will skip a string and go up two frets and, respectively, the second octave skips a string from the first octave and goes up 3 frets. Both should be quite easy to memorize since they are the same pattern. They only differ on starting position. This pattern is movable though out the guitar neck. For example, if we move the pattern up 1 fret all the notes will be C-Sharps and if we move the pattern down a fret, all the notes will be B-Natural, or in some cases, we may call them C-flats.

Let us start by utilizing our method for the first time and identify all the C notes through out the Guitar neck.

Table 3: C notes

Table 3 shows all the C notes on a standard 22 fret guitar. We found all but one using our movable pattern of octaves from Table 2. The last C note in Table 3 above is on the second string 1st fret and we determined that it was a C note by subtracting 12 frets from the 2nd string 13th fret. In fact, once we get to the 12th fret, we can subtract 12 frets to get an octave below (8vb) from any fret.

Step 3: The 12 fret rule

The concept of identifying octaves on a single string is fairly easy, looking at Table 3 from above we can see that every octave is exactly 12 frets apart; an octave above (8va) equals 12 frets above and an octave below (8vb) equals 12 frets below. This is known as the 12 fret rule for finding octaves.

Take note that there are two ways of identifying octaves, step one is via the “movable pattern of octave” used to locate octaves on different strings and step two is by ether adding or subtracting 12 from the current fret to get an 8va or 8vb respectfully.

Take a look at Table 4 at another example, this time let find all the D’s:

Table 4: D notes

Once again, we found all the D notes with the exception of our last two by our movable pattern of octave from Table 2. Then we proceeded to find both of them by subtracting 12 frets from the 4th string 12th fret and 2nd string 15th fret.

Let us examine one more. This time we will find all the G’s. The only difference is that we will be starting the pattern from the E string and not the A string.

Table 5: G notes

By this time, you should understand how I am finding these notes and be able to do a few for yourself. I would recommend starting with the C-sharp first and then moving on to G-flat. After you do a few, you will begin to notice that this is extremely simple and you will begin seeing the Fret board much more clearly. As we progress with our studies, we are going to be using this movable pattern of octaves quite a bit. So take the time to understand it now.

The concept of visualizing the fret board in terms of octaves is very simple and well worth the time to include it in your daily routine. True, there are many methods on visualizing the fret board and in upcoming lessons we are going to take a look at a few of them in order to expend our knowledge of the fret board. But rest assured we will not replace this method with another. We will just build upon it in order to help visualize the fret board even better.


Fretboard Memory