How To Learn The Guitar Fretboard

There's a lot of attention paid to learning the guitar fretboard.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that learning the fretboard can be a little intimidating at first. After all, we are talking about six strings, times 18 frets (many guitars have even more), that's over 100 fret and string positions to keep straight. Quite a tall order, right? Learn the guitar fretboard. Master the guitar neck. etc. And for the most part this is rightly so since knowing your way around the guitar fretboard is a vital part of becoming a skilled guitar player. But rather than think of learning the guitar fretboard as some daunting and gigantic task that must be accomplished, or some guitar student's right of passage that is to be done, let's try to think of it as more of a means to an end. In other words, as a way to be able to play the songs we want to play on the guitar. That's what it's all about, after all. Wouldn't you rather be playing songs you like to people who like to hear them, rather than be doing some mind-numbing study of notes on the neck. So let's look at a few ideas for accomplishing the task of learning more of the fretboard, but with more of a view to fitting it in with making music and the other playing we do on the guitar.

Here are some tips and insights you can use to help learn more about the guitar fretboard.
  1. If you've had a guitar in your hands for more than a day, you probably already know a good part of the fretboard. The string names themselves, the notes at the fifth fret that you use when you tune up, the notes at the octave twelfth fret and all the repeated notes that are located above the 12th fret. So it's important to realize where you are with this, that you already know a lot of the fretboard, and you're on the way to learning more and more every day.

  2. Learn the notes of every chord you learn to play. Grab an open G chord, and look at the fifth string and know instantly that's a B. Second nature. Now do that with all the chords you know. Not all at once, but a little every day. A work in progress. This isn't as bad as it might sound. Begin with the root notes. Many of the notes of the chord are often repeated. Learn the roots of the barre chords and other moveable chords you learn and you now know dozens of chords you can play all over the guitar neck. Let's take another example: Say for instance, that during your first week of learning the guitar you learn the open C chord at the first position. Let's also say you learn that the chord contains the notes C, E, and G. Now, fast forward a few months and you are learning the c Barre chord at the 7th position. By remembering the notes C, E, and G of the C chord, and paying attention to these notes at position VII of the fretboard, you have the opportunity to get very familiar with the upper region of the fretboard. By making this a habit from the beginning you will naturally and effortlessly get more and more comfortable and familiar with the notes on the guitar fretboard. And all this learning of notes on the neck is getting you closer to your goal of learning the guitar fretboard, at the same time you are learning to play the songs you want to be playing.

  3. photo of a guitar fretboard

  4. Learn some mile markers. For example, learn the notes at the inlays on all six strings. Learn the notes on all six strings at the frets 3, 5, 7, 9. This gives you a place to go to when you need it. Also, this will repeat again with everything above the 12th fret.

  5. Learn some scale shapes on the guitar. Learn the 5 pentatonic box shapes. This will take a long time, but it's well worth it. Start with box 1. Learn the roots and learn as many of the notes as you can. Knowing the pentatonic shapes will help you with soloing, and it'll give you something meaningful as you learn the notes of the guitar fretboard. And as you learn the pentatonic box shapes, learn all the root notes of these shapes. And eventually learn all the note names of each shape. The problem of learning the notes on the guitar neck will fall apart when you learn the 5 pentatonic box shapes.

  6. Finally, don't worry too much about the fretboard. It is what it is. It's best to concentrate on playing the songs you want to play. And while you're doing that pay close attention to the notes you are playing, no matter where they happen to be on the guitar neck, and learn those notes as soon as you can. A misconception out there is that the entire fretboard needs to be learned in the first place. Learned in one process, quickly, as if learning to juggle or something. Another way to look at it would be to consider learning the fretboard as a natural process, and as a result of learning all kinds of other practical things on the guitar, like chords, riffs, solos, songs, etc.