Learning the Fretboard

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by TheIndieKid, Oct 6, 2017.

  1. Hellp guys!

    So I’ve put this off since I first started playing bass and now it’s time to face the music (literally) and start learning it. However, is it imperative you say the names of the notes you are on out loud or can you get away with just whispering it? Is there some kind of psychology behind it, if any of you know?


  2. Mushroo


    Apr 2, 2007
    However you learn best! :) Some people learn best by saying the note names out loud. Some people learn best by hearing the pitch of each note. Some people learn best by numbers. Some people learn best from standard notation or TAB. Some people learn best by studying the geometrical shapes and patterns on the fretboard.

    Personally, for me and my learning style, the key to unlocking the fretboard was to focus on the 12 major scales and their key signatures. A helpful exercise for me was singing "do re mi fa so la ti do" in every key.

    A good teacher will custom tailor the lessons to your personal learning style, not a one size fits all approach!
  3. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    My secret to unlocking the fretboard was learning how to sight-read. It was slow and painful at first because you need to make all those hand-eye connections at once, but boy does it make a difference. Since notation does not indicate where to play the note on the neck, the choice falls upon you - and some lines play vastly different depending on your position, so it forces you to know the alternatives. After a month or so, you'll know the neck like the back of your hand.

    Learning the major scales is a natural extension of that since you'll also need to know about key signatures, and what notes are flattened or sharpened.
    steve66, Tbsx, tzdroik and 3 others like this.
  4. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    The thinking behind saying.. (you can also sing them).. the notes out loud is that the brain takes in the information better that way. That's why children often say their math tables out loud. However, as is often stated here...there are no hard and fast "rules".

    The way Carol Kaye suggests learning the fretboard is to start on the twelfth fret on the E string (E) and go through the cycle of fourths (E,A,D,G, etc). playing major triads. However, she suggests saying/singing... just the chord name itself,... e.g. E major, A major, etc. When you get to the bottom of the FB work your way back up again. IMO this is a more musical (and beneficial) way to learn the FB.
    jallenbass, LeeNunn and TheIndieKid like this.
  5. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Say it loudly, boldly, unmistakably.
    So your brain remembers it loudly,boldly,unmistakably.
  6. I love all the other techniques and the theory behind why you say it aloud...however I just have a question about this. All the notes are major? And how does this translate to learning, say, 2nds, 7ths, 4ths and 6ths, since you’re just playing roots, 3rds and 5ths? Sorry for my lack of knowledge. Just trying to understand how it all falls into place.

    I guess I better start saying the notes aloud. Just feel I’m being judged from the other room because my voice might be off key with the note or just the fact I’m saying it aloud. I’m so used to playing A) songs for fun and B) playing silently
    fearceol likes this.
  7. Good question. I play patterns and think in A, B, C and 1, 2, 3. What I feel is important is to know where the 2nd, 7ths, 4ths and 6ths are in relation to where I am now. I base all of this on knowing where they are from the root. Use the C major scale @ 4th string 8th fret for this example: From the root you will find the root's.

    2 up two frets same string.
    3 up a string and back a fret.
    4 up a string same fret.
    5 up a string and toward the bridge two frets, or down a string same fret.
    6 up two strings and back one fret. Right over the 3.
    7 up two strings and toward the bridge one fret.
    8 or octave will be up two strings and toward the bridge two frets.


    Always, that is where those note live - from the root. Yes any root. How can that be? Well that is the way the fretboard is laid out. If you use the major scale box pattern after you have placed the pattern's R or root note the rest of the notes within that major scale will fall as indicated within the following box pattern:

    Major scale box showing scale degree
    numbers and the root note on the 4th string.
    G~~|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E~~|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    That box repeats itself all up and down your fretboard. If you think in A, B, C and 1, 2, 3's it all flows nicely.

    OK how do you use that? If I'm playing from standard notation or fake chord I think in A, B, C's and find my notes in first position, the first 5 frets of the fretboard. I let C be my home base. Want the B, it's back a fret. Want the D it's over two frets; same string. Where is the E? Well E is the 4th of B so it's up a string same fret. Where is the G? Well G is the 5th of C so it's down a string same fret. Yes, you have to put all that to memory. Not a step for a stepper.

    If I'm playing scales, I place the scale root note then find what I need within the major scale box. If its a minor scale then I have to adjust the box to minor by flatting the 3, 6 and 7, because the "spelling" for the natural minor scale is R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7. Works this same way for chords. The spelling for a Cm7 chord is R-b3-5-b7. Yes you have some spellings to get into memory, but, this can wait for awhile. Post # 9 has some.....

    Patterns repeat themselves all up and down the fretboard, we just need to know what to look for.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2017
  8. Cheers Malcolm,

    When you look at the Fretboard like in that diagram, you can see how everything opens up. Different scales and patterns,

    In terms of an exercise, how would I go about it, whether it be your method or Carol Kaye’s? Is the circle of 4ths the way forward?
  9. How you run your scales - by the circle of 4th or 5th, IMO is not all that important. The important thing is that you are running your scales. You have to run that major scale pattern up and down the fretboard in all 12 keys a zillion times until it is ingrained in muscle memory. I normally start on the first fret with the F scale, G at the 3rd, A at the 5th, and go up to the 12th fret for the E scale. Then go back and catch the flat keys. How you run them I leave to you.

    Yep then do the same thing with the minor scale.

    Want a chord? Run these "spellings" a zillion times....
    C is made of the R-3-5 Want the F chord find an F and let that be the root.
    Cm is made of the R-b3-5
    Cmaj7 is made of the R-3-5-7
    Cm7 is made of the R-b3-5-b7
    Cdim is made of the R-3-b5
    Cm7b5 is made of the R-b3-b5-b7

    Major scale is R-2-3-4-5-6-7
    Natural minor scale is R-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7.
    Major pentatonic is R-2-3-5-6
    Minor pentatonic is R-b3-4-5-b7

    Yes there is more, but, this will get you started with patterns. Now when playing from standard notation or fake chord where the name of the chord is listed you can find everything you need in first position - first 5 frets of the fretboard.

    Now some neat stuff. Fake chord has the G chord. Yep its on the 4th string, 3rd fret. You can pound out G root notes or ---- calling on your 1, 2, 3's you know that the 5th of G is up a string and over two frets, or down a string same fret. So you could sound the G on the first beat and then it's 5th on the 3rd beat. Combine A, B, C's and 1, 2, 3's. :hyper: Thinking in both will take some time.... but, well worth the effort.

    Have fun.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2017
    corsa and TheIndieKid like this.
  10. Thanks Malcolm, for having the patience to explain that. It’s a lot to take in but needs to be done. How long would you suggest practicing that daily?
  11. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    This exercise shows you the notes on the FB by playing triads all over the neck using the cycle of fourths. This cycle of fourths is a natural chord progression used in lots of music. Don't worry about your voice being off key, or what others think. IMO it's more beneficial to say (you don't have to shout ;)) the notes.

    I would consider intervals (major 2nd, minor 2nd..etc) to be a different (but equally important) exercise to work on. The link below (well worth ear marking the site)) deals with intervals. A beneficial practice session will always consist of spending a little time on lots of different aspects of playing.

    Basic Intervals | Intervals | StudyBass

    This clip from Talkingbass.net combines notes on the neck with the cycle of fourths :

    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
  12. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    I started by learning the names of the open strings and the position markers on each string (3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th frets).
    Then I became familiar with the C major scale (no sharps or flats). First, just finding all the C notes, then all the chord tones, then the full scale. Up and down, each position. With a metronome. This is where I started to focus on patterns. The pattern (like Malcolm's diagram) when you play the root with your pinkie. The pattern when you play the root with your middle finger. The pattern when you play the root with your index finger.
    Then I continued to focus on C major, but on the different modes. Thinking of C as the root for major mode, D as the root for Dorian, etc. Learning to associate chords with each mode.
    Then I changed the key, to G (one sharp, F#). Or F (one flat, Bb). Same process.
    Then the circle. Key goes up by fifth (or down by a fourth). When adding the sharps and the flats, using the circle forces you to understand enharmonic equivalents. For example, is the note a C# or Db? Same pitch, but the role is different.
    Then reading standard notation. This is where it really came together. I look at the key signature and think of the fretboard as template. When I'm reading notes, I'm not really focused on whether it is sharp or flat. Instead, I think in terms of the template. Standard notation makes it easy to read arpeggios. Root position arpeggio notes all fall on lines (or spaces).
    This process takes a long time, but it worked for me.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
    TheIndieKid likes this.

  13. I don't think there's a single BEST method. Whatever works for you... but repetition is the key.

    There's a couple of apps that allow you to play 'games' against the clock, either finding all positions for a single note, or just displaying a note on the fretboard (with or without sound) and you need to click on the right note... That can help.

    I would recommend something like Ed Friedland's book on building walking basslines. It's a pretty cool little book that will take you through building chords, what notes are in each scale (necessary to build those chords and switch between them) and in the process you'll just learn where the notes are. I find this a lot more useful than just knowing where the notes are, and it will allow you to pretty much play along anything and anybody... how interesting the basslines will be will depend on you, but you'll hear Am D E progression and instantly see the fretboard 'lighting up' with appropriate note choices. Worth the little extra effort.
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  14. Member8675309

    Member8675309 Inactive

    Aug 19, 2017
    Nashville, TN
    Use Riffstation. It will force you to learn where the notes are, if you'd like to learn to play the song.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  15. My unscientific method for remembering anything is to speak it out loud.
    If you just think about something your brain only processes it once.
    When you say it, your brain also processes the speech and hearing.
    So you have three different brain processes involved.

    If you are looking at the fretboard add sight, and of course there are the muscle movements as well being processed. Whew! Who said bass was easy?

    Does it really work? Beats me.
    But I figure any extra excersize my brain can get these days couldn't hurt.
    TheIndieKid likes this.
  16. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Saying the names loudly and boldly prevents students (and me) from relying on shapes and patterns. It also makes sure its 100% in your head. Not sure why whispering is somehow different except that its easier to hide mistakes from yourself. As long as you're saying them decisively ot should be fine.

    This is the same reason I make students count rhythms aloud.
    Tbsx and TheIndieKid like this.
  17. Anything beyond 45 minutes at one time is wasted time. Take a 15 minute break and you are ready for another 45 minutes session...

    How long depends on what else is going on in your life. I seldom go longer than an hour - warm up included.
    fearceol and TheIndieKid like this.
  18. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Would you agree that thinking in shapes and patterns is a useful skill once you've learned every note on the fretboard, particularly for on-the-fly transposing? It may just be that I have 50 years of memorization behind me, but I think it would be hard not to rely on fingering patterns once you understand what notes are in a chord and where each of those notes is located. ...maybe that should be an advanced topic?
  19. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    It's important to speak clearly and practice the note names in at least 5 languages :roflmao:

    It is a useful skill, especially when having to transpose something on the fly. Where it becomes a crutch is when you only know one or two patterns to play scales, intervals and arpeggios.

    Learning DB forced me to learn lots of new fingerings and essentially rethink how I thought about the fingerboard. It's better to know patterns starting on any finger of the fretting hand and practicing various strategies for moving across the strings...for example, should you shift position and stay on the same string or you should you move to the next string.

    The idea is that your muscle memory should be rock solid so no thinking is required when you want to execute a musical passage.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
    MalcolmAmos and TheIndieKid like this.
  20. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    All great ideas - one area of particular weakness that I've found for me is the area above the 12th fret below the g string. It's easy to know the g string all the way up the neck since I use it all the time, but less so the area above the octave on the d, a, and e string. So I focus particularly on that area of the neck.

    Anthony Wellington has a good method to consider - I'm paraphrasing here, but start with one note - say e - and learn where every e is on every string, playing them one after the other from low e up to high e on g string (if you have one). Then back down. Can do one string at a time, then chained together. Once you've nailed that, move on to F, and so on. He suggests something like 5-10 minutes per day, one note, one week. I would use this in addition to scale and arpeggio-based exercises.

    My approach is one key per week, scales and arpeggios all modes, up and down the neck. I always look for different fingerings. I do it on electric and double bass every day. Start with C, one key a week until I get to B, then start again with C. Endless cycle, as my practice warmup.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Dec 4, 2021

Share This Page