Learning the notes on the Bass Fretboard for beginners - another way of looking at it

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Zegie, Nov 25, 2010.

  1. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
    Zegies Fretboard Primer

    Beginners often struggle with learning the layout and note location of the bass fretboard. This fundamental and essential skill is not that easy to acquire when you are starting out. I know, that was me!!

    I set out below a learning aid which beginners might find useful. The purpose is to identify and work out for yourself, the ‘natural’ notes on the fretboard.

    This approach is slightly different to other methods. It works by looking at, and thinking about notes as groups and pairs. This way, the bass fretboard can be considered in both a vertical and horizontal direction. Note that this is initially a thinking ‘paper’ exercise so a blank fretboard print out is needed (your favourite search engine will help).

    The method presented here will help you to learn and recall the notes on the bass fretboard, because you are doing most of it yourself and whilst doing it, you will need to think carefully about what you are doing. This method aids learning.

    Remember the old proverb “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.

    After you have you have printed off your blank fretboard layout, consider this:

    “It is often easier to think of the layout of notes on the Bass Fretboard as pairs rather than individual notes”.

    There are two sets of note pairs:

    Group 1 (Horizontal Pairs)

    The ‘family’ of notes *B & C and E & F.

    You might remember this group as: Bassists Collect Excitable Females.

    Now, notes B & C and E & F are always found immediately next to each other horizontally on the fretboard. Also, this family of four notes are often found together in a group when viewed horizontally and vertically. The notes BCEF form three perfect squares on the fretboard as you will soon see. Work out and learn where these are and you will be half way there.

    Group 2 (Vertical Pairs)

    The notes:

    A & D
    B & E
    * C & F
    D & G
    E & A
    G & C *

    “All Days Bring Excitement, Crap Food Doesn’t Get Eaten At Good Cafes”.


    If you take the first note of each pair in group 1, then its partner will always be on the same string and immediately to the right of the first note.

    E.g.,* if the first note is B then the note immediately to its right will be C.

    If you take the first note of each pair in group 2, then its partner will always be on the same fret but on the string immediately below the first note. (As a right handed player holds the guitar).

    E.g., * if the first note is C, then the note on the same fret a string below it will always be F.

    Therefore, and here comes the clever bit .

    If you take the second note of each pair in group 2, then its partner, (the first note of the pair) will always be on the same fret but on the string immediately above the first note. (As a right handed player holds the guitar).

    E.g., * if the second note is C, then the note on the same fret a string above it will be always be a G.

    From the above examples, the perceptive amongst you will have realised that the notes G, C and F are in a vertical line on the same fret.

    So, back to the blank bass Fretboard layout sitting in front of you.

    Step 1. Identify and write on your diagram the open strings (E,A,D and G).

    Step 2. Identify and write in all the B notes on the fretboard.
    These are: A string second fret, G string fourth fret, E string seventh fret, D string ninth fret.

    Step 3. Using Group 1 and following the rules write in all the F and C notes on your diagram. (Don’t forget to take into account the open strings).

    Step 4. Using Group 2 and the rules above, write in all the remaining notes on your fretboard diagram. (Don’t forget the clever bit).

    The physical act of doing this exercise half a dozen times or so, should help you to appreciate how the fretboard notes are laid out and help you to remember where they are. After this you can test yourself without looking at the rules and get playing that bass!

    Have fun!

  2. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
    By the way, the 'blocks' of the four notes B,C,E and F that occur on a number of places on the fretboard can be regarded as 'The Centre' for note learning purposes.

    BigBear77 likes this.
  3. Chief2112


    Aug 31, 2011
    Greenville, SC
    This thread is old but this method of learning the bass notes is clicking way more than what I was doing. Great post! Thank!
  4. Intenzity


    Oct 15, 2006
    Seattle, WA
    I have said it before..but I will mention it again - you do realize that the notes are arranged.... alphabetically, right?

    A B C D E F G start over.
  5. Onlyhestands


    Aug 2, 2011
    Coming as somebody who learned to play keyboard prior to learning Bass, when I was learning the fretboard I found it helpful to imagine the fretboard as a keyboard, with the white and black keys side by side and arranged on 4 levels.
    Even though I've been learning for almost a year I still occasionally imagine myself playing a keyboard while playing bass.
  6. cableguy1


    Aug 31, 2011
    I am finding the OP's method fairly helpful. Of course I already knew the B-C & E-F part, I think the first thing we learn is don't sharp B & E...
  7. this is how I learned... cause a C# is aso a D Flat ... and until you get some theory under your belt and understand when/why those notes have 2 names ... it kind of jacks with your head
  8. wemmick


    May 23, 2010
    Washington, DC
    I had an "aha!" moment when I stopped thinking about the keyboard layout.

    The keyboard layout is not symmetric -- a minor 3rd might be a white key to a black key, black key to white key, white key to white key, black key to black key. On a fretboard, a minor 3rd is always 3 frets higher.

    I think my understanding of music theory has taken a leap forward because the fretboard is helping me to see the intervals more clearly than the notes.
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