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Should I actually spend ages learning my fretboard and scales really well?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Jeremy Murphy, Jun 13, 2018.

  1. Hi,

    I am finally getting round to mastering scales and improvisation. Is it vital for me to remember all notes of scale I'm using and of my fretboard to reach maximum efficiency in the long run? note: I know the fret notes near the head allready

    Do most well known bassists do this? I am mostly interested in bassists who's bands have had success Ex: Joe Dart, Mark King, Stuart Zender, Paul Turner, Henrik Linder, Flea, Victor Wooten (exeption to this list).

    I want to be successful in band + be able to improvise live. But learning the notes of each scale by hearth and linking them with the fretboard (learnt by hearth aswell) is EXTREMELY time consuming. This is why I am wondering if it is Worth it.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
    TuneIn, jamro217 and faulknersj like this.
  2. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    I think it’s very important to learn your fretboard so if someone asks you to play a note you can play it. Everything beyond that is important too but you should at the very least know what note is where.
  3. Double E

    Double E I ain't got no time to play... Supporting Member

    Dec 24, 2005
    Cleveland, OH
    You should endeavor to learn as much as you can... depending on your goals. Balance the extremely tedious technical stuff with actual live playing though. None of the stuff you learn matters if you don't know how to apply it. Above all, have fun!
  4. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    welcome to TB. ;)

    so you want to be a good musician, but you want an easy way --- all the shortcuts?

    John j, trickyric, Clark Dark and 9 others like this.
  5. I think that learning the fretboard is something I will definitely end up doing eventually. But what about learning (in your head) all the notes that compose a scale, like G minor, and then A minor, B minor, C minor ect ..?

    Do you think that well known bassists I listed would have learned all of those? Do you think it's vital?
  6. Rest assured, I am not looking for shortcuts, I'm trying to understand what is essential and what isn't, and mostly the best way to go about reaching my goal. I genuinely do not know how important memorizing scale notes is in your head.
  7. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    as others have and will point out: knowing your board (all of the notes!) is indispensable. learning the relationships (the sound of the intervals) of notes in the various scales are important for the improvising you want to do.

    there is no easy way! :) but it might be less of a drag for you if you can learn these things in a context. listen to cats on youtube (cats you like and admire) and figure out what they're doing. you can learn, by ear, to copy their notes, but what are they actually doing? notes from scales? notes from the chord? figure it out for yourself...when you do = you'll be closer to answering your own question.

    good luck! :thumbsup:
  8. rufus.K


    Oct 18, 2015
    yes and no
  9. If you will be writing original music, yes, you need to know this. If you are playing other people's music - from sheet music, you can follow the sheet music. If you are jamming the scale/key is normally called. If not ask. You need to know the scale every one else is using and the chords involved in the specific song. With that information and the scale "box" plus the "spelling" of the chords used. You could play-a-long and or improvise a lead break using the "box" or scale spelling for the pentatonic and or mode that will work with this song. Lot of IF's in the above...

    Scales are a right of passage thing, they get our fingers, left hand and right hand, moving on the fret board and our ears start to recognize the "good notes from the bad" notes. If you use the box pattern place the root and play the pattern, it's the same for any major scale. If you want a minor scale flat the 3, 6 & 7. Yep simple as that. Start there, all this playing "out" comes after we know how to play "in".

    I've listed a link that will help with the "box" and "spellings" at the end of this string.

    I'm sure all of them know there way around their fret board. How deep is there knowledge I have no idea. IMO Victor Wooten's knowledge is very deep.

    So you want to skip over learning your scales, chord tones, etc. and get right into playing in a band and improvising lead solos. Good luck with that. There is a way, but, you do need to know where the notes are in the first five frets of your fret board. You mentioned you already have this under your fingers, from that the rest will come with time...

    I had years of experience on rhythm guitar when a friend said; I'm going to bring my 6 string acoustic guitar, the next time we play here, and play and sing some songs, back me up on the bass. Use mine. He then told me to put the chord's root on the A string, that'll be the I the IV will be up a string same fret, and the V will be down a string same fret. Use the same fake chord sheet music you are using with your 6 string acoustic guitar.

    Follow the chords, use the same rhythm you do with the acoustic guitar. Change chords when I do. Using the ole I-IV-V and just hit the roots. You'll be fine. As I could recognize his fretting hand pattern I knew which chord he went to so it really was not that hard to play in a band. Improvising a lead solo, well that is years down the road. The solo instruments do a better job of this than our low frequency bass will ever do. Let them get the melody and you get the harmony (notes of the chord). Now all you need to know is the active chord's name, where it is on your fret board and when it becomes active. I use fake chord sheet music to tell me all this. As our music was dirt simple classic Country it worked.

    I recommend you spend some time with post # 6 and 14 of this string: How to get started?

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2018
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Yes, you should learn all the notes on your fretboard. But no, it is not "extremely time consuming" and will not take you "ages" to learn.

    The 12 major scales are the building blocks of music. (15 if you count the enharmonics twice: F#/Gb, C#/Db, and B/Cb.) If you spend 1 day memorizing each major scale, then you can learn them all in about 2 weeks. Learn them not just from root to octave, but over the entire range of the instrument. Memorizing the 12 major scales is not a huge time commitment, only 2 weeks out of your life, and it is knowledge that will serve you well in the future. :)
  11. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Been playing 30 years and I do scale mode exercises every day. Yes it's time consuming. Yes it's boring and feels more like work than fun. Yes you should do it if you seriously want to be a musician.

    Oh, and as soon as you can do it really well and can do it without thinking, you need to invent a way to make it much harder so you have to concentrte again.
  12. You might want to keep circle of fifths diagram handy - it is a great tool for memorizing the relationships of scales and also easy to see what scales have how many sharps & flats.
    kirkdickinson likes this.
  13. Coachkellyg


    Feb 22, 2012
    Instead of memorizing every note in every scale, a daunting task, learn the patterns first: a minor scale for instance. You know the head, like most of us. You probably know the low E and most of the A. Use that to start the patterns at different locations all over the fretboard. Learn the actual notes over time. The two across two down octave is your friend!
    jharms80439 and Cheez like this.
  14. 57pbass

    57pbass Supporting Member

    It’s a never ending process of learning and discovering new music..

    Once I figured out the scales it completely changed and improved my musicianship..
    retslock and HolmeBass like this.
  15. I think learning a lot of movable arpeggio shapes may be a more important step but I think knowing the fretboard is fundamental so you'll never wonder to find where to put those shapes up the neck. As part of my (mental) warm-up I pick a note and find/play every instance of it on the neck. So start with say, C, and find and play it on the e (or b) string, then find it on the a, then the d and finally the g. Then, going one way or the other around the circle of fifths, I like going around in fourths so I go to F and find all of them around the neck, then B flat, E flat etc. At the beginning it might take 10 minutes. It takes me less than 5 to go all the way around the circle of fifths. Using a metronome click adds to the fun.

    I like this book for arpeggios: https://www.amazon.com/Arpeggios-Ba.../ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
  16. You don’t have to spend ages doing it, but you should do it. It’s more fun when you know what’s going on while you’re playing.
  17. honeyiscool


    Jan 28, 2011
    San Diego, CA
    I think it’s a waste of time and inefficient to do this in a way that is just memorization. But all your favorite bassists know how to do this.

    In my mind, there’s only one way to really learn the scales in a way that makes it fun and applicable: learn it on piano. You’ll learn all the notes, you’ll learn an instrument that all greats can all play to some extent, and you’ll learn your concepts in a way that is musical and not just all book study.
  18. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    I'm pretty sure that wanting to be "successful in band + be able to improvise live" and then asking what DON'T I need to learn isn't the road to success.
    John j, tfer, retslock and 7 others like this.
  19. Ok this is a reasonable question.

    Learn the notes on the fingerboard. Actually knowing them is better than merely memorizing them. For example, if you pick up a bass that tuned down a whole step or a minor 3rd you should be able to still come up with each note name pretty quickly.

    Then learn the scale shapes and be able to extend them up and down the fingerboard. Understand why the scale shapes are the way they are by understanding the intervals that make up ththe scales.

    Then by combining the two you can quickly come up with the names for the notes in any scale. Learn the few simple rules, like use each letter exactly once and apply accidentals as needed, and usually apply either sharp accidentals OR flat accidentals.
    lowplaces, togril and Blue shadow like this.

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