Trying to learn the notes of the fretboard...

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by toomuchstraw, Jan 4, 2022.

  1. ...and it's been rough.

    I have the memory of a goldfish haha. I've played other instruments so I know bass clef already but mapping notes to each spot on the fretboard is killing me. I've been trying to practice/learn my scales and arpeggios to try and get the notes down, but is there a better way?

    For context, I have been pretty exclusively using tabs until now. I'm trying to learn the fretboard so *one day* I'll be able to improvise and jam with other beginner musicians because the only time I tried I had a terrible experience because I had no idea what to do! That experience was when I was playing piano, though, and despite playing classical piano for years I still couldn't improvise.

    What would you all recommend I do in terms of practicing prior to being able to jam?
  2. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    Be patient, persistent don't try to learn it all at once; progressivity is the key word.

    You can start with the notes of the first 5 frets. Practice scales and arpeggios, in all keys. If you know how scales are constructed, it is easy to figure out what note comes next after the last note you know. If you don't know how scales are constructed: learn it; a keyboard is useful for this purpose (if you don't have access to a keyboard, any piano app for your smartphone can replace it).

    A good thing to do it put your bass aside and draw on a sheet of paper a fretboard map, and write down the notes on the map. Don't download and print a fretboard map, that won't be as profitable; work it out yourself; it the effort you put into this that will help you understanding how your fingerboard is laid out. Note I wrote "understanding" and not "memorizing": fingerboard knowledge is not something that must be committed to memory; you must instead understand its structure and internalize it through intensive practice. This is just like knowing the streets of your town: you don't need to "memorize" them; you simply "know" them because they are so familiar to you, and you don't need to think to find your way.

    Practice, practice, practice! Good luck and have fun practicing and playing your bass.
  3. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    #1, don't be negative. Everyone learns differently. If you can read you're way ahead of a lot of people.
    #2, welcome to TB.

    I'm not a good example because I learned violin first and my teacher kept a wooden ruler in her hand at all times. There was a knuckle premium placed on incorrect answers or misread measures. But hey, it worked.
    Fender Play, I don't know how it is perceived here but for extremely low cost they have a great lesson plan that is broken up into bite size activities. That's more geared toward learning the positions and notes and it's not a theory based process. I have some family members who use that and seems to have helped kick start them.
    My opinion is the way we write music does not translate easily to the physical instrument. It is not uncommon for someone to grunt through one or the other completely different processes.

    Don't give up, be patient. Have fun.
    GodsLove66, B-Lo, CryingBass and 3 others like this.
  4. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Good advice. I'm finding repetition works, and not playing scales, but playing "music". I'm going through the Jim Stinnett "Finger Funk" books (no tabs), and one-by one notes are falling into place. You eventually get past the translation in your mind to seeing a note instantly equating to the fingerboard, without any effort or thought. Playing music instead of scales, at least in my experience, reinforces things like 5th's, octaves, and related keys. So an exercise that is in C will hit G and F quite a bit, so that learning those will be naturally emphasized as you learn and practice the exercise.

    So my recommendation would be use a book with music, not just scales, and no tabs! I would also avoid some of the baby stuff (playing the same note over and over). If the exercise is fun to play, it will help you learn more quickly.
  5. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    Patience and repetition!

    playing scales and arpeggios is always great to do - both across the strings snd along the strings. Singing the note names as you play scales can speed up the process for some people but everybody’s brain is wired differently.

    The fact that you read bass clef puts you way ahead of the game. Playing from any F clef exercises can help you get more familiar. Don’t worry if it’s not music written for bass - I used to practice with trombone music sometimes.

    As far as improvisation and jamming with people goes…. a lot of that comes with playing with people who are more experienced than you are. Nothing will help you advance faster. I also strongly recommend working with a teacher, even if it’s only once in a while.
  6. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Guest

    Nov 22, 2017

    This is a good bit to take in. I learned by noting patterns. What's two strings over and two frets up? Another of the same note, just an octave up. So if I know where the lowest G is on my E string, I know how to find a G on the D string, too. What's one string over and two frets up? A fifth. So if I know where that same G is I can also find a D on the A string.

    What's one string over on the same fret? A fourth. So there is a C next to my G. And so on. What's one string over and a fret down? A major third. Etc. etc.

    All your strings are tuned straight across in fourths, so if you learn how that works you'll always know what notes are to the right and the left of the one you're playing.

    If you learn where octaves are in relation to where your fingers are you will always know where the tonics are in any key you're playing, and from tonics you can work out any other interval/note. Learn the intervals and how they relate to each other, and you will soon know the relationships between notes on the fretboard.

    If you're playing music, you'll be finding these relationships as you go. Eventually you will have learned them with minimal effort as long as you are thinking about the notes you are playing as you play them. For me knowing these relationships has been much more useful and practical than just memorizing the placement of notes, because once you understand interval relationships you can play just about anything in any key without much thought.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2022
  7. Thank you all for your help! Just read through all of your responses quickly but going to work through them more thoroughly right now.

    @FatStringer52 I love that video + Talkingbass in general! Been loving the Talkingbass website a lot, still having trouble despite that. You're right though, I should probably work through that video again.

    Thank you all for your positivity, I agree that I can be kinda negative when it comes to my own playing. I need to just remember that instruments are always a journey and not a sprint, and I just need to be patient and practice smarter not harder! I really appreciate it, guys!
  8. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    Learning a handful of chords on a six string guitar is helpful. Sight reading just a chord chart slowly can build some memory also. There are many jazz standards that have enough chords to keep it interesting while not overwhelming your brain.

    The iRealBook app is cool because it will play the charts for you so you can practice along with them. You can also change the keys so that you can challenge yourself. Slowly you will figure it all out so that when someone says play an Eb, you know where at least two of them are.
    toomuchstraw and LBS-bass like this.
  9. Benjamin Earl

    Benjamin Earl Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2008
    Lake Hiawatha, NJ 07034
    Fretboard Visualization Author
    My best suggestion is to memorize the C Major scale, then use octaves and your ears to expand your knowledge. The notes of the fretboard are named based on the C Major scale C,D,E,F,G,A,B. You can raise any note with a sharp # (one fret up), or lower any note with a flat b (one fret down).

    Memorize the C Major scale starting from three different spots.
    A-string at the 3rd fret
    E-string at the 8th fret
    A-string at the 15th fret

    Then you can use octaves to fill in the rest of the blank spaces. An octave up can be found two frets up and two strings up. You can also find the octave up by counting 12 frets up on the same string. It has the same note name, but it is one octave higher in pitch. This works in the opposite way too (for octaves down).

    You can figure out any note on the fretboard by using the C Major scale as a reference. After a while you won't need to think about it, because it will just be second nature. Give it time, and use this method when you need.

    Learn the Notes of the Fretboard.png
    eddiebo, DeepHz, el murdoque and 9 others like this.
  10. WrapRough


    Jan 26, 2021
    Someone here once used the analogy of your local streets and roads. You don't set out to learn the names of them... But by driving around over time you end up knowing them all. It really struck a chord with me because rather than sit and learn the neck, you can do lots of other things that will cause your brain to end up knowing the neck automatically.

    Two octave scales, scales on one string, circle of 4ths… 5ths etc..

    These are all really valuable endeavours on the instrument, and your brain will just end up knowing the neck over time.

    I've found this is a much better approach for me personally.
  11. Topkat13

    Topkat13 Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2004
    Practice more.
  12. Corto14

    Corto14 Guest

    Feb 6, 2019
    I’m a beginner too so don’t worry! Time, patience and practice will help you to improve
    If I understand correctly, you aren’t a novice regarding playing music, so I think your progress will be quicker than you may think.
    LBS-bass and toomuchstraw like this.
  13. bigjames

    bigjames Player of Smooth Lines

    Some good tips here.

    Some off the cuff thoughts from my own journey. One of the best things about the bass fretboard is that once you learn a pattern / scale / arpeggio it works from any starting point (more or less). Understand the fretboard using the markers as guide posts and combine that with understanding the relationship between tones and, as an example, you can quickly landmark "C" on the "D" string at the 10th fret (two half steps down from "D" at the 12th fret). I recall reading an article in bass player mag years and years ago that suggested starting with open "E" and finding all the "E's" on the fretboard on every string. Then doing that with all notes on the board. Combine that with practice and you will eventually have mastery of the fingerboard. That said, I sometimes struggle above the 12th is almost an endless journey, but over time you will get better and better.
  14. Cave Puppy

    Cave Puppy "Humph Bo, he's wond!" - John Lennon

    Jan 13, 2015
  15. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    It can take years to really master the fretboard (in fact you may never fully master it). IMHO it's actually a lot harder than it seems on the face. The presence of enharmonic notes complicates matters. Is the note position a C# or a Db? At one level the answer is yes, but usually one of the notes names is a better choice based on the context provide by the music. For example if you are in A major, it's most likely a C#. If the key is Ab major, it's most likely a Db. Depending upon the styles of music you play, in some instances you may even have to deal with double accidentals. Because of these issues, you should generally try to keep the key center in mind when you are working on the fret board.

    IMHO the best advice is to let go of the idea that there is one "best" way to learn the fretboard. Instead, you need to use multiple learning strategies. Understand and be able to name enharmonics. Know your key signatures and at least all of the diatonic 7th chords. Learn hand shapes/box patterns and intervals. Once you learn the information multiple ways, your brain will bounce between different mental processes and choose whichever process is most efficient. Over time your proficiency in all of the mental processes grows because you continue to practice over a lifetime.

    For example if you are playing in a difficult key, you may struggle to name the notes on the fret board. But if you know the box shapes you still know where the notes are. IMHO this is a situation where practicing the modes is actually useful, because you need to know the box shape of each mode. Also, a skilled musician will have multiple ways of fingering each box shape. You choose the finger pattern based on where you are coming from and where you are going.

    I believe it's out of print, but I also used a Beaver Felton Super Chops book that had another strategy. The book had random 4 finger patterns that I believe mixed sharps and flats. I guess the idea was to expand your thinking beyond key centers. This book actually helped me in several ways: 1. it greatly enhanced the independence of my fingers, 2. it expanded my understanding of the fretboard, 3. it exposed my ears to a wide range of notes combinations and freed me somewhat of pattern playing. Explanation: Unfortunately, if you rely on box shapes too much, your playing tends to become sort of predictable. This is another reason why it's a good idea to use multiple learning strategies.

    Keep in mind that you can study music for a lifetime and still only be scratching the surface on all there is to learn. Rather than worrying about the destination, try to enjoy the journey.
    Wannabass, doran.dragic and bigjames like this.
  16. blakelock

    blakelock Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2009
  17. smtp4me


    Sep 30, 2013
    Philadelphia, PA
    Have you tried:
    • Practice scales and arpeggios, and as you do, say the name of each note, out loud while you play them. If you do not immediately know it, figure it out before you move on to the next note
    • You already know how to play piano. While you are in the process of learning the note name for each fret, remember that the same notes on a piano are right there on the fret board. Meaning, every fret is 1/2 step away from the one before and after it. If you know the fret you are currently playing is a C, then you know the next one down is B, and the next one up is C# - even if you struggle to remember where B and C# are...
  18. Cave Puppy

    Cave Puppy "Humph Bo, he's wond!" - John Lennon

    Jan 13, 2015
    Pro Tip - The notes start over again at the 13 fret. The 12th fret is the same note as the open string, just an octave higher. The 13th fret is the same note as the first fret, just an octave higher, and so on. So the distance between any 12 frets is an octave of the same note. Wow - I just blew my own mind! o_O
  19. BOOG


    Dec 13, 2016
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Welcome to TalkBass!

    It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of basics+. Without knowing an individual my general advice with most things is:
    1) Accept that learning something is a journey and enjoy the trip.
    toomuchstraw likes this.