Understanding the Fretboard better

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by jre5, Feb 22, 2024.

  1. jre5


    Dec 1, 2021
    Long Island, NY
    Hey all,
    I'm a freshman music student studying the electric bass. I play some other instruments and understand basic music theory, and I've been getting into jazz recently on the bass, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around the fretboard. I've been playing for about 6 years now, and up until my first semester here, I've been using tabs to learn. I know the shapes of root-3-5-7s of different chords on the fretboard, but knowing where all my notes are at all times, and being able to visualize my notes outside of the one position has been rough. I've started to pick up upright a little bit, and it's been helping, just getting rid of tabs altogether, but I'm not sure how well it's been translating to electric bass. I take lessons on electric, and they're super helpful, but compared to everything else my lesson instructor and I have worked on up to this point, I'm not seeing nearly as much progress as I would like in terms of being able to see notes if this makes sense. The biggest thing is that I have trouble seeing my frets as notes rather than just numbers or dots. If anyone has experienced anything similar, what are the best exercises, things, or practices I can do to overcome this hump?
    Any tips or advice would be strongly appreciated.
    keyofnight, Shenron, SteC and 3 others like this.
  2. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Are you and your instructor using standard notation in these lessons and are you actuallly practicing and exercising your reading skills in between times?
  3. I’d suggest you throw out using TAB completely and start from the ground up. Might take a while to unlearn that mindset.

    Can you read regular music notation?
    Bass Clef?
  4. HvyBlvy


    Feb 16, 2023
    Here's a master pattern you can explore with your bass and maybe find hidden treasure. (the treasure just being those enjoyable a-ha moments of understanding)
    DoIsReal.png DoIsReal.png
  5. thewildest


    May 25, 2011
    Florida, USA
    In my opinion, you’ve focused in improving technically (nothing wrong with that) but perhaps it is time to focus on the music. Listening to a melody and playing it, regardless of which notes the passage is made of, just concentrate in your sound and dynamics. Notes, fret numbers and different notation methodologies are there to organize the vastness of music, but they are second to it… music comes first.
    Dasgre0g, RichSnyder, shutt24 and 3 others like this.
  6. People learn in different ways. For me, learning the fretboard didn’t really come until I started to learn to read standard notation. I started with just the first five frets, making sure to fret notes, not just use open strings. After a bit I started to see the patterns in the notes as I played them (if the notes were not written randomly). Then, I started to add frets to the exercises. Being able to recognize and use notes above the first five frets opened a lot more tonal variety. Lots of sheet music that I see in Bass clef also includes tabs. I see tabs as suggested fingering patterns. Occasionally, it is useful. Mainly, I ignore it. Indeed, many times I deliberately play a piece using positions not shown in the tab (I find a lot of tab just uses the first few frets and lots of open notes - there are many different ways to play an A other than an open string).
    Swipter and jre5 like this.
  7. InhumanResource

    InhumanResource Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2012
    Bucks County, PA
    Learn to practice everything 2 octaves, up and down, and in all keys.

    This will make you be intentional about what key you’re in and get used to thinking of the fretboard this way.

    So when you are practicing your arpeggios, don’t think “I’m doing minor 7 arps”. Think “I am doing a C minor 7 arp. Now I am doing a G minor 7 arp. Now I am doing a D minor 7 arp.” And so on. Bonus points if you take the time to name each note as you go up and down. Take your time, do it slowly and correctly.

    If you’re studying jazz, practice reading chord charts (go as slow as you need to!!) and learn melodies too. This stuff is tedious but you’ll come away knowing the fretboard really well.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2024
    BigBadBen67, MuseChaser and SteveCS like this.
  8. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    check out the pac man's sure fire scale practice method sticky thread.
    If you do it properly it will deliver exactly that: names of notes (and their place in the key) instead of fret / string coordinates.

    also +1 to working form notation. It forces you to start with the note name and will force fret/string coordinates to become automatic
    Bass4Brkfast and Bass like this.
  9. MCS4

    MCS4 Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Here's a little trick I have, with the caveat that it is intended to supplement any more substantive theory and learning work you are doing rather than producing any particular results by itself:

    When you are going to sleep at night, picture the fretboard (or portions of it) the best you can, and name the notes on each string. If you play on basses with dots or side dots, picture them as well for reference. In the beginning you can pick a string and just walk down it, trying to keep an "image" of whichever fret you are on while naming the note. You can also name just the natural notes (no sharps and flats) to get accustomed to the different patterns of them on each string. Over time you can move to stuff like skipping around to random frets, or in more extreme scenarios you can start working on actual scale and chord practice.

    The idea for me here is that you are taking time where you otherwise wouldn't be doing anything and turning it into a little bit of dedicated practice on remembering the note locations. As a side benefit, this can also double as a ritual to relax you and help you fall asleep, like the proverbial counting of sheep. You obviously can also try this any time where you are sitting somewhere with nothing to do, I just find sleep time to be the easiest way to turn it into a regular routine.
    SeaDunk, tonym, sheesh and 6 others like this.
  10. Scotts Bass Lessons had a good program on neck memorization. One thing he suggests is practicing Triads doing a cycle of 4ths and 5ths using the cycle of fifths and 4ths as you do major and minor triads. Also playing triads using different fingerings like starting on your first finger moving up the neck to get the 3, starting with your 4th finger and moving across and starting with your 2nd finger and moving across.
    Bermuda Ron, abarson and ChazBassBoCO like this.
  11. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    OK. Here it is:

    - in red, you have the notes of the C major pentatonic scale, starting with C = red triangle.
    - in green, you have the notes of the Gb major pentatonic scale (the black keys on piano), starting with Gb = green ellipse.
    - the blue crosses are B (in the lower left corner) and F (the tritone notes of C major).

    The pattern moves chromatically in the horizontal direction, and in 4ths in the vertical direction. Selecting 4 or 5 rows, gives you the the notes on a 4 or 5 string bass.
    Les Fret and HvyBlvy like this.
  12. skycruiser


    Jan 15, 2019
    Ditch tabs and start using standard notation. Eventually your brain will stop actively translating fret numbers etc. You will read a note and automatically fret it based on your current hand position. It is an amazing thing when you get to that point. (I'm working on it and getting closer - I have fleeting moments where I can do it.)

    I don't like the idea of needing to "memorize" the fingerboard because to me that implies conscious recall when the information is needed. You want to get past the "memorized" phase and into the built-in and fluid connection between a standard notation note and a fret position. To me I made the most progress simply by playing music in standard notation, daily, as a practice routine. Finding a progressive set of music is helpful. Something like Chuck Rainey's bass book, volume 1. Great place to start.
  13. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    The notes on your fingerboard are just like the streets of your town.

    If you walk around frequently to explore the streets of your town, you will learn them quite rapidly, especially if you walk slowly, taking the time to look at the street names, and if you use a city map.

    If you travel only in taxi, or drive by watching a GPS, you will never know the streets around you no matter how long you do this.

    So, dump your tabs. Use music notation. Play scales and arpeggios all over the fingerboard, while singing the pitch, and vocalising the name of the note. Do that slowly, in all keys. You will soon know your finger board.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2024
  14. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    15+ years of music teaching, masters degree in music education, 8 years as a public school orchestra teacher speaking here:

    the first thing is you must be reasonable, and reasonably patient.

    the second thing is just reality - this stuff takes time. to eliminate the normal thought process of "thats the 10th fret so uh... um.. well 12th is D so two less is.. uh.. C!" - just takes a certain amount of time. that's totally fine. you will get there sooner or later.

    the best thing you can do is have a healthy practice routine. ~5 minutes minimum, almost every day. you may (and should, somewhat regularly) go longer, but there is no practical reason to play for hours with only short breaks. unless you are in utter bliss, take breaks. progress is greatly accelerated by doing it - doing something else - coming back to it. this has been shown in many serious scientific studies on learning.

    of course, i think reading notes its absolutely essential. I don't find tabs particularly useful - unless you get into early baroque/renaissance lute playing (?) there's no super practical use for them outside of showing beginners how to play some tunes to get them involved in the first place.

    the bad news is that there is no secret hack. the good news is there is no secret hack. just keep at it, and be reasonable. you'll get there eventually.

    I remember feeling so frustrated with things like this when i was i could. i would have never (ever) believed i'd be able to learn complicated stuff as quickly as i can now. all i've done is play my instrument(s) regularly just about every day. if i can do it, so can you!
  15. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    skycruiser likes this.
  16. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    I suggest Carol Kaye method books.

    I also strongly suggest ditching the tabs, especially since you are on a musician’s career path.

    I have been playing since 1972 with countless gigs under my belt.
    I have never been paid to read tab.
    Some of the best bass parts I have played were written by piano, trumpet, or saxophone players.
    slagbass likes this.
  17. primusfan1989


    Jan 17, 2005
    new jersey
    Stop using tabs
  18. MotorCityMinion


    Jun 15, 2017
    He's been at it for 6 years.:roflmao:

    Can't go wrong with these:
    s-l1600.png s-l1600-1.jpg -2.png
    Wannabass and SteveCS like this.
  19. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    YMMV, but I don't get it. I mean of course I get it - it is blindingly obvious what it is trying to represent. But I don't see any value in substituting letter names and/or intervals for obscure glyphs that have absolutely nothing to do with music. Doesn't adding further layers of translation from non-musical language hinder the task? YMMV
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2024
    FRoss6788, soulstew, BassDuex and 4 others like this.