Learn the Guitar Fretboard

Learning the Guitar Fretboard

The guitar fretboard is the area along the front side of the guitar neck that features inset fret wires, spaces, and inlaid markers. Guitarists press strings down to the fretboard in order to change pitches. With a combination of vertical frets and horizontal strings, the fretboard is essentially a grid.

guitar fretboard grid blank

With its horizontal strings and vertical frets, the guitar fretboard is a grid as seen in the diagram above.

When arranged and played on this fretboard grid, notes, scales, chords, and progressions make shapes and patterns. Guitarists visualize these shapes and patterns in order to navigate around the neck. Furthermore, guitarists understand how musical elements fit together by fitting their pieces together like a puzzle. In fact, you can build chords, compose chord progressions, and determine correct scales to play simply by relating to shapes and patterns, with little or no regard to key signatures, notes, sharps, and flats. Even if you take the traditional route of thinking, you still have to translate the music concepts to the fretboard and connect the dots, so to speak. This is why guitarists usually prefer to make use of guitar tablature and neck diagrams over standard notation.

chord and scale fretboard

Without giving much thought to the notes they contain, it’s easy to see how this guitar chord shape and scale pattern fit together.

Have you ever wondered how it is that so many pro players don’t read music and have no formal training yet music makes complete sense to them on the fretboard? It’s because the fretboard is the real battleground and ultimately what matters most. If you want to understand music as it pertains to guitar playing, then you need to develop a proper fretboard perspective.

Getting to Know Fretboard Notes

Many guitar players set out with a goal to memorize all the notes on the fretboard. While this isn’t such a bad idea, and it can serve a good purpose in some situations, I consider it to be a distraction from a much more needed skill, visualizing shapes and patterns. This doesn’t mean that you can completely disregard notes. You still need to make a connection between shapes and patterns and notes to some degree. What most guitarists do is memorize the notes along the sixth and fifth strings since these strings are where most shapes and patterns originate. Octave shapes are used to trace notes on other strings back to the sixth and fifth strings where the note names are then identified.

guitar fretboard notes

Guitarists typically trace everything on the fretboard back to the notes along the 6th and 5th strings.

Chords On the Fretboard

Getting into the details of guitar chord construction involves learning about major scales, intervals, triads, arpeggios, and chord tones and extensions. All of these musical elements are worked out on the fretboard in the form of shapes and patterns. Guitarists, more so than most other instrumentalists, know a chord by its shape rather than by its notes.

Scales On the Fretboard

Getting into the details of guitar scales involves learning pentatonic and major scale patterns, which are the base patterns guitar players rely on even when other types of scales are in use. Guitar scales and modes are worked out on the fretboard and related to chords and progressions all in the form of patterns. Guitarists know scales more so by their patterns rather than by their notes.

Progressions On the Fretboard

When it comes to how chords relate to one another and how chords combine to make progressions, once again patterns and fretboard visualization come into play. Chords form shapes, and progressions form patterns. Guitarists know chord changes more so by their numbered patterns rather than by their notes. These numbered patterns are used to chart progressions and follow a song’s movement such as 1-4-5, 1-6-2-5, and so on.

Read More About the Fretboard and Related Guitar Theory

What Is Guitar Theory?

What Scales To Learn How to Learn Chords On the Fretboard

How to Play Guitar Chord Progressions

What Are Scale Modes?

What Is Fretboard Theory?