Learn The Fretboard Using Minor Pentatonics
September 7, 2008 by Lee
This idea can help you learn the notes and improve your pentatonic fluency across the neck at the same time.
Learning the notes on the fretboard is among one of the most useful things you can do to get you out of the guitar rut. Having the ability to look at the fretboard and see every note just like you would read words in a book is one of those things that you will never realise how important it is until you can do it. This skill takes some time to master but it’s very important that you do if you want to get away from playing your solo’s purely by scale patterns. You will find plenty of products on eBay and throughout the Internet that claim miracle methods to learn this in one hour etc. but let me give you some advice on these miracle methods…
DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THESE RIDICULOUS PRODUCTS. THERE IS NO SECRET, THERE IS NO QUICK AND USEFUL METHOD!!
In fact I will go as far as to say they might do you more harm than good. They rely on tricks and the use of mnemonics to help you memorise the notes and find them quickly within relation to one and other through the use of short stories that need to be memorised. These methods serve absolutely no use in real world guitar playing and if you get too used to using them then you are more likely to avoid ever learning them properly.
These ideas do nothing to help you look at a note and just see it purely for what it is. For instance the tenth fret on the B string is an A. When you look at that note you just need to know it’s an A, not.. “it is an A because it is two frets back from the B” or it is an A because the same fret on the string underneath it is a D which you worked out from part of your memorised story… “Doctor Gary Cooper Found Alan Drinking”. This is how some of these crazy ideas work, (think 10th fret starting on the sixth string, D,G,C,F,A,D) they use well known memory tricks to help you find notes and while these tricks are very clever and might have good use elsewhere, they are of absolutely no use in real world guitar playing.
I couldn’t tell you what the best method might be for learning them, I think this will vary from person to person, some people use flash cards, some write it down and make up exercises and I’m sure you could come up with many ways to learn them yourself.
I will explain how I did it and would urge you to try the same method to see if it works for you or maybe adapt my idea to your own liking. Learning to play guitar through sight reading is probably the best method but we’ll leave that for a discussion some other time because I doubt it will be very popular, besides that, I’m no sight reader myself
Anyway, the first thing I done was to concentrate on just one note and master it across the neck. I started with the note “A” and simply stuck with it everyday for about a week by jamming over an A blues backing track using only the first octave or so from the A minor pentatonic. Not only did this method work well for me but it also made it interesting as well as boosting my enthusiasm to learn the entire fretboard.
The benefits of mastering just one note.
It can be difficult convincing someone just how beneficial it is to be able to instantly visualise the notes on the fretboard. Here are some pros to using my method.
- It’s never boring because you are jamming while you learn.
- You only need to master one twelfth of the fretboard to start seeing some real benefit to knowing the rest of the notes.
- Because you don’t need to learn the fretboard in it’s entirety to see some real benefits, it should encourage you to want to learn the rest of them.
- One note is equal to one twelfth of all the notes on the fretboard but results in something much much more than one twelfth of the improvements you are about to make in your playing. This is only the start of being able to effectively use chord tones in your playing.. one of the biggest differences between pros and amateurs!
Here are all the A notes up to the 14th fret (excluding the open A).
The method is simple. Take the first few notes of your favourite scale (mini pentatonic pattern) and jam with it over a backing track. The Jam Loops are perfect for this if you need to go slow or look for a suitable jam track here on this site.
Move small pentatonic patterns around the neck to start on every A note randomly and just jam along. Every time you move to another “A” make sure you locate and visualise it first before you actually move the pattern to it. This is very important, it’s that mental thinking part that makes you achieve results faster.
The following patterns give you the idea how this is done with the A minor pentatonic, first start with a four note pattern and then move on to slightly larger patterns. As you get comfortable with them try to take note of how these smaller patterns are really just chunks of the five pentatonic positions, at this point you should find you are thinking about the fretboard very differently as a whole new world opens up to you.
Patterns using the first four notes of the A minor pentatonic
We can’t use the same four note pattern starting on the first string so this one is descending.
Six note minor pentatonic patterns…
Patterns ascending to the left…
Don’t restrict yourself to just the patterns shown here, these will just get you started. Once you feel comfortable with the idea then move on to other eleven notes. Even though these ideas help greatly to improve the way you think about the pentatonic scales don’t forget the main purpose here is to learn the note locations on the fretboard.