How To Learn The Guitar Fretboard And Become A More Creative Musician

Jan30

A common challenge that many musicians face is a lack of ability to be expressive and creative in their guitar playing. To make the problem even more painful, you have no doubt also heard the common prediction that it is impossible to improve your level of musical creativity beyond what your natural talent enables you to do. On the surface, the chances of overcoming this problem may seem very low and I recall myself being very frustrated with my lack of progress in this area years ago.

The good news is that musical creativity is a goal that can be achieved by anyone. If you doubt your own potential to become a creative musician and fear that you “lack musical talent,” think about how only people who are not musicians (or at least are not “great” musicians) make such ignorant claims, and nobody among the world’s top guitar players believes in this myth.

However, despite the fact above, there are still several reasons why so many guitar players have a hard time improving their musical creativity. Here are a few of them:

1. The majority of musicians do not consciously plan or even know what it is they need to work on to become more creative on their instrument.

2. Many musicians approach the process of becoming more creative by looking for a single specific thing they must practice on guitar that will give them the desired result. In reality, guitar playing and musical creativity is a result of combined practicing of multiple skills that, at first glance, may appear to have little to do with each other. This is similar to learning to speak a new language and needing to do many overlapping activities (learning the vocabulary, studying rules of grammar, immersing yourself into a new culture, etc.,) to reach your goal of fluency.

3. Too many guitar players cannot distinguish between being “musically creative” and being an “original” musician. To be original, you must have the ability to come up with musical ideas that nobody has heard or played before. Contrary to that, to be musically “creative”, all that is necessary is for you to play music that makes you happy and fulfilled with, regardless of whether or not you are truly original. It’s important to emphasize the difference between these two terms because clearly understanding your guitar playing goals will help you to reach them much more quickly. To learn more about effective guitar practicing, watch this video about the best guitar practice methods.

The entire list of topics that is needed for becoming a highly creative guitar player is much too broad to be covered in only one article. However, in the points below I will help you to learn how to practice one particular aspect of guitar playing which is highly important for developing musical creativity. This aspect is the ability to visualize the entire guitar fretboard. Of all the skills you need to work on in order to improve your creativity, mastering the guitar neck will help you to see instant progress in your ability to express yourself on guitar, even though (ironically) this element is rarely practiced as much as it should be. Becoming totally fluent in your visualization of the guitar will make it a whole lot easier for you to master other aspects of making more creative music.

As you read the folloing points, consider how these practicing ideas are interconnected to help you develop the same general skill (of fretboard mastery) from a variety of angles.

Here is what you must do in order to completely master your visualization of the guitar neck:

Memorize All Notes On Guitar
To become more creative when playing guitar solos or writing songs, one fundamental thing you must learn is where all the notes on the fretboard are all over the guitar. Most importantly, you need to be able to recall the notes quickly, in the same way you can recall your birthday, your phone number or other facts that you know by heart. Many guitar players make the mistake of stopping to work on learning the notes on the fretboard further once they develop the basic ability to “figure out” what a note is after thinking about it. This is not good enough. In order to have this knowledge be usable in your musical skills, you must speed up your ability to recall where notes are on the guitar neck. To learn more about how to practice to achieve this, watch this free video about memorizing the guitar neck.

Play Scales In Every Position On Guitar Fretboard
When it comes to the skill of fretboard visualization, few things are more common among guitar players than the problem of only knowing how to play scales in one position. Until you learn how to play the scales you know everywhere on the guitar neck, your ability to be creative on guitar will be severely (and needlessly) restricted.

Conversely, when you can play scales all over the guitar, your ability to be free to express yourself in music will go through the roof. If you want to learn how to develop this in your guitar practicing, see this free video lesson on the topic of practicing guitar scales.

Get Used To Identifying What Fretboard “Shapes” Look Like.
In order to fully and fluently visualize everything you play on guitar, you must focus on the ability to see in your mind the fretboard patterns formed by scales, licks, chords and intervals that you play on your instrument. Although this skill is not often talked about or practiced by guitarists, it is very important for learning to be free when playing music. When you develop the skill to identify fretboard shapes, you will find that you can play any note, anywhere on the guitar and know what chord, scale or lick can be played in relation to that pitch. Watch this video about memorizing the guitar neck to learn exactly what this skill means and to understand how you should practice for it.

Become Confident At Playing Guitar In Any Key
Due to the unique nature of the guitar, it is common for guitar players to become locked in to playing in a certain set of keys that are physically easier to play. However, this leaves a significant portion of the instrument unexplored when it comes to playing in unfamiliar keys such as Db major, F minor and others. Although you probably already know how to slide/transpose barre chords and scales to any key, there is a difference between theoretically knowing “how” to do something and actually feeling confident about playing in strange and unfamiliar keys. The good news is that by practicing to play in keys that you aren’t used to yet, it will become much easier to visualize the entire guitar neck and to have your playing feel much easier and more creative as a result.

As you can see from reading the guitar practice advice from this article, you do not need to have lots of natural talent in order to improve your musical creativity. All you need is an understanding of the elements that go into making this skill possible, as well as consistency in applying these points into your guitar practice sessions. Even though there is much more left to be said about the general idea of musical creativity for guitar players, if you follow the advice in this article you will surely see significant growth in your ability to express yourself creatively with your music.

To learn even more about improving your guitar playing and musical creativity, make sure to study the items below:

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About Mike Philippov

Mike Philippov is a professional musician, music instructor and composer. He writes articles about learning and practicing guitar that are published on websites around the world. On his website http://PracticeGuitarNow.com you can find many more guitar practice articles and advice about becoming a better guitar player.

Comments [4]

  1. Hey, what a cool article about learning the fretboard-I´m a GIT graduate and I can say that knowing all the notes on the fretboard makes guitarplaying in all styles of music truly a lot easier – and every student should get into this and have fun…..keep on rocking

  2. Nice post, although I would say your final four points are a bit too general to be substantially helpful. I think to really “know the fretboard” and understand the modes and scales that you play, there simply must be at least a foundational understanding of music theory. If you don’t get some of the mechanics behind the movement, you’ll be confused no matter what.

    Learning the notes are a good start, but again, I’d say this needs to be taken a few steps further. No hard feelings though, just some constructive criticism.

  3. Hey great post. When I started playing my teacher always told me that “your playing can’t come alive until you know the fretboard like the back of your hand”. It amazes me how many guitarists who consider themselves “experienced” don’t know the fretboard at all. It’s interesting because this seems to happen with guitar more than other instruments.

  4. David Miller says:

    I learned during years of teaching what I found to be the quickest way to learn the fretboard. Even 7 year old kids learned in no longer that 3 weeks, many within one week. First and foremost one must know the chromatic scale. A to A again with all sharps and flats included (the musical alphabet in half steps, 1 fret) All letters have a sharp/flat between them except for B to C and E to F. Second, obviously know the strings names for your tuning; Standard tuning E,A,D,G,B,E. Then memorize the note names for dotted frets a string at a time (at least 2 strings per week) , example: 6th string is 3rh fret G, 5th fret A, 7th fret, B, 9th fret C# and the 12th starts over again with the string names. Then anywhere you put your finger on the string you will instantly know the note name because you are on or next to the few you memorized. It’s like memorizing it all without memorizing it all. That technique never failed. I wish I had thought of that when I was a kid teaching myself. Keep on pickin’ just don’t pick your nose.

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