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Learning/Mastering the fretboard

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Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 153
Topic starter  

So I've decided to start playing bass as part of a gospel praise group. I've been playing the bass for a little while, and I've got a pretty good ear, so I've always been able to manage (and I can kind of do so here). I now play a six-string bass and I have a lot of fun with it.

I realize, however, that I have pretty much no knowledge of the fretboard whatsoever. I've always relied on my ear and relative fingerings to get me by, and it's worked pretty well. I have knowledge of scales and modes and I understand how and why they work, but when I apply them to the instrument, it's mainly a matter of "find the root, play the pattern". Don't get me wrong - using my ear like this really works most of the time; I can improvise, I can follow, and I can make it sound pretty good. I'm a fan of latin, rock, calypso (grew up with that one), and a lot of other styles.

I know how to apply music theory to what I'm playing - gospel uses a lot of turnarounds consisting of fourths (like, a typical progression would be II, II, V, V, !, !, !!!, VI) and I can follow that stuff, but the problem is that I don't know my instrument.

In order to become a better bassist and not suck, I need to do this ASAP. What are some methods to learning this? Is it rote memorization? Do people memorize notes by fret or by position? Or do people learn by find all variants of one note across the entire fretboard?

I need some ideas and some methods to do this. I need to learn the fretboard and make it my own - I need to know all of the locations of the notes, but more importantly, I need to associate them with the sounds of the notes (because I play by ear), not just the note names. I don't want to hear a chord and have to think "oh that's a G minor seventh" and then have to find a g minor and play it. That conversion is really just going to slow me down, especially in a gospel setting. (Maybe the fretboard/ear combination will come with time and practice - I feel like I used to have it. Maybe I shouldn't have stopped practicing. :- )

That was pretty long. I guess I'm asking - how did you guys learn the fretboard? Do you have any training ideas that you think are very effective? How do you keep it fresh?



Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4921

Personally, I think rote is the way to go. It's like your multiplication tables - once you really have them, you don't need to think about them.

When I realized I needed to really know the fretboard, I made up a set of flash cards - 21 of them (one for each note, one for each note with a sharp - including the ones like E# - and one for each note with a flat).

I'd shuffle up my cards, turn one over, and try to find that note on all six strings as fast as I could. Then I'd turn up the next card, and do it again.

I spent about 15 minutes a day doing that for maybe three weeks... and byt that point I knew the fretboard pretty well.

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Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 153
Topic starter  

Hmm. That seems pretty reasonable, actually. I guess that I can combine that technique with fretboard chart study for the six-string. I really didn't think of the flash card idea, but it makes a lot of logical sense.

On those same lines, it might be interesting to have a pair of dice or something - maybe a regular six-sided one, along with a 24-sided one, and roll them at the same time. The number of the regular die would be my string, and the 24-sided one would be my fret number....combine them and find the note. I'd never really thought of games like these - and the cool thing is that I wouldn't even need the bass guitar to do that one. (I'm actually at work right now, so I can't play for 8 hours, but I would like to find a practice method that wouldn't require the bass.)

Edit: Ideally, in the future, I would be able to find a method where I could have a note be played (so I'd have to hear it instead of seeing it), and have to find it on the fretboard. I'm sure there's a way to do that on a computer.

I'll give these a shot! Other ideas are also welcome.


Prominent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 726

I agree with Noteboat.

There was a guitar player on youtube that I watched teaching this method of learning the fretboard. I think it was Eric Johnson. I gave it a go and found it really helpful.

Famed Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3995

Fretsource has several Flash-tools in his webpage and one of them is for learning the fretboard. It is for guitar.

Eminent Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 14

This is a good way to learn. Go to

Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5342

This is a good way to learn. Go to

That one looks good; you can move your mouse over the stave and get the note pop up on the neck, and it shows you the note in position on every string too.

A :-)

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