Developing The Fretboard In Your Mind

Difficulty: Spectrum

Developing a fretboard in your mind is an incredible tool that you can use in many different ways. I've found sometimes that 'mental' practice can be sometimes even more effective than practice on the instrument in certain circumstances!

The idea is to build a fretboard in your mind that you can use to practice any time you want. Ideally, you want to be able to hear the notes too (this is a lot more challenging and will be discussed more in a later article) but to start with you should try to develop your knowledge of the note names on the fretboard.

I have a pretty clear picture of a fretboard of my 1995 Fender Stratocaster Deluxe in my mind. I know where the frets are more worn and I can almost feel it in my hand just by visualising it – and would suggest that you try to build a specific guitar in your mind rather than a generic one, it somehow makes it more powerful. Start with your favourite instrument and study the neck and then close your eyes and try to build an image of it in your mind. I can rotate mine from a front on look to the position it is usually in when I play. Try and do that too – really imagine the feeling of it in your hand while you picture it in your mind.

A great first exercise is to find the same note on each string, starting on the thickest string and working your way up to the thinnest string and back, using only Finger 1 and no open strings. If you are unfamiliar with the notes on the neck, you would have to get a reference chart (there's one on my web site) showing the notes, but as soon as possible you need to have that information off the page and into your memory.

Let's start with the note C, imagine your first finger placed on the 8th fret of String 6, then move it over to the 3rd fret of String 5. Then follow across the strings, and the note C will be on frets 10, 5, 1 and 8 and then back down. Just start with the note C and really make sure it is solid in your mind. You can and should do this exercise on the instrument too! Once you are confident with C, try the note G. Then do all the C's and then all the G's. Then add D, A, E, B and finally F – always remembering to practice the previous notes as well as the new one.

This is an incredibly powerful tool on its own, but this next exercise is the one seems to be that really connects it all for most students.

Now in your mind place Finger 1 (index) on the 6th fret of String 6. Name the note. Then move it down a string (Fret 6, String 5) and name that. Then move it down a string again (Fret 6, String 4) and so on. You should have had the notes Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, F and Bb or their enharmonic equivalents (A#, D#, G#, C#, F and A#).

Now pick a random note on the thinnest string and work up! Maybe the 10th fret because everyone gets a bit rusty up there. So Fret 10, String 1 is the note ____. Then name Fret 10 String 2. Fret 10 String 3 and so on. You should have D, A, F, C, G and D.

Five minutes a day of these exercises (nail the first one before even thinking about the second) will really help you get to know your fretboard – and doing it only in your mind will accelerate your learning of it. It can be done anywhere, and nobody even need know you are doing it (I must say that doing it while driving is not going to be a good idea right!).

Once you know the notes on the fretboard clearly and can see your hand on it – try playing some scales or arpeggios in your mind before you try to play them. It's a real learning accelerator – give it a chance to grow, and I'm sure you'll find it beneficial. Happy mind games! 

Food For Thought

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