Memorize the fretboard

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When playing guitar or bass guitar, there is no escape: Eventually you should know the whole fretboard by hart.


  • To be able to play along with other (bass) players: Life for me as a guitarist would be much easier, if I know at once what note the bass player is playing by looking as his/her fretboard hand. E.g., when he/she is playing a riff, that I know at once which chords I can play over it
  • To be able to easily transpose chords up and down the neck (e.g., shifted E-form)
  • To be able to communicate with other musicians: I need to be able to use names of notes, not positions on a guitar neck


Reading vs. playing

There might be two modes of interacting with the neck:

  • Reading: From any spot on the neck, I know which note it is. This comes handy when playing together with others. E.g, that I can see from the bass player what notes he is playing or what chords I can play along with that
  • Playing: I want to play a note, and I know where to find it on the neck (preferably in all 12 different places).

So far, I've been focusing on playing, not on reading. I'm not sure if I can do both when I only practice playing - More shall be revealed.

Up the neck: 5(4) semitone shift

All strings except the B-string, are shifted 5 semitones up. This means that the pattern of tones repeat on each string, although with a 5 fret shit (and a 4 fret shift for the B-string)

Down the neck: 7(8) semitones shift

Now the other way around, although probably not as useful


Context is everything

It's probably not so effective to learn the neck string-by-string, because there is little context

Probably a much better way: Start with a block or an 'island' somewhere on the neck, and learn the notes there. Than extend that area. This way, there is a context for learning new stuff, plus that in practice, I'm probably using strings and notes much more that way (namely block-wise, rather than e.g., string-wise).

There is however, one situation where it is useful to know the actual strings: For the E- and A-string, to know how to transpose chords.

Name the notes aloud

Dat helpt. Bv. bij het spelen van toonladders. Dit geldt voor alle paragrafen hieronder.

Play along

I tend to rehearse notes from the practice songs mentioned elsewhere, but it's actually more fun to play along with the actual song!


Learn a complete string, then move to the next string:

  • Choose a string
  • Play various songs on only this string, until the whole layout of this string is familiar
  • Only then move to the next string.

This might not be the most efficient way (I suspect block-by-block is more effective), but effectively, this is how I learned it (May 2019).

Block-by-block - Like around pentatonic scales

The trouble with playing songs string-by-string may be, that you usually don't use the guitar like that. I am much more likely to play in a certain block of notes. E.g, around Am-pentatonic.

Use reference contexts

  • Choose a 'box' or 'reference context': A place somewhere on the neck where you're playing
  • Learn the notes around that spot

Vijf halve tonen afstand per volgende snaar

  • Bedenk dat de snaren (muv. de B-snaar) steeds vijf halve tonen hoger zijn. Dus het patroon van de ene snaar, vind je terug op de volgende snaar, maar vijf frets terug. Die informatie kun je gebruiken om tonen op de andere snaren terug te vinden
  • Bij de B-snaar is dit interval echter 4 frets. Daardoor is de hoge E-snaar ook een halve toon lager dan je zou verwachten.

Zeven halve tonen afstand per vorige snaar

Dit geintje kun je ook de andere kant op toepassen. Dan is de afstand 7 halve tonen - Is dat handig?

Volgende octaaf: 2x2

  • Als je een bepaalde noot speelt, vind je dezelfde noot (maar een octaaf hoger) als je twee snaren verderop, twee frets hoger gaat
  • Als de 'hoge snaar' de B-snaar betreft, is het echter drie frets verderop
  • Als de 'hoge snaar' de hoge E-snaar betreft, is het opnieuw drie frets verderop.

Dit kun je gebruiken bij het leren van de hals: Speel een toon, en dan een octaaf lager en hoger.

Pentatonic scales

  • Choose a pentatonic scale (E.g., Am)
  • Play & memorize. E.g, along with backing tracks or songs in the same key
  • Try tricks like moving to the same note on other locations (see section above)
  • Move to the next scale.

Major scales - With different starting finger

Example: C-major:

  • Start with the index-finger on C and play the scale wile naming the notes
  • Start with the middle-finger on C and play the scale. You're now playing in a different box
  • Start with the pinky on C, etc.

String-by-string + octave (not recommended)

  • Kies een snaar
    • Kies een nummer
      • Speel dat nummer. Speel daarbij ook de octaaf van die snaar. Dus 'twee snaren verder, twee frets hoger'
      • Speel ook een 'octaaf lager'
    • Kies een volgende nummer. Net zolang tot ik die snaar uit m'n hoofd ken
  • Ga naar de volgende snaar en herhaal
  • Weer terug naar de eerste snaar en alle tussenliggende snaren. Ga daarna naar de volgende snaar

Note-by-note (not recommended)

Learn to play a couple of notes on all strings, then move to other notes.


  • Start with Chris Isaak - Wicked Game
    • Play in on the low E-string
    • Play it on the next string
    • Play it on the first string, then second string, than third string
    • Play it on the first, second, third & fourth string
    • Etc. until you can play it on all six string
  • Start with another song, that uses different notes
  • Go back to the first song and check that it still goes ok
  • Choose a third song, and make sure you can play the first, second & third song
  • Etc.

After some extensive practice, this seems less effective than string-by-string: Maybe it provides too little context for memorizing: String-by-string has a clear context: That very string. That seems to be missing here.

Practice songs

Some songs that I find useful for practice

Basic - Songs with one chord pattern

Multiple patterns

Veel afwisseling

Snel & veel

Zie ook