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The title says it all. Is there no escaping memorizing the neck note by note, or is there a nice technique for this?

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9 Answers 9

You don't need to memorise note for note, but memorising a few shapes is useful, as it speeds up learning of positions, chords, scales etc.

So for example, you will probably learn E, C, D, F, A and G fairly early on, along with (probably) Em, Am and Dm.

You'll also learn the simple power chord versions of E and A, and probably a couple of major scales and blues scales. I used to teach an E blues scale and an A blues scale in open position fairly early on.

So a next step would be to realise that to go from E to A is 5 semitones, which equals 5 frets, so if you wanted to play an A blues scale, rather than play it in the open position, you could play the same fingering as the E but 5 frets higher up.

From there you start to get a feel for where the adjacent string relationships are (5, 5, 5, 4 and 5 frets) and at the same time understand the octave positions.

Once comfortable with that, understanding where to move to go from an A shape barre chord to a D shape, or from a G shape to an E shape barre chord becomes useful.

In my head, though, I have never really bothered with learning note by note, but much more by visualising the shapes (at least in the early years) and nowadays I can feel where the next notes might be in muscle memory - although I haven't fully sorted this for my oddly tuned 7 string...I need to consciously convert for the AD at the bottom. I know much more experienced players who can shift tunings at the drop of a hat without worrying where the notes have moved to... some day I hope I will be able to do that.

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I have to second this (even though I do know the fretboard inside and out) since this is one of biggest advantages of the guitar over many instruments. Instead pick several solid reference points you are comfortable with and then spend the time instead on scales and modes at each of your reference points. Transposing these to another key is then just a matter of moving your starting point up or down a few frets. –  Kelly Christoffersen Oct 21 '12 at 1:19

I'm going to suggest something a little different... It might take a little concentration, but it's that fastest method for learning the fretboard that I know of.

Try playing a Cmajor scale on each of your strings, playing on just one string at a time. A Cmajor scale will give you all the natural notes, but no sharps or flats. Here is a system for learning the fretboard fairly easily in 6 weeks or less:

  • week 1: start with any one string and play just the natural notes from the open string all the way to the highest fret. I would recommend starting with your 'B' string, as you can play a C in the first fret, and from there it is relatively easy to play a Cmajor scale by ear (I have seen children as young as 6 or 7 manage this by trial and error - you might be surprised at how ingrained a major scale is to the western ear).

If you want a more solid system (i.e not playing a major scale just by ear) then you could figure it out with the knowledge that a major scale consists of the intervals: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone; and that each fret on a guitar is a semitone. C will be a tone below D which is 2 frets, D is a tone below E (another 2 frets), E is a semitone below F (1 fret) etc. The scale and it's intervals could be written thusly:

C (T) D (T) E (sT) F (T) G (T) A (T) B (sT) C where (T) = Tone and (sT) = semitone (not trying to patronise, just not assuming any knowlege, sorry if I'm covering material you already know)

Spend a whole week on just that one string, playing just the natural notes. Perhaps even say them aloud as you play them. Play them ascending as well as descending and eventually moving around non-sequentially on the one string.

  • Weeks 2 - 6: Each week repeat the same with a new string - starting at the open string and playing only natural notes until you reach the highest fret.

At the end of six weeks (or rather, 5, as your 'E' strings will be the same, but take a week off - you've been working hard) you should know all your natural notes on the fretboard. To figure out an accidental (sharp/flat) you can just use one of the natural notes on either side (if I know that the 8th fret on the 'B' string is a G, then I know that the 9th fret is a G#/Ab etc.)

I would also be practicing this AWAY from the guitar in my head. Imagine the fretboard, imagine the string, name each natural note along that string in your mind. The reason for this is that you don't need to be able to play with any kind of decent technique in order to remember the names of notes on the fretboard - it's pure pattern recognition, which is a mental exercise.

Studies have shown that mental practice when combined with physical practice is the fastest, most efficient path to improvement.

Good luck!

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From my experience, using and learning power chords is a great starting point. To start with, where the power chords are on the 6th E string: the 5th fret is A, 7th is B, 3rd is G and so on. Then do the same for power chords that start on the 5th (A) string, so 5th is D, 3rd is C, 2nd is B etc.

The second part is understanding that for power chords that have their root on the 6th and 5th string, their octave is 2 frets above the root note, having jumped over a string. Let me illustrate with an example:

For a G power chord, the root is on the 3rd fret, 6th string. The octave will be on the 5th fret (jumping two frets) on the 4th string (jumping a string). The same goes for the 5th string: take the B power chord. Root: 2nd fret, 5th string. Octave: 4th fret, 3rd string.

For the 1st E string, it is just exactly the same note as the 6th E string.

For 2nd B, it is a little more complicated, but the same principle. Take 8th fret, B string. You can take away 3 frets from it, and jump down over a string, and you have 5th fret, D string. That, as we worked out earlier, is G (worked out from jumping up 2 frets from root G in the power chord).

I apologise if this seems a little long winded, or patronising, but using each little method helped me work fret notes out quickly, and with practice, it comes. Knowing the notes around the fretboard will help no end!

Edit: you can also take a look at/attempt to memorise/stick a copy to your wall of diagrams like these

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One thing I am doing at the moment is squeezing in memorization time during other daily routines.

I have printed a copy of this:

http://egalo.com/guitar-fretboard-visualization-chart-with-note-names.pdf

laminated it, and put it up in my shower. Now every day when I have a shower, I also spend that time memorizing the fretboard and testing myself on note names. Has been working well so far and doesn't take any extra time from my day to do.

That PDF is the best I have found anywhere for mapping out the fretboard and assisting in learning note names and relationships.

That site also has the following chart which is also very good depending on what you want on one page:

http://egalo.com/guitar-fretboard-notes-chart.pdf

Hope this help :)

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The first document you linked is awesome –  bobobobo Nov 19 '12 at 2:00

If you have a song and want to help yourself memorizing notes you can try with Guitar Pro software (Guitar Pro Website)

Basically it can play a music sheet and a tab sheet together helping you memorizing positions between notes/guitar keyboard positions

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1  
I didn't ask for help in learning specific songs. You did not explain how Guitar Pro is going to help me memorize notes on the neck. This is a classical downvote candidate. –  EpsilonVector Oct 22 '12 at 19:24
    
He says it displays tab and a scale, which you would then tie together. After enough concerted practice like this, you could begin to catch on - and it would probably be somewhat fun to do. –  Sam Jan 10 '13 at 20:28

Memorising the notes rather than 'deriving' them (i.e. finding one you know and working out the one you don't) is certainly a lot faster when it comes to playing them!

Memorising shapes will let you get away with not knowing all the notes in the meantime.

But if you do want to have a go, I highly recommend the practice technique described in this video.

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I see the general consensus here is to find workarounds (scale shapes, string by string, etc) that aid your memorizing.

In my opinion, the problem with this is that your brain will not truly memorize the notes one by one, but will just adapt to process faster the scale-shape algorithm that you practiced hard. And the pitfall to this is that when you'll encounter a live or stressful situation, it is possible that the algorithm processing will crack or slow down, and you will block or make a mistake or something bad will happen.

Best way when practicing anything, is to get to a level much higher than you will ever encounter in a live situation, and I don't think you can get there by workarounds.

The only method that I found suitable for this is simply brute-force learning. For that, the only aid you need is some kind of program or a friend that will simply give you random notes and you have to find them as fast as you can. It is also useful to do this exercise without your guitar, because visual memorization is essential in this.

There are variations that you can do with this, like:

  • play a random note on a given string (there will be only 2 possible positions, or 3 if you have 24 frets and you must play the open-string note, but that's too easy)
  • play a random note on all six strings (and try to play them in such order that you avoid the octave shape - 2 strings below, 2 frets further)
  • play a random note on a given set of strings

The goal here is to make solving this exercise a routine. Then you know that you are sure of your own musical abilities.

Also you want to try this with different chord shapes.

There are also other exercises that help you with this, but they all have one thing in common: put your brain to a stress that it's never encountered before. I'll give you one example that Joe Satriani wrote about once:

  • fix 6 random notes at your choice (the exercise is atonal, so there is no key) that cover the entire fretboard and on all 6 strings
  • try to play these notes as fast as you can (this is also a good muscular-development exercise, because it teaches you fast jumps on the neck).
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I used to write down little riffs I found in musical notation and not read tabs. And studying music theory on the guitar helps a lot too, as it involves reading music a lot. I don't think a dedicated learning method would work better than this natural learning process. It's like learning a new language, the more you speak it, the more you learn.

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I'm not necessarily a fan of it, but there is the CAGED method that some people find helpful.

http://www.cagedguitarsystem.net/using-the-caged-system/

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