The 13th Fret

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Klaatu… Barada… Necktie!:
KNOW Your Notes

Remember that infamous scene in Army Of Darkness, where Ash had to accurately recite a sacred passage in order to successfully acquire a copy of the Necronomicon? His arrogant dismissal of the importance of the scripture, coupled with his “good enough” attitude towards the recollection of the phrases resulted in total chaos for he and his cohorts.

Such is the approach many guitarists take towards the knowledge and recitation of the notes on the guitar neck! This month’s column is going to focus on something that plagues the majority of players that I’ve encountered and/or had a chance to sit with…

Thorough and true knowledge of the note on the fretboard.

Sure, many players have some passable knowledge of the location of notes on the guitar neck, but rarely to the degree that they should… and most definitely could! As a teacher, I’ve heard countless guitarists express how frustrated they are in learning one or more of the following:

1 - being able to improvise fluidly and freely

2 - know what scale(s) to use in any given situation

3 - be able to apply theoretical concepts in a way that their favourite players seems to be able to effortlessly do, in both a writing and soloing context

This is where the true benefits will take hold in your creativity!

The thing is, all of these things are quite possible and available to any player who desires them. What’s more, these are all a natural byproduct (or the directly result) of having a solid command of the notes on the neck. A question that should be asked is, “What exactly does a solid command of the neck entail?” In short, it is being able to drop your finger anywhere on the fretboard and INSTANTLY name the note, without having to “count up” or “figure it out”. Basically, identifying and naming any note as quickly as recognizing one of the primary colours.

Having this ability at your fingertips would allow you to improvise at a much higher level; being able to pinpoint and target the notes of the chord you happen to be playing over at any given moment. Those notes, after all, are the strongest notes you could hit! How about being able to finally apply not only the theory that you’ve learned thus far, in an actual working capacity... but also the theory you’ve always WANTED to learn and apply.

Enough of the sales pitch….here’s how to achieve this in the least amount of time. We’ve all seen the classic wall-sized poster of the diagram of the neck. Every single fret is labelled on every string, and looks intimidating as hell. Forget this; too much memorization and thinking. All we need to focus on for the time being are the NATURAL NOTES. Essentially, the C Major Scale (C,D,E,F,G,A, and B). Here is the scale laid out with each whole step (W) and half step (H) marked. Be sure to memorize the half steps…

Why are we focusing on only memorizing the half steps? Simple, we want to strip away the unnecessary steps in the thought process. Scales follow the alphabetical order, regardless of their starting note. Therefore, if you land on an “E”, then you’ll quickly realize that “F” is the next fret higher. Same with the relationship between “B” and “C”. Every other note will be a whole step (two frets) to the next (A to B, D to E, G to A, etc.).

The next step is to apply this concept to a single string. Piano players generally learn all of their notes in a fraction of the time that guitarists do. Why? Simply because the piano is laid out in a very clear and LINEAR fashion. The notes rise and fall in a simple "left to right” manner. The thing to keep in mind is, any one string on the guitar is a piano in nature. Because of this reason, learning the notes in a single string manner is the best way to start.

Click here to download the sheet music!

“Having this ability at your fingertips would allow you to improvise at a much higher level...”

Lets begin this process in a way that also allows you to sharpen your coordination! Check out FIG. 1. Using the high E string, we’re going to take the first three notes available to us in the C Major scale; E, F and G. We’ll play these three notes twice, using alternate picking and more importantly… SAYING THE NOTES ALOUD. This is a step that can’t be stressed enough. We don’t want to simply memorize fret numbers here. That won’t help us much in the long run. Saying these notes aloud with ingrain them and their connection deeper into your brain/muscle memory. From there, continue by dropping back one note to F, then grabbing the next two notes from there, G and A. Now you’re playing (and saying) F, G, A, F, G, A…and continuing to alternate pick of course.

Carry this all the way up the string to the highest fret available to the key of C Major. Then come down, reversing the order of notes, but continuing to say the aloud. Be prepared for this to take a while if you’re not used to doing so. Keep in mind; mastery is the key, and persistence is the only way.

This kind of thing can be done systematically, perhaps as a warmup everyday before your regular practice. I recommend one string a day. Perhaps "Day two” will begin on the B string, starting with B,C and D and climbing from there. Be sure to cover every string eventually and be thorough.

Another great exercise is to target a single note, and find only that note in all locations from string to string, low to high. You’ll notice that FIG. 2 uses “G” as our target note. Notice how we exhaust all the G’s on the 6th string, then the 5th string, and so on. I would also throw in the added challenge of being able to locate and play all of these notes IN TIME to a foot tap or metronome. Not an easy task, but over time, it gets easier and faster. The benefits of being able to do this with any note will become glaringly obvious soon enough.

I’ll have more present on this topic very soon, but these two ideas will keep you plenty busy for now. Work hard at these but be patient. After all, it’s like trying to navigate between six pianos here! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me me a line at my Facebook page. See you next month!

Kelly Kereliuk, HMS

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