Fretboard Visualization Methods


Hi everybody!

I’m researching the various concepts out there since I’m kinda building my own lately, so my question is:
what else have you geeks (me being a proud one too) found using standard tuning? other than:
caged/traditional/Jimmy Bruno
Pentatonic (using bottom degrees a la Dana Rasch)
6 shapes (a la Chuck Loeb)
Pebber Brown’s 14 Shapes
Just Notes (a la Andreas Oberg, Bireli?)
Single Point reference a la Tom Quayle
Single string (better learn those notes)

A non-standard visualization method for chords and scales

I personally rely on one octave scales. My thinking process is to take one octave and to practice all chromatic intervals inside it. This method allows me to, let’s say, play in ionian mode but once I want to add some different flavor, I know where exactly is #4 so I can induce some lydian sound at any time. (For that to work one needs to know scale formulas)

I ended up with having three fingerings for each low root for the most of the scales and string sets: starting on index finger, pinky, and one of the middle fingers. (there are exceptions)

I should note that I don’t improvise much so I can’t assure how effective is this way of looking into scales. I simply feel comfortable with it.
I came up with this on my own but I’m sure many people have thought of this before me. I just wasn’t clever enough to check it out :sweat_smile:

How does your visualization method looks so far?


Something that helped me a lot is knowing the name of every note on every string. That way you immediately know what note you are playing over what chord.

I’ve tried different ways of learning the fretboard via YT, but what really helped me to learn the notes is concentrating on 1 string at a time, say the D string.

You then play only notes on the D string from open to the 22-24th fret and you try to guess the note name as fast as possible.

This way every note stands on its own and you don’t rely on octaves in order to know what note you are playing.

Learning scales is pretty meaningless unless you known the relationship of the scale notes to the chords playing underneath, because ultimately, especially in Western music, you are playing melodies over chord harmonies, so you should always be aware of which note you are playing over what chord and why and how it sounds.


Well my idea is pretty much that same thing with a little twist, full octaves (always 2 reference points), 3 basic fingerings (if using 7 notes 3nps, 2 if 5 notes 2nps), but I also visualize the full octaves that “aren’t there” so I don’t have to deal with partials, works really well with changing scales with basically no movement, and messing with less common scales, say mixing some Aeolian with Harmonic Minor, Hungarian Minor (Harmonic Minor #4) and Hirajoshi (1 2 b3 5 b6).

Or different scales depending on direction, say one full octave of Major to one of Lydian ascending or one of Aeolian to one of Phrygian descending.


Chromatic Solfege singing FTW!!!


That’s cool idea! I think I would practice it by having some backing track with challenging/faster chord changes and would try to play root notes only on that targeted string along the backing track. Actually, I will practice it this way. Thanks :+1:


What is ‘Solfege’? I saw it on another post but did ask at the time…


Learning major, minor, and diminished triads, arpeggios, and their inversions within whatever scale I’m working in has helped me immensely. I also learned augmented and suspended chords. All these have helped to quickly grasp chord construction, and visualize the fretboard in a non-linear/non-boxed way.


It’s the good old Do Re Mi stuff, but now transposed to the new key, using only one syllable relative to the key instead of absolute note/pitch names (In F, Do = F, In C Do = C).

They’re all the same
Do = 1
Re = 2
Mi (Mee) = 3
Fa = 4
So = 5
La = 6
Ti (Tee) = 7

If you alter those with a sharp they become i (ee) sound (except for Mi and Ti) as in Do turns to Di = #1.
And if you alter them with a flat they become an e (as in epic) sound except for Re that becomes Ra = b2, Mi becomes Me = b3.


Personally, and I don’t mean to be argumentative, but I think the question is too broad to produce a useful answer.

Learning the fretboard is only relative to the musical end you’re trying to achieve - the best method to get to the point of being able to do recreate (not improvise) fast Yngwie runs (which are mostly scalar/diatonic) is going to be different than the method to be able to improvise over Coltrane’s 26-2 in a communicative way with a band in a live setting.

Even getting more granular, within each genre or even piece of music we only need to know the fretboard well enough for that task.

And going further than that, there are stages of awareness. It’s great to know the fretboard, but there’s no limit to how well you can know it or visualize it. For example, I feel like I can do a lot, but I know that if you asked me sight-transpose a 4 part bach chorale into all 12 keys without writing anything down you’d be waiting quite a while.

I know that might not seem like a particularly helpful or pleasant answer, but I think we achieve a lot more with music/guitar when we get really specific about what we’re trying to accomplish - what the end goal is, and personally I feel strongly that a lot of practice plans get misdirected by not having a clear endpoint, and discussions of what is best become a little meaningless without a tangible objective being established.


I know a lot of ways to visualise the fretboard, yet I still suck at improvising… sob :sweat_smile:

EDIT: the ways I know are based on scales (3nps, caged, pentas etc.) and arpeggios. Perhaps I should have spent more time working on meaningful musical phrases that move within these shapes.


Point taken.

Not everyone needs a small encyclopedia of musical knowledge in their head to play. However there’s such a thing as music fundamentals, a triad is a triad is a triad.

Your application of it may turn it into a different style but a Perfect 4th as a non passing tone on a major chord is a pretty crappy choice regardless, and it’s a pretty unmusical choice to “fall on it” just because it’s the very end of the first 3nps pattern for ex.


Now it’s all about relating your phrases back to the visualization system so you can mix, alter, transpose, link or, in general, mess with them.


I did all kinds of stuff, pentatonics, 3nps, one-octave scales. In the end, Mick Goodrick’s view from The Advancing Guitarist was the best for me. Learn all the natural notes (ie, no sharps or flats) on one string at a time. I had a decade of piano background before playing guitar so this helped me see the fretboard in a similar way to the piano.

These days I try to do more CAGED stuff as well, I’ve been using Single Note Soloing by Ted Greene to help with this. But like Jake mentions above, the system I “use” depends on what I’m trying to accomplish at that time.


+1 for Mick Goodrich’s “single string unitar” exercise.

I have my students improvise over C major backing tracks

  • with one finger
  • on one string
  • doing “Say It As You Play It”

Really helps cement notes as something with a name and not just a series of coordinates.


There’s something very non bs about Mick Goodrick 's idea, you have to actually know the notes (no shapes) and if you wanna be somewhat musical you better know your intervals well too.


“Whatever Works” (Woody Allen, 2009) :wink:


I think it’s useful to learn as many approaches as you can. Here are some of the approaches that I like.

  • Three notes per string scales.
    Consists of 7 positions with 3 notes on each string. Good for quickly getting to know a scale all over the neck. Good for speed picking and legato playing. On the other hand it can make for very scalar playing and the positions are very big chunks of information to learn and navigate.

  • 1 octave “3 nps”
    This is one of ny favourites and i use this kind of thinking when practicing the usual 3nps positions also. It’s basically three different one octave fingerings. One starting from the index, one from the middle finger and one from the ring or pinky finger. When you reach the next root note you can then stitch it together with another one ocatve position to make a regular 3nps position or make a position shift to use the same shape again in the next octave. This makes it easier for me to learn scales and to be aware of what scale degrees I’m playing since i don’t have to think about such a big shape.

  • 4+3 or 3+4 scales
    This is the result of playing a one octave shape on the lower strings and connection them to the same kind of shape an octave up in the higher strings. This makes the scales very symmetrical and easy to learn and use. I find it works especially well with melodic minor scales.

  • Scale degrees geometric shapes
    This is a method taught by Tom Quayle in his Visualising the Fretboard course. It uses the root notes all over the neck as reference points and then uses the shapes for the various scale degrees/intervals ascending and descending within an octave. I find this very useful for improvisation and playing over changes. The shapes are small chunks of information to learn and easy to improvise and be free with. It makes sense espescially with Tom Quayle’s all fourths tuning but is very useful in standard too.

  • Caged
    Using 5 different chord shapes as visual anchors for scales, arpeggios and other melodic material. Good for connecting scales to chords and chord tones and playing over changes. Easier for me to visualise the scale degrees compared to 3nps even though these positions too are big chunks of information. The five positions of caged can also be viewed as the five common pentatonic shapes with extra notes added.

  • Voicing arpeggios
    This means using any voicing you know for a chord as an arpeggio.

  • practicing 1 string at a time
    As in Mick Goodricks The Advancing Guitarist. In my opinion one of the best things you can do for your fretboard knowledge.

  • Nir Felder in his great MMC masterclass talks about not relying on scale shapes by practicing first on one string at a time similar to Goodrick and thinking note names and scale degrees simultanously. Then practicing the scale from the guitar’s lowest note to the highest and back with shifting strings in random places, still while thinking note names and scale degrees. He also does this with diatonic intervals and 3 and 4 note structures.

  • 4, 3, 2 nps
    This is perhaps not really a visualisation method but more a way of practicing a scales to really learn them well. Practice the scales from all scale degrees from the lowest string with 4 note per string, 3 notes per string and 2 notes per string. This will have you playing scales in all directions.

Regardless of visualisation approach I think it is very important to learn all the notes of the fretboard. Alex Machacek has some useful exercises for this in his MMC masterclass.


Guess we’re all dorks here since I own every single course and MMC masterclass you mentioned haha. My idea is pretty much the 1 octave 3nps you mentioned as a core and anything else built on top of it.

Nir Felder’s and 4, 3, 2nps (Oz Noy?) may be the lesser known of the bunch but are very much worth exploring, specially for improv.

About learning the notes, pretty much anything I’ve ever seen or come up with is about one of two concepts:

  • 1 note in many places (C all over the neck, D everywhere on the first 12 frets…)

  • many notes in 1 place (12 tone row in one position, cycle of 4ths on one string…)


I agree with everything in this post and yes I got that from Oz Noy :slight_smile: