Fretboard Visualization Methods



I recommend checking Effective Music Practice by Prokopis Skordis:

His SFS approach is simple and amazing. It helped me a lot. Actually I found Cracking the Code thanks to SFS.



Great thread!
In my experience there are many approaches, too many and I tried almost all of them but still lacking a connection in real time with Music.
In my view all these are marketing solutions to sell to frustrated guitarist (like myself…), each approach is tailored for the one that found this approach but in the end what makes an approach work it is not the approach in itself but its application in Music.
We think that in order to be a great improviser we must know everything about notes intervals… in reality these are just human concepts that are used to teach and to communicate musical ideas, for improvising are necessary musical ideas and being able to express them conveying emotion…
People that play pattern on scale are the most boring musicians to listen in my view , what we need are emotions and communication.
As JakeEstner suggest the best way to practice fretboard knowledge is studying and playing the music you like, not patterns, shapes, do re mi fa sol., etc etc…
If I would apply Nir Felder approach I would have my head explode in searching the notes for that momentary scale… too mental for me! It is like thinking to each letter while we speak for me…
I think the best approach is to find a way to play what you like and gives you emotion on the guitar in as many places you can… the rest is just good for writing and selling books and methods…


I do think that for any approach - ANY approach, there is a phase of having to practice and ingrain it, then there is a phase where it can come out organically. I think in the end we don’t want to discredit approaches that seem ‘too technical’ because it’s possible that with efficient practice the approach will feel very natural. This is coming from someone who has practiced a LOT of extremely technical, detailed stuff…for me, a lot of things that require tons of brain power at first do eventually become natural.


Yes and no…

While playing scales up and down “as a way of life” is a pretty terrible thing, not even knowing anything is pretty much the opposite and also terrible, imagine trying to play any idea having zero technique.

The game is about finding the balance in between using the least possible amount of “bandwith” so you can focus on being musical and on a higher level respond to what’s going on around you.

Most people that are frustrated with scales haven’t gone deep enough into them so they can integrate them with the rest of their knowledge. At least, that’s what I’ve seen as a player and teacher for many years.


I think we are in an époque where there is an overflow of information that confuses us…
Few years ago there were no youtube, methods, site etc etc and there was A LOT OF GREAT MUSIC as well… people learnt to play instruments studying from LP, CD, tapes Music played by Masters without the 20 millions methods we have nowadays… I am just pointing out this concept, then you are free to study all the methods you want…
I did so (I got also a BA Hons in guitar) but at the end, the best way for me is just focus on the Music you love…


Sure you need to have the basics of H&T and develop your technique, I am just talking about the method for visualizing scales all over the fretboard…


Your point being… not having any?

No offense intended, just trying to get it…


My point is that we don’t need a method developed by whoever, we need to find our own solution, that one that works for you does not necessarily works for me…
Sorry I didn’t express it clearly…


Got it now, cool man.

That’s kind of the point of sharing here all the ways that we collectively know, so you can at least have some ideas of where to start depending on your preferences.

Finding your own way is probably a lot easier when you can understand what others have done before you.

“Different strokes for different folks” Frank Gambale :wink:


absolutely! Perfection is an iterative process that never reach the end…


I think you need a combination of all ways.

Personally I think knowing the note names is essential because then you can teach yourself 3NPS Scales, Arpeggios In Position, 2NPS Arpeggios, Triads, Drop 2 Chord, Drop 3 Chords, Shell Voicings, etc.

I found the best way to learn the notes on the strings was playing on a single string, finding a specific note in all Strings as fast as you can (ex. Where are all the D notes), and saying the note names aloud when you are playing scales and arpeggios.

Then it is about memorizing these shapes, and that is when I think about things from a root note perspective and what intervals I’m playing. Most of these shapes are also symmetrical and repeat at the octave- Example being 2NPS Arpeggios- all exactly the same just repeating the Shape an octave higher.

Of course for this you have to know your theory- how scales and arpeggios, chords (and chord Voicings) are constructed, and what notes are in them.


The best method I ever came across was just seeing the 3nps scales as ONE pattern.

I just imagine that I’m playing in P4 tuning (all fourths tuning), so I can visualize the 3nps major scale shape as one long repeating shape. It looks like this:

As you can see, it’s just a repeating pattern of red and blue chunks. So it’s a 7-string shape.

The tricky part is remembering to shift the shape one fret to the right when crossing from G to B string.

But all I do is practice bits of this shape across that G-B string border in order to ingrain that into my finger memory - no memory tricks needed. I don’t have to memorize 7 big 3nps shapes.

I hope everyone finds this helpful because it blew my mind when I first saw it.


I always assumed that Steve Vai saw the fretboard this way, and it was the reason he preferred a 7-string guitar.


Well, nothing prevents you from visualizing on strings you don’t even have…

I know I use 7th and even 8th string references on a 6 string.


Playing on a seven strings, I love this method too.
I was also amazed when I realized the 3nps pattern would loop after 7 strings!


Hi Patternblue,
interesting, this is also something I use, that I learned a long time ago in a lesson.

The cool thing is, the chunks repeat when going up the string as well as changing to another string. So knowing the 3nps shapes and their order is a lot easier.

BTW, did you notice, that the number of “sets”, are depended on the number of notes in the scale? So you have 7 in your case, and then they repeat.

If you look at, for example, the pentatonic, it also repeats but there are 5 “sets”, that repeat.

And so on, dependent on what scale is used. I find it a great way to visualize the fretboard. I have never seen anyone else mention. Cool :+1:


I kind of “gave up” on strategies for improvising while I’m doing it. I save the scale studies and stuff for study, not actual playing.
When I improvise, I do it strictly by ear, not by name of note or scale. I instantly hear if a note is a third, fifth, seventh, etc. of the chord I’m playing over. I know all intervals instantly.
I just play a note, and by hearing it, I know what next note to go to. If this is all part of a scale, then I’ve practiced the scale enough to know it by ‘feel’, without having to identify it or name it. Whatever string I’m on, I know where a m3 or M3 is on the next string; or fifths between any two strings. But these are just “sounds” I am going for, which sound right.
If I am on my index finger/third string, and I want to hear a minor second below that, I know where to go by having done a scale with that “move” in it. That’s why you need to learn scales in every position, including the unusual ones with stretches.
Every now and then I might say “This part is over C minor” and I’ll go to a possibility. But usually, I don’t think of anything; I just play by ear. They might call this ‘target notes’ or something. And I have my little collection of riffs which I know the location of in a key, and what they will do. I’ll know that a certain riff needs to start on the V, so in C that will start on G. In G, I’ll go up to the 10th fret to its V.
The only time I “name” notes consciously is to know where the root of a chord is. It will be 5th or 6th string usually. These are the notes I know “instantly” without thinking.
I know what fourths look like on between every two strings. I know where M3rds are. This comes from chords, not scales, for me.

If I learn a tune like “All The Things You Are,” I make a chord melody version of it first. That way, I really know the melody and chords. Then these chord shapes (usually incomplete chord fragments) can always be returned to if I “run into” them again.

So memorize the melody, know it, play it all over the place, and know the chords. Scales? I don’t think about scales, except as 'in between" notes on top of chords.

I think of scales as an “index” of notes, like in a book. The way scales are presented is left to right, low to high, 1234567, etc, but this is just a ‘convention.’ Scales are not really melodies. They are not much use as linear ideas.
The only real melodic ideas exist as riffs. Learn riffs first, then see how they fit into a chord, or into a scale. Scale notes are really all over the place, hidden inside and outside of chords. That’s the way I think about it, as chords, because that’s the music I like.


Lots of great ideas in this post. You may not think that what you’re describing here sounds very much like a strategy but it definitely sounds like that to me! This becomes especially clear when you compare this to players who can’t do what you’re describing here in terms of making these connections in real time, while you’re playing. Specifically:

What you’re calling ‘feel’ I’m just going to call fretboard mapping based on relative pitch. Because what you’re describing is how you translate between the sound of a note against the harmony, to the actual place you have to fret on the board to get the next note you want to play. I totally do this the same way.

For example, if I hear a third of a major chord on the D string, then I know the [edit: sorry, the fifth!] fifth is two frets over and one string up. I also know the whole arpeggio shape. And based on which scale degree the chord is functioning as, I also know the scale shape underneath that chord. i.e. If it’s the I chord, then we’ve got a different fingering than if it’s the IV or V. And so on.

Sure, that’s the “learning all the scales in all the position”, but it’s actually quite a bit more than that. Because we’ve got chords and scales connected together, and we’ve got the ability to switch them based on the harmony changing against the note that is being played.

It took me decades to understand why I couldn’t really do this. And while I won’t say I’m particularly great at any of this, the reason this is problematic for a lot of people is at least becoming clearer now.


I discovered all this stuff relatively recently, about 2 years ago. I had kind of given up on trying to wrestle my way through fast chord changes, so I made up a chord melody version of “All The Things You Are” after hearing Peter Sellers sing it. For a good 2 years, the first thing I would do when I picked up my guitar is play “All The Things You Are” maybe five or six times through. It was pretty, and it reminded me of my mother; she used to play it.
All of a sudden one day, I broke through. I started improvising fluidly on that tune, using the arrangement I’d made, and knowing the chords and melody really well. It was a new plateau for me; however crudely, I could play jazz! Fluidly! It felt good, not like drudgery! Now I really enjoy playing. And all of this seemingly without “thinking” about it. Totally by ear.
Now, in tribute to Peter Sellers:


Troy, you have an amazing ability to articulate things. But what I Iike most, is your apparent belief that anybody can do what they previously thought to be impossible, by breaking it down and seeing the simplicity of it. This is it, this is the gift we all have; we are all “geniuses” in our own particular way, at something, and we can all enjoy it in ways we never thought possible.
I used to think something was “wrong” with me, and the way I thought about things. For example, I went around thinking, and reading several books on the subject of “zero.” I wondered why clocks and calendars did not have zeros, and why there was no “year zero,” just 1 B.C. going to 1 A.D., and why the “first” century was the year 1 to the year 100, and 101 was the second century. Stuff like, "why are babies aged by “months” until they are 1 year old? They are never “zero.” But military time does use zero. Scales don’t use zero; they have notes 1-2-3-4-5etc. Measures start on “1”. This used to really screw with my head. And then with computers, SMPTE time does start on zero.
So it turns out, to figure things out, you have to question the most basic things. You have to “invent” your own knowledge, not just rely on what is already known as “givens.”