Share your favorite fretboard visualization exercises

To express ourselves freely we need to be able to instantly translate what our inner ear is hearing to the fretboard. This consist of a few steps:

  1. Inner-hear something
  2. Translate what you’re hearing in 1) to intervals in the current harmonic context
  3. Express the idea that you decoded in 2) on the fretboard

The exercises I’m looking for are exercises that support the activity in the third step.

Here are two I like, in order of difficulty:

Over a chord progression, pick a starting chord tone and play either up or down the arpeggio. When the chord changes, transition to the closest chord tone, in the same direction, in the new chord. Stick to one position on the neck and when you reach the top/bottom string just change directions.

The same exercise, but play through all the notes in the scale. E.g. on a 251 progression you’d start in the dorian scale for four notes, then play the mixolydian scale for four notes and finally the ionian for 8 notes. If you’re practicing all diatonic scales, like in the example I gave here, you might want to switch positions or keys frequently or your brain is likely to recognize the underlying pattern and learning will be less efficient. You could also change the V chord to an altered dominant chord, and use the altered scale, or insert a V of V chord to get away from only having diatonic scales.

What are some of your favorite fretboard visualization exercises?

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Short version: I teach visualization of scales in 3 ways: vertical (single and double string, up and down the whole length), horizontal (CAGED and 3nps), and diagonal (a blend of vertical and horizontal movements). Arpeggios are similar, but based more on inversions and how many strings are being used (1, 2, 3, etc).

Basically, I’ll drill my students through those patterns using different sequences and licks. This is really the area where most of the wood shedding that I did took place, without me fully realizing what it was doing for my command of the fretboard, but nowadays I really value the importance of this. It truly unlocks your freedom of wherever you want to go musically.

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Yeah, it takes a surprising amount of time to get good at this and that can sometimes be discouraging. However, if you can’t keep track of the notes in relation to the underlying harmony then that’s very limiting, so it thankfully feels quite meaningful and important to exercise this skill.


Care to share some examples that have been effective with your students? :slight_smile:

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