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Lesson: Master the Fretboard – Part 1

One of the essential skills for any bassist is mastery of the fingerboard. At any point in time you should know exactly where you are and where you can go. Most of us have the first part of that down, it’s rare that you’ll be playing and not know where you are, but how many people have an understanding of the location of all the notes in a key on the entire fretboard? If I said, “play in the key of C,” would you be able to easily play all over the neck? These drills will unlock the fretboard’s logic and give you access to the entire neck.

The first step is start playing scales differently. Normal scale practice emphasizes only a small subset of the available notes in that key and always has you turning around on the root. With this drill you will become comfortable turning around on any note. Start playing a C-major scale, but when you get to the octave C’ go one note higher and start the descending scale on D’. Now play the descending scale from D’ to D in the key of C (same notes, just a different starting place).

Figure 1: C Major scale up to D’ and back

Figure 1: C Major scale up to D’ and back

Now expand this drill so that every time you ascend you extend the scale by one note and turn around using that scale. Therefore you start ascending from C to C’, descending from D’ to D, ascending from E to E’, descending from F’ to F and so forth until you complete the scale ascending from C’ to C’’. Remember, in each of these you remain in the key of C.

>Figure 2: C Major scale from E to F’ and back” title=”>Figure 2: C Major scale from E to F’ and back” /></p>
<p class=Figure 2: C Major scale from E to F’ and back

Video 1: Scale Example

Each time you change your starting note and continue to play in the same key you are changing to a different mode. This lesson is not meant to go into the concept of modes, but for reference we will label each scale with it’s modal name.

Figure 3: C major starting on C (1st note) – Ionian Mode

Figure 3: C major starting on C (1st note) – Ionian Mode

Figure 4: C major starting on D (2nd note) – Dorian Mode

Figure 4: C major starting on D (2nd note) – Dorian Mode

Figure 5: C major starting on E (3rd note) – Phrygian Mode

Figure 5: C major starting on E (3rd note) – Phrygian Mode

Figure 6: C major starting on F (4th note) – Lydian Mode

Figure 6: C major starting on F (4th note) – Lydian Mode

Figure 7: C major starting on G (5th note) – Mixolydian Mode

Figure 7: C major starting on G (5th note) – Mixolydian Mode

Figure 8: C major starting on A (6th note) – Aeolian Mode

Figure 8: C major starting on A (6th note) – Aeolian Mode

Notice that the diagram starts on the 12th fret

Figure 9: C major starting on B (7th note) – Locrian Mode

Figure 9: C major starting on B (7th note) – Locrian Mode

Notice that the diagram starts on the 12th fret

Figure 10: C major starting on C’ (8th note) – Ionian Mode

Figure 10: C major starting on C’ (8th note) – Ionian Mode

Notice that the diagram starts on the 12th fret

You will notice that each of these patterns is consistent in the major keys. For example, if I wanted to play a G major scale starting on E (the 6th note in the G major scale), I would start on E and play with the same pattern as Figure 8 (C major from the 6th note). The main idea is that the fretboard contains an available pool of notes for any given key, not just scales, and we have to work to re-wire our brains to think in this way.

Looking at all the patterns together, we can create one monster-pattern for C-major. As intimidating as it may look, this pattern will become second nature to you with practice. I would recommend doing it in all the keys as much as possible. Do not try to memorize this whole thing all at once, with enough practice it will stick by itself.

Figure 11: Available notes for C major in one octave

Figure 11: Available notes for C major in one octave

We can also expand this to utilize the E-string.

Figure 12: Available notes for C major in the first 19 frets

Figure 12: Available notes for C major in the first 19 frets

After you are comfortable with this massive pattern, start playing other patterns within it and making up lines that move from one end to the other. This will get your more and more comfortable with the note locations over time and help make you a more agile player. In the following example I’m just noodling around, but making sure I progressively move up and down the patterns.

Video 2: Scale noodling example

These drill are an entry-level start to exploring the fretboard. There are many many many more patterns to learn, including other subsets of the major scales. Future lessons will include other ways to become comfortable with the fretboard and how we can apply these patterns to chord changes and improvisation. Combine these drills with my previous lesson on using your metronome to make the most of your practice time, you can accomplish two drills simultaneously!

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Comments:

P7dickens23 says:

This is some good information, but the figures just do not line up with the modes. However, it is good brain teaser..Over all i understand the concept.

can you explain fretboard scheme on this pictures? i see 12fret, but i don’t understend wher E sting. dots right on the fret сonfuse me. thank you

jeremy says:

The figures make sense. They are just backwards of how we usually see figures. It’s like we are watching some one else play. The nut is on the right, pitch goes up as you move left up the neck.