Know Your Neck

This month I would like to talk about navigating the fretboard of your guitar. To boldly go where you as a guitar player have never gone before. Especially if you are new to the instrument. With your typical guitar having six strings and anywhere from 19–24 frets this can be a daunting challenge. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help familiarize yourself with the fretboard.

Position Playing

The first thing I would recommend is to play in position whenever possible. Simply stated if you take your 1st finger of your fret hand and place it across the 1st fret you are in 1st position. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers would be placed across the 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets of the guitar. Any notes to be played on the 1st fret would be played by the 1st finger, notes on the 2nd fret would be played by the 2nd finger and so on.

Say for example you wanted to practice some blues licks in A. (Ex.1) Place your first finger at the fifth fret and your remaining fret hand fingers would easily cover the 6th, 7th and 8th frets in fifth position. Now say you are jamming with a friend of yours who is playing a blues in C. You can simply play the same licks by transposing them and playing them in 8th position. (Ex.2)



What if you are having a hard time finding the 5th fret? 8th fret? Most guitars have some sort of decorative pattern(dots, diamonds, trapezoids, etc.) going up and down the fretboard. With each one being on an odd numbered fret (3rd,5th,7th,9th,15th,17th,19th,21st) except for the inlay at the 12th fret.

You can find each open note exactly one octave higher at the 12th fret on the same string that it is played open. For example, the open E on the 1st string can be played one octave higher at the 12th fret of the 1st string. This same relationship applies to the other open notes. If you want to play the Ab minor pentatonic scale at the 4th fret find the inlay at the 3rd fret and move up one fret to get in the right position. (Ex.3) The same scale can be played one octave higher at the 16th fret. (Ex.4)



Octave shapes are another way of maneuvering the fretboard. With octaves you are playing the same note on 2 different strings one octave apart. The following shows typical octave shapes followed by an example in C. (Ex. 5)


Until next time!

Sav Izzi is a guitar instructor, songwriter, and musician based in Chicago, IL. He currently performs with the Chicago funk, rock, and soul group BabyBrutha.

Sav Izzi