Friday, October 28, 2011
Understanding the fretboard
Anyone who has played guitar for any length of time comes to appreciate the power of movable shapes; the shapes your hands form when you move up and down the neck when playing power or barre chords.
Maybe you haven't formally expanded on what this truly means, or how powerful that little bit of information can be. So this post is designed to investigate this further and help you see the neck in a whole new way.
The Shapes of Things
The guitar, because of its tuning, lends itself perfectly to repeating shapes. If you take any finger pattern and move it up the neck, the notes change, but it won't change the type of chord or scale or arpeggio etc. (i.e.: Major, minor, etc). So a CMaj chord, slid up one fret, becomes a C#Maj chord. If you move it again, it becomes a DMaj form. If you are playing an F diminished arpeggio and you move it, it is still a diminished arpeggio. It is now F# diminished... blah, blah, blah. You get it, right? Good.
Let's take a look at the chart at the top of this post. Click the image to download it as a pdf. At the top of the chart, I show the pentatonic minor scale form, neck-wide. It shows all five fingerings, ending back at the first fingering. In the second diagram, I want to focus on the first form, and is highlighted so you can see it clearly. On the bottom diagram, I use the first four notes of the scale and colour-code them. I have removed all the other notes of the scale for added clarity. Notice that no matter which root note you begin on, the shape is unchanged. You can continue on up the scale from that point and all the associated fingerings remain right where they should be.
I hope you notice that the shape seems to change as you cross the B string. In truth, the shape doesn't change; it just gets adjusted for that pesky B string. If the guitar was tuned consistently across the 5th fret, then it wouldn't change at all. My previous entry was designed to help explain why that happens. Read over that if this aspect confuses you. The B string is one of the instrument's little hiccups. The sooner you understand how it affects you, the better.
So as you can see, if you know any pattern for any specific chord, scale, arpeggio etc, all you need to do is find the closest root and apply it. Try practicing this with a major scale form, then a minor, then try some altered stuff like the melodic minor; whatever your taste. Wander up and down the neck to hook into the next root pattern and riff your brains out.
Extra Credit Reading
Pick up the masterful Jon Finn's book, "Advanced Modern Rock Guitar Improvisation". He does a wonderful job explaining this concept in greater detail.