Two ESSENTIAL skills for learning fretboard logic

beginning guitarist chord theory series: how to learn guitar chords - beginner to advanced fretboard mapping Jan 06, 2021

These are the two ESSENTIAL skills for learning fretboard logic and fretboard mapping.

Weekly Lesson #56

Study the fretboard further with my awesome FREE chord chart called “Chords with Color”:

Lesson Description

How clearly do you see the fretboard logic of the guitar? 

If you didn't say "perfectly clearly" then you're not alone. 

We want the fretboard to feel as obvious to us as the keyboard is to a pianist, but at first it's far from it. 

Getting lost on the guitar is the norm, but it doesn't have to be. 

The fretboard is very logical. We want to study that logic and turn the guitar into a crystal clear map of musical possibilities.

In this lesson I explain the two essential ways to do that. 

Learning fretboard logic like this can make all the difference and in next week's lesson we'll use these two skills to easily find a ton of new and creative chord voicing options all over the guitar. 

Video Lesson Content Outline with Links:

0:00 - Intro / About this fretboard logic lesson
1:08 - The two guitar fretboard logic essentials
2:10 - Diagrams for fretboard logic essential #1
5:55 - Guitar demo of fretboard logic essential #1
7:33 - Diagrams for fretboard logic essential #2
13:26 - Guitar demo of fretboard logic essential #2
18:16 - Outro: Check out the whole series! 

The Importance of Learning Fretboard Logic

I want to show you a simple way to free you on the guitar by being able to take any one chord and easily find that same chord anywhere else (and everywhere else) on the fretboard where it can possibly exist.

But in order to do that we need to understand the logic of the fretboard.

There are two essential components for mastering this fretboard logic and understanding the layout of the guitar. 

In this lesson I’m going to show you those two main skills. 

And in the next lesson we’ll use that knowledge to magically multiply the number of options you have to play any one chord without using any drills or memorization. 

Guitar Chord Theory Series

This is part 11 of a series about mastering chords and the music theory behind them on the guitar. 

This lesson will stand on its own but some elements of it will be clearer if you’ve been exposed to certain previous lessons in this series. 

I’ll let you know exactly which parts in the series those are as we go through this lesson. 

And again, this should make enough sense even without learning that past material. 

Here’s a link to the full lesson series on mastering guitar chords and the music theory behind them.

Setting You Up for Fretboard Freedom

In order to set you up for the ability to very freely manipulate chords and find numerous voicings of the same chord all over the guitar without memorizing chord shapes, you need to know the two things that I’m going to teach you right now. 

I’m setting you up for that specifically because this is part of a series. But the information here is exactly the same as I would present it if I was doing a one-off lesson on understanding the layout and the logic of the fretboard. 

Taking the time to learn these two perspective exercises, and any other fretboard logic training, is how we can get to feeling like the fretboard is a straightforward and logical layout of musical possibilities—a tool that we can use to compose and analyse and make sense of musical ideas without it feeling frustrating, confusing, and convoluted, which of course it is at first, before we learn the logic.  

The Two Foundational Pieces of Fretboard Logic Mastery

Here are the two things to know thoroughly on the fretboard.

The first is being able to see and move around with octaves all over the guitar—seeing the closest octaves options from whatever note you’re playing. 

The second is being able to take any one note and move it to another string, keeping the exact same pitch without changing octaves. 

For both of these I have specific and effective ways for practicing and learning how to see these note-switching options on the fretboard. 

Even if you think you know these, check out how I recommend viewing them because this could make you even more swift at seeing these connections on the guitar. 

They’re both really simple but so powerful, let’s check them out! 


Mapping Out Octaves on the Fretboard

For mapping out the fretboard with octaves know that for any one note you can find the same note an octave away from it located in two different places nearby. 

That same octave could be in more places, but we’re going to focus on the two physically closest octaves. 

You’ll find an octave away (octave up or down) that is to the left of the note you started on (towards the headstock) or an octave away that is to the right of the note you started on (up the neck towards the body of the guitar). 

Of course we’re switching strings to find the octaves, but we’re moving along the fretboard this way that I think of as “left” and “right” as well. 

If you practice seeing these options in this specific way I’m going to show you, you really only have to do it a few times to start to feel like it’s an obvious part of the logic of the guitar fretboard. 

I do have another lesson where I talk about seeing octave distances on the fretboard, but it’s presented in a different way than this because it’s for the sake of finding any note names on the fretboard. 

If you’re not confident in finding any note name on the guitar (on any string and any fret) then definitely check that lesson out.


The Closest Octave Exercise

Here’s the exercise for actually practicing finding these nearby octaves I’m talking about. 

I call it the “Closest Octave Exercise” 

Play a note on the 6th string (for my demonstration I’m using the 7th fret). 

Then play the octaves on both sides—to the left; down the neck, and to right; up the neck.

Again, These are not your only options for where you can play the octave of this note, but they’re the only ones you need to readily see for manipulating chords in the way we’re going to do in the next lesson of this lesson series. 

Do the same thing off the 5th string.

The shapes will be different because of the tuning of the guitar, that’s why we want to walk through them this way a few times to see those differences clearly. 

Same thing off 4th string. 

And off the 3rd string we only have one of the octave options because we run out of strings. So we play the octave to the right side only. 

Then we’ll do the same thing descending, starting on the top string and playing the octaves below each note. 

Play your first string (again I’m using the 7th fret just for the example but you can do this anywhere).

Then play the octaves on both sides. Left, then right.

Then do it off of the 2nd string. 

Then off the 3rd string. 

Then off the 4th string, where you will only have one of the options. 

That’s how to practice through seeing your closest octave displacement options for any note. 

In the video embedded above I play through all of them on the guitar so you can hear and see the exercise in action as well. 


Essential Fretboard Logic Skill #2: Unison String Transfer

The other essential skill for seeing the logic of the fretboard is to be able to shift any note to the next string over—keeping the exact pitch. 

A lot of people will recommend to just think of unison notes being a certain amount of frets over one direction or another. That can work and be helpful, but I find that having a hands-on way to instill it in our view that relates to tonality is by far the best way to do this. 

Instead of thinking of a number or frets, we are going to think with pieces of the major scale. 

I said earlier in this series that the major scale structure is our measuring stick and it’s crucial to be able to count with it all over the fretboard. Go to Part 2 and Part 3 in this chords series to see super thorough explanations of what I mean by that and how to do it. 

Same thing as the Closest Octave Exercise, we’re going to find the unison note options of any note both up and down the neck from the note we start with. 

Unison String Transfer Exercise

We’ll start with the 7th fret on the 6th string like we did before. 

Now, to find the same exact pitch on the next string up. 

I want you to think of the note you’re playing as the root of a scale, and then follow 3 2 1 of the major scale along the next string up. 

Find three on the next string and then count down 3 2 1. And there you have it. 

Again, this ability to count and find numbers on the fretboard using the major scale is covered in Part 2 and Part 3 and it’s absolutely necessary for mapping out theory on the fretboard so check those out if you need to. 

It seems simple, but even if you know that theory already, or are good at finding unison notes by ear, this makes us see the distance in a much cleaner way. We can see those two whole steps easily and identify where that same note is MUCH easier than either trying to count five frets over or fishing around by ear. 

And even if the note you’re wanting to move to isn’t the root, or isn’t from the major scale, just use that structure of 3 2 1 to see it. 

We only have that one option off of the 6th string, so let’s move to the 5th string. 

Off the 5th string do the exact same thing. 

That shows the unison option on the adjacent string above. 

Now for finding the unison option on the adjacent string below I want you to jump down to the 5 of the note you’re on (again you have to know how to find that by counting with the major scale). 

You’re treating the note you started on as 1, and you’re jumping down to the 5 on the next lower string. 

Then count up that string, 5 6 7 1. And there you have it, you’re on the same pitch you came from. 

Off the fourth string will be the exact same as the 5th string.

Off the 3rd string you have to account for the tuning of the guitar, so your 3 will be one fret further to the right than before. Find it and count down the same way. 

As you can see above, finding the unison of the string below the 3rd string will be the same as the previous strings. 

Off the second string counting 3 2 1 will physically go back to how we did it off of the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings. 

But finding the 5 on the string below will be one fret further to the left than before—again because of the nature of the tuning of the guitar (the 2nd and 3rd string are tuned a 3rd apart instead of a 4th apart).

And off string 1 we only find the unison on the string below. Find 5 and count up. 

Always Do Any Exercise in Both Directions

With any exercise you always want to come back down or go in reverse, even if it’s reviewing the same info. 

Repetition is important for practicing, obviously, so if you can find ways to repeat the same information but from a different angle or perspective, that is ideal. 

So do everything we just did, finding all the unisons on both sides of every string, but starting on the top string and moving down. 

Phase 2 of the Unison Fretboard Logic Exercise

There’s a second phase to this exercise. 

Once you have actually counted in that way to find the nearby unison notes, you’ll be able to just visualize those distances without having to actually play the notes in between. 

But you’re still seeing the distance you counted with the major scale structure. 

You’re still seeing 3 2 1, two whole steps in a row, as a visual bridge, and then you can just jump straight to the note you’re looking for. 

So now do the whole thing again just visualizing the notes in-between that get your there, and jumping to the unison notes. 

In the video embedded above I play through all of this on the guitar so you can hear and see the exercise in action as well. Check that out if you need to. 


I am really excited to show you all the possibilities that open up once you can easily move notes around in these two ways, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do in next week’s lesson. 

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If you haven’t checked out the other lessons in this series yet, just at least speed watch through the videos to get caught up and exposed to all the ideas so far. There’s a lot of super useful information, tons of theory, some great technique tips, and step by step exercises that are very helpful for mastering theory on the guitar. 

More advanced chord theory is right around the corner so it will help to have seen that previous material. 

Links Mentioned in this Lesson

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Resources used to make this video

  • Notability iPad app with apple pencil and screen recording


Final Thoughts

This is my second fretboard guitar lesson but I’ll be doing more because seeing the guitar fretboard logic, fretboard mapping, and some strategic fretboard memorization can make all the difference in the world. 

The fretboard map we want to create on the neck is mostly about being able to see where the same notes exist in different places and learning fretboard octave shapes.

The two fretboard exercises I gave you in this lesson are important parts of getting this stuff down. Learning is not just about hearing information explained—it’s very important to actually think through the material and practice it yourself in a hands-on way. 

That’s how we really get theory, and mapping, and logic like this down! 

Some people try learning fretboard diagrams on paper, but the fretboard map we want is only useful if we can navigate it with our hands on the real instrument. 

Good luck with learning the logic of the fretboard and mapping it out! I’m excited to show you what we can do with it in the next lesson.  

I hope you enjoyed this lesson and found it beneficial. Let me know what you thought. 

Thanks! :) 

- Jared

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