Fret­board Knowl­edge

Fol­low this exclusive and com­pre­hen­sive 14- part se­ries from Rockschool tu­tor Char­lie Grif­fiths to de­mys­tify the art of read­ing mu­sic for the gui­tar.

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Rockschool -

Read­ing mu­sic is a highly use­ful and en­rich­ing ac­tiv­ity, which will help you prac­tise men­tal fo­cus, im­prove con­cen­tra­tion and en­gage more deeply with your gui­tar. It also neatly ties to­gether the worlds of tech­nique, mu­sic the­ory and mu­si­cal­ity, while also be­ing an ex­tremely valu­able pro­fes­sional skill to have, as it will al­low you to ef­fi­ciently share and pro­cure ideas with other mu­si­cians. Per­haps just as im­por­tant these days is the fact that it will make you an al­to­gether bet­ter prospect for em­ploy­ment – play­ing shows, do­ing dep gigs with other bands, etc. Of course it can also take hours – some­times lit­er­ally days or weeks – off the learn­ing process for new tunes or en­tire set lists.

So how do you learn it? Well, read­ing mu­sic is es­sen­tially a three- step process. Step one is to use your eyes to recog­nise notes and rhythms on the stave; step two is to process that in­for­ma­tion in your mind, and step three is to trans­late the in­for­ma­tion to the gui­tar. We’ll get into the busi­ness of recog­nis­ing the dots on the stave in the next in­stal­ment. In this ses­sion, we’ll start with step three.

Step three? This is not as coun­ter­in­tu­itive as you might think, as find­ing notes on the gui­tar is some­thing that is al­most cer­tainly a fa­mil­iar con­cept to you. But what if we were to ask you to play an E on your gui­tar? As there are many dif­fer­ent places on the fret­board that we can play an E, this ques­tion isn’t as sim­ple as it at first seems. You prob­a­bly found yourself ask­ing: which reg­is­ter do I play in? Which string do I use? Which fret do I use? This is both a bless­ing and curse when it comes to read­ing, as it’s not al­ways clear which part of the fret­board to use to pro­duce the note. The pos­i­tive side of this is that read­ing mu­sic is not as pre­scrip­tive as, say, read­ing tab. As a mu­si­cian, you can use your ex­pe­ri­ence and artis­tic free­dom to de­cide which E to play and how it should sound.

The first two ex­er­cises are de­signed to help you see the fret­board as a whole, and you’ll see

Mu­sic has its own set of sym­bols which you will need to be­come fa­mil­iar with, but for now, we’ll use ones you al­ready un­der­stand.

there are of­ten three places to find the same pitch. It’s also use­ful to group notes to­gether into ‘ scales’, and use spe­cific fin­ger­ings so that you can feel where the notes are with­out hav­ing to look at the gui­tar – keep­ing your eye fixed on the page. As you can imag­ine, this process not only helps when read­ing the dots; it’s also in­valu­able when im­pro­vis­ing, since it frees your hands and brain from con­stantly check­ing your po­si­tion on the neck.

Fi­nally, we will deal with step two, which is pro­cess­ing the in­for­ma­tion. In fact, GT knows you’re al­ready very good at do­ing this, be­cause you’re do­ing it right at this mo­ment. You can recog­nise the let­ter ‘ A’ im­me­di­ately, seem­ingly with­out think­ing about it. You see the sym­bol ‘ A’ and you hear the sound of that let­ter in your mind. Of course, mu­sic has its own sym­bols which you will need to be­come equally as fa­mil­iar with, but for now, we’ll use sym­bols you al­ready know and un­der­stand. When read­ing mu­sic you have to be able to ex­pect the un­ex­pected, so it’s a good ex­er­cise to get used to read­ing non­sense; ex­er­cises 3- 5 are de­signed with that in mind.

Good fret­board knowl­edge will greatly im­prove your mu­sic read­ing

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