Every month, Justin Sandercoe of justinguitar.com lends GT his insight as one of the world’s most successful guitar teachers. This month: Developing the fretboard in your mind.
Food For Thought, Session Shenanigans, Jam Tracks tips, That Was The Year, Phil Hilborne’s One-Minute Lick and more.
Developing a fretboard in your mind is a fantastic tool that you can use in many different ways. ‘Mental’ practice can be sometimes even more effective than physical practice in certain circumstances.
The idea is to build a fretboard in your mind that you can use to practice any time you want. Ideally you’ll be able to hear the notes too (this will be discussed in a later article) but to start with you should try to develop your knowledge of the note names on the fretboard.
I have a pretty clear mental picture of the fretboard of my 1995 Fender Stratocaster Deluxe. I know where the frets are more worn and I can almost feel it in my hand just by visualising it. I would suggest you try to build a specific guitar in your mind rather than a generic one; it somehow makes it more powerful. Study the neck and then close your eyes and build an image of it. I can rotate mine from a front-on look to the position it is in when I play. Try and do that too – really imagine the feeling of it in your hand.
A great first exercise is to find the same note on each string, starting on the sixth and working your way up to the first and back, using only your first finger and no open strings. If you are unfamiliar with the notes on the neck there’s a diagram you can refer to on my website, but as soon as possible you need to have that information off the page and into your memory.
Let’s start with the note C. Imagine your first finger placed on the 8th fret of the sixth string, then move it over to the 3rd fret of the fifth. Then follow across the strings and the note C will be on frets 10, 5, 1 and 8 and then back down. Just start with this C note and really make sure it is solid in your mind. You can and should do this exercise on the instrument too! Once you are confident with C, try G. Then do all the Cs then all the Gs. Then add D,A, E, B and F, remembering to practise the previous notes as well as the new one. This is an incredibly powerful tool on its own but this next exercise is the one that really connects it all for most students.
Now in your mind place your first finger on the 6th fret of the sixth string. And name the note. Then move it down a string (same fret, fifth string). Now name that. Then move it down a string again and so on. You should have had the
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Bb notes F and or their enharmonic equivalents (A#, D#, G#, C#, F and A#).
Now pick a random note on the first string and work up. Maybe the 10th fret because everyone gets a bit rusty up there. So, 10th fret, first string is the note?? Now name the note at the 10th fret second string, third string and so on. You should have D,A, F, C, G and D.
Five minutes a day of these exercises (nail the first one before even thinking about the second) will really help you get to know your fretboard – and doing it only in your mind will accelerate your learning of it – and it can be done anywhere and nobody even need know you are practising (doing it while driving is not going to be a good idea!).
Once you know the notes on the fretboard clearly and can see your hand on it – try playing some scales, arpeggios or actual licks in your mind before you try to play them. It’s a real learning accelerator – give it a chance to grow and I’m sure you’ll find it beneficial. Happy mind games!
Mental practice can be even more beneficial than physical practice