A close up of an acoustic guitar, and it's strings. (Black and white)

“Is this a fretboard I see before me?”

OK!  I’m not quite Shakespeare but here’s the point.  When you look down at your fretboard do you see wood,metal and strings upon which memorized chord or scale shapes are placed making you feel constantly limited in your knowledge and skill? Effectively keeping you tied to other players showing you how to play anything.  Or do you see a complete musical universe of notes, intervals and pattern relationships that help you understand and control ALL aspects of musical knowledge and guitar playing? Effectively making you feel totally FREE in your playing.  Which perspective would be most attractive to you?

I know everyone’s goals are different with respect to playing the guitar but the fact is that your goals will change as your knowledge increases.  Given the typical way people tend to learn the guitar, knowledge of the fretboard “appears” unnecessary to most and yet as their knowledge increases, their questions (and goals) require stepping backwards for a while to get caught up with the stuff that should have learned earlier- YUP! The fretboard.  It seems so logical; a surgeon without knowledge of surgical tools (although competent with those tools) would strike the layperson as a serious problem.  Likewise with an automechanic who works skillfully with all sorts of tools each and every day but does not know that the tool in hand is called a “wrench”.

Fretboard knowledge, contrary to popular belief, is NOT musical theory that many players avoid for a long time.  Fretboard knowledge is “up front, in your face and down in the trenches” understanding of how the whole thing works.  It seems reasonable, therefore, that most if not all guitarists should have access to that knowledge very early on in their learning.  Learning something that creates “insight” is never boring and yet “boring” appears to be the default reaction among guitarists regarding learning how the fretboard works.  If you think that learning about the fretboard is boring then you are either suffering from ANOSOGNOSIA- that is “you don’t know what you don’t know” or you need to tell your current teacher to help you with this NOW!

I remember a tv commercial when I was young about a car mechanic selling oil filters.  He made a point of saying that paying attention to and replacing a $5 oil filter NOW (it was a 1970’s commercial) could very well save you the much greater cost of a full engine relacement later.  The tag line was brilliant “You can pay me now or pay me later”.  Treat learning about the fretboard like that oil filter- invest a little time now and repeatedly (like replacing your oil filter) and you will reap the benefits (healthy engine) for a long time.  Music in general will just make sense.  You will play with understanding and freedom rather than blind programming of finger shapes and motions.  Knowledge is sexy.

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