Learning the fretboard


So I had a lightbulb moment one time while I was in a guitar lesson with a former teacher of mine. I realized that as he played, he saw notes under his fingertips and while i played I simply saw fret numbers and strings. Soon after i had to
Stop taking lessons, but he had supplied me with enough theory to keep me busy for quite awhile. Obviously, since
Then I’ve acquired a banjo (bought a Goodtime2 recently) and as I approach this thing as a new animal, my intentions are to try to “find the notes” and not get into the habit of “playing the frets”.

Any advice as to how to best approach this desire of mine would be most appreciated! If possible, please share how
Any of you guys engraved theory into your heads. I find it difficult to retain now that I’m older and have so many other
Things swimming around in my head!


I don’t think my brain works fast enough to think the notes as I play them. I’ve been teaching myself to read music for the past year or so, and when I first started I thought the name of each note as I played it, but lately I notice that even when reading, a lot of the time I’m just recognizing note intervals rather than note names.


At the other end of the spectrum, I’m still a beginner but I don’t yet have a clue as to the notes I’m playing. It just magically comes out as music. I know that it would be wise to learn theory but so far I have enough on the plate just to get finger memory down.


I am in Ben’s category. I think in patterns as well, but also in numbers. I know I can do different things to a I, Iv, or V chord than I can to the others at times.

For example: The flatted third of the I chord (Bb in Key of G) can be used extensively in the V chord (D), and about half the time in the Iv chord ©, to find melody. However flatting the third of the V chord you get an F sharp which doesn’t work worth a diddly over a 1 (G) or IV © chord for a main go-to melody note in most melodies in Bluegrass or Country styles.

Hope some of this makes sense.


One way I will use to learn the fretboard is to play chops (like a mando would) playing full chord positions to an easy/fairly slow song that I know/can find the chords to.

Start at the lowest voicing/position of the 1 chord (the key the song is in) on the next chord go up to the closest position for that chord. repeat this through the entire song or until you get to the top end of the fingerboard. After you get to the top do the same thing working your way down to the next lower voicing each time.

Another way to do this is to play an entire section of the song (1 time through the verse & chorous) with the closest positions to the lowest 1 chord. Then play the next time through the song with the positions closest to the next 1 chord above the first. and so on…

Hope this helps,