Topic: Knowing the Notes

Ok so there has been quite a bit of discussion about knowing the notes on the neck that you are playing at any given time.

Personally I do not rely on knowing the notes at all for any of my playing. I reply purely on patterns and the sound that I create. If someone asked me to play any note in 5 places I could do it with a little thought  and a little time but it is never used for playing or writing. I can see the advantages though and eventually I would like to learn it.

So the question for you all is how important do you think it is. Do you think it could help you but you cannot be bothered/find it too hard/don't have the time etc to ever get round to it, or do you think it really does help.

If it does help where does it help? With primarily working out songs, composing, general playing?

What advantages have you ever found from taking the time to learn the notes on the neck?

What are your views on knowing the notes on the neck?


Re: Knowing the Notes

You don't have to memorize every single note on the neck just memorize the natural notes. If you need a # or b note just find a natural note and go up or down a fret.

One of the things is what happens when someone says play an Am,G,Dm and an Em for me. You don't want to be stuck to playing open chords. You want to be able to play the bar chord versions of these chords also. You want to be able to do this instantly and not go through a whole process of trying to figure it out. Everybody will be looking at you and be a bit ticked off. If you absolutely don't know your notes at all then they will have to show you where to put your fingers and that is just an embarrassing situation to be in.

Also is you are improvising in say E miinor in the first few frets of the neck and you want to jump up to the higher frets things can be a little easier if you know where the E notes are up there. You can quickly jump up to the E and you will know the pattern that goes with this. I'm talking beyond just jumping up an octave. If you know where all the E's are on the neck you will be able to jump around the neck effortlessly and not depend on working your way up or down the patterns or jumping up to the octave.

The more you know the fret board the better the musician you will be!

These are just a couple reasons why knowing the notes can help but there are tons more and I'm sure others out there can add to this.

Re: Knowing the Notes

It really depends upon what you ultimately are after.  For some they don't.  For what I teach you would want to know the notes, thats why the Academy begins on those.  I believe that the way we do it is one of the best for any level and for any age.   But it really depends upon the person.  It's not for everyone.

I will say for anyone that wants to understand the guitar and apply theory, it's a must, in my opinion.  In our case, everything we do in one form or another comes back to where the student is glad they knew their notes.  Otherwise it would be an excess of knowledge, and now, no way to apply it. 

I have a small article on this posted on the Academy site, that goes into this below:

http://rnbacademy.com/why-is-it-importa … he-guitar/



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Re: Knowing the Notes

don p wrote:

One of the things is what happens when someone says play an Am,G,Dm and an Em for me. You don't want to be stuck to playing open chords.

Yes I can certainly understand this however not knowing the notes does not stop me from doing this. I tend to think in positions. So if I am playing an Am in open I know I have one at at 5th fret that I could use, and of course 12th fret. At no point am I thinking where is an A note, where is a C note and where is a E note and now lets combine them - I am using patterns and known positions as well as the name potentially the root note.

don p wrote:

Also is you are improvising in say E miinor in the first few frets of the neck and you want to jump up to the higher frets things can be a little easier if you know where the E notes are up there

Again, I find that this is achieved via positions and patterns. Personally if I were playing in E minor I would be basing any lead around the open position, 12th fret and 7th fret using the patterns that fall above and below that root note. I am not ever considering the names of the notes.

So are you thinking in a different way than I do Don?

Instructor wrote:

It really depends upon what you ultimately are after.

So for me, I like playing and I wish to compose more - how will knowing the notes benefit my playing/composing  do you think?

Re: Knowing the Notes

The thing with say the chords is you are limited if all you think of is Am at open, 5th and twelfth. you are missing three other spots in the neck that you could play the chord. Let's take the Am,G,Dm,Em. How would you play this? All bar chords based from the E string? If you are playing an Am at the fifth fret and you know your notes you can quickly jump your index finger downwards two strings and play a G with the root based from the D string, move your index finger upward one string, play a Dm root based from the A string and then up two frets for Em or you could still stay in that position and play the Em there but I would more likely just move up two frets.

Let's say you wanted to get into 7ths,9ths etc...  You don't want to be limited to certain area's you have memorized patterns. You want to know where the closest chord is so you can do some nice smooth voice leading into the next chord.

When you have a complete progression and you know where the notes are on the neck you can quickly move through the chords knowing in an instant where you can play the chords plus you will know many different places you can play the chord on the neck. This is great for when you are getting real bored with just playing in the same area of the neck through the progression or song.

Think of this. If you are able to see all the A's when the Am chord is playing, G's when G is being played, D's when Dm is played and E's when all the Em's are being played you would be in good shape. You can then easily play all over the neck moving freely without any barriers no matter what area of the neck you are in. You can also play 7ths, 9ths etc... and transition smoothly from chord to chord without jumping all over the neck. The reason you can do this is on what ever chord you are on you can quickly see where the root of the next chord is in that area. You then will have a certain chord pattern memorized based on where that root is located on whether it be on the E A D G B or high E strings.

By using just patterns you are limiting your possibilities and even if you can figure out how to play another chord in the same area of the neck as the last one you need to first find a pattern you are familiar with and then figure out where the next one would connect. By this time the third chord is already there. Isn't it much easier to know "Hey there is a D there at the 7th fret so I can play a Dm7 there"? If you memorized what a minor 7 pattern with the root on the G string is then boom you are there in a split second!

Hey a person that just wants to learn to play some songs could do just that and never have a clue of what they are doing when it comes to creating something or analyzing the song they just learned. You could also just learn one box shape of the pentatonic shape and create solos and improvise for the rest of your life. This is fine if that is as far as you want to go. You can also be fine if you have your scale positions memorized and a few area's where you can play chords. Nothing wrong with that! There are some great players out there that can play fine like this. This does not mean that they could not be even better players if they learned the notes on the neck and music theory.

If you are happy with where you are then don't worry about it but if you really want to get to the next level learn the notes on the neck and your music theory!

Music theory takes a bit more work but learning the notes on the neck is very easy! You are putting more effort into resisting learning them then what it takes to actually learn them. If you memorize the notes on the E and A strings you can use your octaves to find all the rest of the notes on the neck. It really takes little effort. Just continual repetition to ingrain them in.

Let me ask you this. If you don't know your notes on the neck that how are you sure that the A minor at the 5th fret is actually an Am and not a Bm? Just because you have seen it done this way in books? I would guess that if I asked you to play a D on the E string you could find that right? Learning the rest of the notes on the neck is no more difficult then that.

So in the end I think yes is depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you are just enjoying yourself and having fun then maybe it is not that important. If you want to become a more serious competent musician then learn the notes on the neck!

Also never compare yourself with guitar hero's. For one I believe some of these artist like to dummy down what they know in there interviews. Like Slash for instance. He may not be a scholar in music theory but I suspect he knows a little more then what he lets on. Even if he or others are not dummying things down they have a natural talent that makes up for it. Only about 10% of the guitar players out there have this natural talent and can get away without knowing this stuff. The other 90% of us need to put the work in. Always remember that these guys are the exception to the rule not the rule!

6 (edited by Instructor 14-12-10 00:22:36)

Re: Knowing the Notes

Knowing the notes makes everything easier.  I can only speak in respect to how I teach them.  For example, in 2 lectures from now Don will see what I would term the "big picture"  in the way that I teach Lead Guitar Phase 1 improvisation, and he'll also in 4 lectures from now, be able to understand how I teach the guitar neck in ways that most may not have even known as possible, and in doing so, he will make an immediate association as to how knowing the notes on the neck, were absolutely essential, in accomplishing this.

(This doesn't mean that Don himself will have learned anything new or groundbreaking, or become a better player, because I cannot speak to the results that his years of prior study or schooling or lessons have had, and I'd never presume to do so.)

Don is a well versed player and with his degree in music education, I doubt he needs any help from me or what I teach, but he's picking things up for the purpose of maybe finding ways to better reach his students.  But, most students aren't like Don nor have his experience or breadth of exposure to musical education and theory.

What I mean, is, as a guy that's played as long as he has, and with his background formally in studying music, he already knew the notes, but he learned a few ideas as to ways they might be taught to his students, as he's already indicated.  Regardless, whether a person knew them to start with or learned them through us, the results will be the same, and that is, to get to what I am teaching, you cannot use it without having the notes on the neck down.

I say this, because my quest to learn the guitar, was a self taught one.  Twelve years long and I was self taught.  One discovery, lead to the next and so how it progressed, is how I teach.  I cannot understand the musical world or how learning progresses, outside of what I do today, as it seems so painfully backwards, clunky and illogical, not to mention time consuming.

So, to be honest Olly, knowing the notes on the neck would be useful for those goals, however, I only understand how to reach those goals in the context of what I teach.  I am aware that sounds horribly biased/slanted towards my approach, and I do apologize,  but I'm also stuck without a better answer - ultimately if you learn the notes on the neck and can play barre chords, or recognize the occasional note when you stop and look at it, it's going to seem terribly insignifcant.

However, for what I teach, the student can go to any note on any string and just start soloing.

The student never needs a chord book because he knows the letters that make up every chord.

Anything that you know the musical equivalent of, and know the notes on the neck, becomes knowledge that you can use quickly. 

If I know the notes of a Gm7b9 are G Bb D Ab, then I can also see where on the guitar that falls. 

If I decided to improvise to a track where the song left key, and I saw that the chord that was "outside" was F, I could chose to play on a triad tone, a 7th or even outline an extension over the chord when it came up, and by knowing the notes on the neck, say that the extended chord I wanted was a major 9 I could play a C Major Triad over it at that time, to pull out it's extended notes, and a C Maj7 arp to pull out a Lydian Maj7#11 feel over that F chord, before it came inside again.

Knowledge is power, in composition and improvisation.



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Re: Knowing the Notes

To be honest I already use and teach the notes by using the octaves to find the other notes. The thing I hadn't really thought about and thought was a cool idea was the the dot approach as anchors. As far as the other stuff I do find it interesting and may use some of it but I have my own system I'm used too and I'm note ready to chuck it all quite yet. It works pretty well for me. Although I don't teach in the same way what the course has done for me was spark a few idea's and remind me of some things I used to use and for some reason slacked off on teaching currently.

I do like the playing more horizontal approach because alot of players forget that yes you can play this way also. Years back I learned an approach kind of along the same lines from a book called the advancing guitarist by Mick Goodrick. Don't know exactly why I strayed from it. What I use alot is what I call crossover scales. One is a pentatonic scale the crosses over a good portion of the neck and a second to get the rest of the neck. I got this from Randy Rhoads. Not personally. I wish! The other approach is more 3 note per string scales and playing in a more Satch type approach I guess where you play the scale slide up a position,play there,slide up to another position. Not completely horizontal but much more then simply playing the scales up and down the box shapes.

Overall I would say the course so far would be good for someone wanting to learn more about what they are doing. I haven't seen alot of the course yet but it looks pretty good so far. I have seen some of the methods before in other shapes and forms but overall it is a unique approach!

Re: Knowing the Notes


Appreciate your thoughts.

In about 4 lectures though, I'd like to hear your impressions, because what you just voiced is something that I have heard before from people that are about this point, because it hasn't really hit stride as far as bringing it all together.  I'd like to see if your perspective has changed any, by that time.

I know of the crossover scale, is something thats also perpetuated in Fretboard Logic.  I know of Mick Goodrick also, and his single string theory is good, but I think you'll see that our approach ends up being a lot different, as the big picture unfolds.



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Re: Knowing the Notes

don p wrote:

Let me ask you this. If you don't know your notes on the neck that how are you sure that the A minor at the 5th fret is actually an Am and not a Bm? Just because you have seen it done this way in books? I would guess that if I asked you to play a D on the E string you could find that right? Learning the rest of the notes on the neck is no more difficult then that.

I guess I would know if was right because I am familiar with other positions of Am and Am will sound the same whereever you play it.

I see your point though. I know I could play a D on the E string. I know I could play a D on any string, and using octaves etc I could do that pretty quickly though for me, I the only time I am thinking this way is when I am deliberately trying to locate notes. It is never something that I could use for general playing.

I can definitely see the advantages and this thread has inspired me to try and be more conscious of the notes that I am playing and try and get to that next level of understanding.

If I am playing any chord I know the root of the chord but I never have bothered to know what the other notes are within the chord. I could work it out by naming the notes on the strings using the above techniques based on the pattern or positioning I am playing, I could also working it out using my knowledge of theory but it is never there in my mind without thinking about it and therefore it becomes unusable for me.

I think the way I will proceed personally is, wherever possible I will try and name the notes of what I am playing and hopefully then it will become ingrained.


Re: Knowing the Notes

One thing I want to make clear is I'm not talking about knowing what every note is when say I'm playing a ripping solo with the notes going by in a fraction of a second. That would be pointless. When soloing I tend to think more in degrees then the actual notes because say I'm playing in the key of F# minor, there are 3 sharps in there. When I hit a G# I'll look at it as the 2nd degree or the C# as the fifth degree of the scale. When I have a note ringing and I want to jump to another part of the neck a bit up farther I might quickly take a look for an F# up in that area. Because I have my natural notes memorized well it will take only a split second to find the F and then go up one fret. From there I know the pattern.

Even with the degree's I only use it when I'm consciously thinking about what chord is going by. Otherwise yes I'm thinking more in patterns but more importantly I'm thinking more of playing a good melody.

Where knowing the notes comes more into play is when I need to quickly figure out things and I'm analyzing what I'm doing. If I need say a G#min 7 at the ninth fret within about a second I can find that. I don't have to stumble around for a couple minutes while everyone looks at me like I'm an idiot. Also if things modulate to different keys it's much easier if you can find the notes on the neck quickly.

So no you don't have to know what notes you are playing at all times. I certainly wouldn't suggest anybody to do that. You should be trying to create the melody or chord progression that is flowing in your head. When things switch up or you need to figure something out having the notes memorized in combination with theory makes life alot simpler.