Spin the Wheel,
Map the Fretboard
BY ANDY ELLIS
• Learn to name every note
on the fretboard
• Use the cycle chart to
generate creative and
• Investigate quintal harmony
Click here to hear
sound clips of
Learning to name the notes on the fretboard is a big deal. The goal is to be able to
press any string to any fret and immediately
identify the resulting note. Quick: 5th string,
11th fret is what? Or 3rd string, 8th fret? Or
2nd string, 14th fret? If you can name these
pitches, especially without a guitar in your
hand, well done. If not, it’s a great skill to
acquire because it allows you to communicate
with musicians who play other instruments
than guitar. A saxophonist won’t know what
to make of “play the note on the 3rd string,
10th fret.” Yet “play F” gets the point across.
To fluently speak this universal language,
however, you need to know where every F
is located ... along with each instance of the
Western music system’s other 11 notes.
One excellent way to learn all the note
names—even those lurking in little-used
nooks and crannies of the fretboard—is to
play two-octave patterns up and down the
fretboard and on various string sets. Fig. 1
illustrates how to use the cycle chart to map
out a series of two-octave patterns while
moving in fifths around the wheel.
We begin with C octaves, then take one
step clockwise (CW) to G, then another
CW step to D, to A, etc. Because the octave
pairs alternately ascend and descend, we get
a complete workout shifting back and forth
across the strings, as well as up and down the
fretboard. You’ll notice we’ve added a half-step
approach into the last note of each two-octave
figure. This chromatic approach tone gives us
four beats in each figure and also provides an
opportunity to identify yet another note as we
play the “name the octaves” game.
We began tracking progressions on the Circle of Fourths and Fifths in
our previous lesson [“Running in Circles,”
September 2011]. If you missed that installment of Rhythm & Grooves—or simply
want to brush up on the theory behind the
cycle chart—take a moment to check it out
online at premierguitar.com.
The cycle chart is an invaluable tool:
As we saw last time around, it’s our secret
weapon for mastering all 12 keys on the
guitar. The simple diagram offers us a disciplined and thorough way to map essential
progressions in keys we guitarists often
avoid—E%, D%, and A%, for instance.
But the cycle chart has many other uses,
and we’ll look at several of these right now.
So you won’t have to move back and forth
between this month’s and last month’s lesson, we’ve again included this handy diagram. (But in a new color, just for variety.
It looks pretty in pink, doesn’t it?) Okay,
let’s get busy.
(D) (A) (E)
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16 17 12
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