The Complexity and the Simplicity of the Fretboard

In this lesson we discuss the uniqueness of the fretboard and how it affects the study of improvisation on the guitar.

Watch the Video Lesson:

    Improvisers on most instruments handle scales, arpeggios, chords and other structures by what I call the “pitch content” approach. In other words, they learn what notes a structure is made of, and find those notes on the instrument. For example, when a piano player or a sax player wants to play an F# minor pentatonic, they are thinking F#, A, B, C#, E, or if they want an Eb major pentatonic they think Eb, F, G, Bb, C. So they need to know what notes their scale is made of. Then they find those notes everywhere on their instrument and mix them up to create musical ideas with them. Now that seems ridiculous for most guitar players. First of all most of us are not used to learning all the theory behind everything. There are very logical reasons behind that, that have to do with the nature of our instrument, but the fact is that we just are not used to doing this. The second reason for this is that the location of these notes is not as obvious on the guitar as it is on other instruments. I recently gave an example of this in the SFS Pentatonics crash course, and it made quite an impression on some people so I included that in the video above. I played A, B, C at 20 different places on the fretboard. Here is a diagram of all the locations for A, B, C up to fret 14:


A, B, and C on the fretboard

A, B, and C on the fretboard


    So you can see that thinking in terms of pure pitch content can be very frustrating on the guitar. That’s the reason why many perfectly good improvisation methods cannot easily be applied on our instrument. I myself dedicated a few years working on the pitch content approach almost exclusively, so that I could apply all the jazz and improvisation theory I learned in college. So instead of thinking like normal guitar players, I tried to see the right notes and play without using any shapes. And after I tortured myself for hundreds of practice hours, I got to the point where I could do this to a degree, even over songs with complex chord changes, but I was still kind of slow with keys that had a lot of sharps and flats, or if the changes were going by very fast. My intellectual approach seemed very impressive to my guitar friends, but compared to the average piano player, or a jazz horn player, I was still an amateur. It’s only after I discovered SFS and applied it the way I’m going to show you here, that handling all keys became natural and easy enough to learn with a very reasonable amount of practice. So no more stumbling in the dark, no more feeling that guitar players are the uneducated ones in the band, now we are ready to embrace and take advantage of the guitar’s unique fretboard logic and learn to navigate chord changes.

    The video above an excerpt from the introduction of my "SFS Pentatonics 2 - Navigating Chord Changes” video course. If you are interested to learn more about SFS, I’m offering a free lesson series that you can check out, called SFS Fretboard Secrets. You can use the link below to sign up. SFS is a great system and has helped many of my students, and my online viewers, improve their soloing skills and learn to move everywhere on the fretboard in record time, so I hope to see you there.


    That's it. I will be posting a lot more on the subject of Pentatonics, so stay tuned.

    Thanks for watching, and remember: Enjoy your practice, and be effective!