How many E notes can you play on the guitar?
Open 1st String…
5th Fret, 2nd String…
9th Fret, 3rd String…
14th Fret, 4th String…
19th Fret, 5th String…
These are all E notes. There are more, this is just in one octave.
Having so many ways to do the same thing confused me for a decade. This duplication seemed like an obstacle to me. But, the fretboard came into focus when I realized this gave me one very important thing:
Take those E notes I mentioned. Each sounds a little different. Same note, but playing it on a different string gives it a different character. That gives us a choice. And our choices stack up over time to create our own unique voice on the guitar.
In this lesson, we’ll take a look at a blues lick in a comfy position on the neck. Then, we’ll exercise our options and play it in several spots on the fretboard.
This process will help you see the fretboard’s options and how you can use them to bring out your own voice on the guitar.
Let’s get started.
Pick a Lick and Analyze the Notes
Start with a lick that you know well. For me, this blues-scale based run in E will do nicely:
The lick starts on an E – that’s our root note. But we need to know more about the lick so we can move it around the neck. We need to analyze the notes of the lick. Map out the lick using the note names or – my preferred method – analyzing the intervals.
Here’s the lick with each of the intervals noted:
Play the Lick from Every Possible Root Note on the Fretboard
Knowing the intervals of the lick and how to find intervals on the fretboard makes the lick portable. Find another E note and play the same sequence of intervals. For example, let’s move the lick up to the E on the 3rd string, 9th fret like this:
Move the Lick to the Remaining Strings
Play this sequence of intervals starting from every E note that you can find on the fretboard.
Here’s the lick moved to the 4th string:
Notice how the fingering of the lick is similar to the first example.
Similar but not the same. We need to make a small change to how you play this lick at the end of the first measure. You can’t slide down from the E on the 4th string to the Open D String. But we can choose to play a pull-off there instead.
Now let’s see the lick from the E note on the 5th String:
We have options when moving this lick to the E on the 6th string. Start on the 12th fret, or do something a little different and start with the Open 6th String.
Something interesting happens when we do.
Using Different Octaves
Here’s the lick starting with the Open 6th String, E note:
The Open 6th String is the lowest note we can play on the guitar which makes it impossible to play the b7th or the 5th below the Open E String.
Shift the second half of the lick up an octave by playing the Open 4th string and then continuing the lick.
This keeps the structure of the lick intact but blends two octaves for a cool sound.
Change the Direction of the Lick from Each Root Note
Did you notice something about the fingering pattern above?
Each version of the lick starts by playing the root with your index finger. Your middle, ring and pinky play the notes higher up the fretboard. You’ll see this in the video lesson.
I think of this as playing “forward” in direction.
But you can reverse this by starting the lick with your ring or pinky finger on the root. Then, play on the lower frets with your other fingers. I think of this as the “backward” direction.
The root note is your pivot point and you can play up the neck (forward) or down the neck (backward) from that pivot point. Switching directions will cause you to switch strings at different spots in the lick. That might lead to a different bend, pull-off or slide.
Here’s an example of the same lick played down the fretboard – the backward direction.
What’s the Point of All This?
We’ve played this lick in several spots. There are more 🙂
So here’s a great next step: take this lick and play it in a position or octave that we didn’t cover here.
You might stumble on something that presents a few new options. Options that sound a bit more like you. And that’s the point.
Plus there’s a nice little bonus to this process – mastering the fretboard.
Consider this skill stack:
- Learn the note names on the fretboard
- Learn the intervals and how to find them
- Learn how to play a lick anywhere on the neck
This set of skills helped me unlock the fretboard and I know it can help you too.
So give it a shot and good luck!