Should BEGINNERS Memorize The Guitar Fretboard ASAP?

Tommaso Zillio

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What’s a guitar beginner to do?

….reread the previous line in my thick Italian accent while you imagine me as Luigi Risotto from the Simpsons:

Tommaso Simpsons

“This is a great-a Photoshoppe. I guarantee!”

Jokes aside, let’s talk about guitar :-)

You probably know that I have a signature exercise to learn all the notes on your guitar fretboard (… and if you don’t remember it, I link it below).

Lately, I got in my Inbox several emails asking me if it’s ok for beginners to practice this exercise.

And the answer is:

Yes…

But…

Uhm…

… ok, it’s not that simple! :-)

So here’s an explanation in my trademark I-really-hope-you-understand-at-least-one-word-every-three accent:

If you don’t remember the exercise to learn all the notes on the fretboard (and remember then FOREVER) then here’s that video.

I recommend taking it easy and step-by-step, especially if you are a beginner.

I also recommend keeping this exercise in your practice routine as a warmup (it works great as a warmup!)

But it does not stop here. The exercise above is best practice inside a routine of exercises that accomplish several things at the same time like

  • Improving your musicality
  • Improving your fretboard knowledge
  • Improving your creativity
  • Improving your technique

Where do you find that “magical” exercise routines? Why, you find them in the Complete Chord Mastery guitar course, the only course that teaches you harmony directly on the guitar fretboard.


Also, if you prefer reading rather than watching a video here’s a transcription of the (first) video:

Hello, internet. So nice to see you. I’ve been reading your comments, and here are my answers.

Q: I remember Paul McCartney saying in an interview somewhere that he was worried that he had subconsciously stolen yesterday from somewhere he had and as it turned out, but it makes me wonder how many things are stolen subconsciously. So why worry about it?

A: I think everybody who has actually composed a song had a similar experience, because when you compose a song, you are trying to create something, and you’re trying to create something beautiful. And to create, this beautiful thing, you need to resolve some specific problems. And those problems in music are something like,

  • Okay, do I change key or I don’t change key?

  • What chord do I put here?

  • How do I write this transition?

  • In this melody, I’m going to put this note or this other note?

And those are similar kinds of problems. You can think of artists as problem solvers to try to put things together and create beautiful things.

This works for several different kinds of art. Okay, and it definitely works for us musicians.

So sometimes you’ll find solutions that are similar to what somebody else has done. Or sometimes like in the case of Paul McCartney, here, you happen on a solution is works so well, that it feels so natural, it feels so obvious, it feels so fluid that you think somebody has to have done this before me.

And it’s not always true. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not.

But the thing is, we are all trying to solve similar problems. So kind of naturally, we’re gonna gravitate toward the same solutions.

That’s why actually music theory exists, it’s already a set of solutions to those problems. For instance, what chords work well together? In principle, every chord worked well together with any other chord.

But composing inside the key – so you get this kind of set of chords, premade set of chords that work together well, is something very popular, because practically everything you write using chords in a key sounds at least acceptable.

So that’s already a pre-solved problem.

And then you can, of course, always unpack it, and put in different chords in if you want to compose something different, but I think these comments strike at the exact heart of why music theory exists.

Rather than wondering if something was already done. Why don’t we consciously know what was already done and use it?

And then yeah, of course, you always run the risk to write a melody that was already written by some people before you: this may happen, okay?

And again, it happens everywhere. Okay, not only in music, it happens even in science, when people invent the same thing separately in the same year.

The transistor was invented by three different teams in the same year, for instance. And this kind of thing happens all the time. Don’t worry too much about that.

Instead, worry about being able to write music. And if you’ve written something somebody else has written, okay, not not a big problem.

Have other people around you listen to it, and see if they can recognize it. But yeah, this is something that can happen. It’s interesting to think about!

Q: It would have been easier if you use the circle of fifths, wouldn’t it? Much respect and love to you

A: Great comment! And it gives me the occasion of explaining one thing.

You will think everything would be easier with the circle of fifths, and the circle of 5ths is something that most guitar teachers do explain all the time, it’s the cornerstone of their teaching.

But personally, I think the idea of the circle of fifths is a bit overrated. It’s a nice tool, you can do some interesting stuff with that.

But there are better tools than the circle of fifths for doing a lot of the things we do with the circle of fifths.

So I’m not saying “don’t learn it”, okay, I’m not saying don’t learn the circle of fifths, or I’m not dissing anybody who uses the circle of fifths.

I’m just saying that I prefer to explain things without using the circle of fifths. And I find that the explanation comes out clearer and people understand more.

Now, as usual, nothing works for 100% of people. So your mileage may be different. Okay, no problem.

For instance, in my courses, I do mention the circle of fifths, but we don’t spend a long time thinking about it, talking about it, etcetera… and there are better tools from several things.

If you’re talking about modes, for instance, the Order of Brightness is a much more useful tool, if it’s done the right way, and if it’s done completely with all the details, (which I’ve never seen done anywhere else on the internet).

In harmony (chords) other different ideas work better than the circle of fifths again, up to you.

It’s a very intelligent comment. Probably I’m weird on this but I think they circle 5ths is an overrated concept. And not that we can do without it… but we can do with better tools.

Q: Your lessons are helping me immensely. Thank you!

And you are very welcome, and it’s been my pleasure! :-)

A: Thank you for featuring my comment on your video.

The pleasure is mine. If you keep writing questions I keep giving you answers. So please write more questions!

I love doing this kind of video because I can answer what you guys want and I can try to help you.

So more, please write more questions. My pleasure.

Q: As a brand new player, should I start with this (memorizing the fretboard)?

A: You could start with memorizing the fretboard, yes.

But I would recommend that if you decide to start with this., then this is not the only thing you do.

For the simple reason, that learning notes the fretboard is great, and it multiplies what you can do… but if it’s the very first thing you do, and you do only that you’re going to spend a few weeks doing only these exercises… and this could be boring at first.

So I would instead recommend you learn a couple of chords maybe, I don’t know, simple chords, or maybe you’ll learn the pentatonic scale so that you can start making a little bit of music.

You want to do something that allows you to do music immediately, even if it’s not super complex music. If you want more information on this, you can always write me an email, I have a couple of ebooks on how to get started in music theory, or how to harmonize melodies.

This gives you a bit of an idea of how to get started. You can again start by learning notes on your fretboard. I just recommend you don’t do only this because you don’t want to get at the third or fourth week that you are playing, thinking “the only thing I know is the name of the notes on the fretboard, but I cannot make any music”.

That would be a bit of a bummer. So it’s just a question of making sure you have fun with the guitar.

Q: Many pop songs, specifically boy bands, have good songs, but the execution sucks. The thing is, it’s fast food for the ears, easy to listen to, catchy, there’s really no surprises with that music. So it fits well for people who are casual listeners. Music nerds, such as myself might want more complex music that surprises. not to say that I don’t enjoy an occasional pop song.

A: This comment was about Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way”.

Now, let’s see if the problem is not the song but the execution, then we should be able to find a band that plays this song and plays it’s much better than the Backstreet Boys.

Maybe they sing it better. Maybe they executed it better. Maybe they change something and a song is better.

If you can find that then I will gladly agree with you. But so far, I haven’t heard it!

If you can find me a band or anything or somebody who made a cover of a boy band song and it sounds so much better, then yes, you’re right.

But again, I haven’t seen that.

I think that “I want it that way” by Backstreet Boys is recorded perfectly, sang perfectly, there is great musicianship behind and if you don’t believe me listen to the song.

Am I saying it’s an original groundbreaking revolutionary? No.

But it’s a product well made.

And lots of pop songs have great musicians behind them that play the simplest thing that they can play of course, but they play it really well.

I think that most of this idea that “boy bands or other pop bands are creating bad music” is just cultural.

We just like to say that. We just like to say that we listen to better music. But again, when you go and see all the artistry behind you realize that it’s not easy to compose an easy song that flows so well and has “no surprises” and so the listeners are not being put off.

If you don’t believe me… here’s a challenge for everybody who doesn’t believe me.

Write a pop song, write a boyband song.

And you’re like, “No, I don’t want to do that because I have artistic integrity”. Screw artistic integrity :-) Just write a pop song!

Just show me that you can write a better pop song than Backstreet Boys. And then I will believe you.

Otherwise, we’re not discussing anything real here. Because believe me, I tried to compose pop songs, and they are freaking hard. More than you imagine!


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