Can You GUITAR IMPROV Without Knowing Your Notes?

Can You GUITAR IMPROV Without Knowing Your Notes?

Tommaso Zillio

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learning notes for guitar improv

(Snark alert: make sure you engage your sense of humor before proceeding)

Since I published my (revolutionary?) video on memorizing the notes on your guitar fretboard, I have had the most interesting reactions.

I classify them into three categories:

The Thankful

These are the vast majority.

They tell me how this method made a difference for them, how they now know their fretboard inside out, and how that knowledge is helping them become better musicians.

Of course, I love reading these comments!

The Triggered

These are the most entertaining for me :-)

It’s all the people who are adamant that they will never learn the notes on the fretboard because they think it’s too hard, takes too long, etc.

But they would never tell you that plainly, would they? Their comments are on:

  • How “Jimi Hendrix did not know the notes on the fretboard.” This is, of course, not true… Before becoming famous, Jimi worked as a session player, so he knew his fretboard and theory forward and backward.

  • How they tried my method for a whole hours-long practice session… and it did not work. Forget about my advice of practicing it for 5 minutes a day for a couple of weeks… and I SPECIFICALLY said NOT to do hours and hours in a single day

  • “You should not learn the notes. Use the CAGED system instead” Yes, that’s an actual comment. I can’t even facepalm at this one.

(Yes, yes, I am a big meanie for saying all this, lol)

The Questions

These are the people who want to know more. And they often ask great questions! So these are the most interesting comments for me!

Indeed I have a folder on my computer with screenshots of all these questions.

Today I’m answering one of these exciting questions: How knowing the fretboard notes can help for improvisation?

Here we go:

Today we also answer:

  • You can’t own a sequence of sounds; there is no stealing licks
  • Now show us 10 unethical ways to steal tunes
  • if more people paid attention to the profundities of the simple pop song…
  • Your video is about 15 mins long. By this time, my niece had memorized the fretboard!
  • You are too talkative
  • I find modulation slightly unpleasant

Do you want to be supremely familiar with the guitar fretboard so that it feels like an old friend and not something to fear or that you have to fight every time you play? Then take the Complete Chord Mastery guitar course and enjoy endless ease and musical creativity.


And below you find the transcription of the video for your convenience:

Hello internets so nice to see you. As many of you know probably most of you at this point, I have a new free ebook available. So get it here because it’s free and it will make you sound way better.

  • Intellectual property is a myth anyway, you can’t own a sequence of sounds there is no stealing licks.

Intellectual property is not a myth. It’s a real thing.

And I say this very concerned for the future of music. Because if we have no way to let musicians enjoy the fruits of their production, okay, if there is no way for musicians to monetize the music, we are going to find ourselves with no new music, because those people cannot make a living with that, okay, this is what’s going to happen.

So intellectual property is real, you can own practically anything.

Can you own a chord? No, because that’s too common. And so it’s like, you cannot own a color, for instance (even if some people have actually patented colors) or you could not own other things, you cannot own a brush in art and all this kind of thing.

Like you cannot own the idea of a guitar. You cannot own a chord. Sure.

But you can totally own sequences of sounds if you write if you’ve wrote that melody if you make the effort if you put in the work to create that melody.

Why do you believe melodies are created? (or discovered, whatever, it still works) you deserve that melody and you deserve everything you can get from that melody, you can sell the melody, or make a song, sell the song, perform a song, be paid for performing a song, you totally deserve that.

That’s absolutely natural guys, okay, when you work on something you are just entitled to the fruits of your labor no more, no less.

And if you think differently, and you think “no, information should be free, we should just put music free”, you are taking the bread out of the mouth of musicians.

Just think about that, okay, because I know you have in mind, all the big rock stars and you’re thinking “those people are rich, and they don’t need all this money”, and we can discuss about that.

But the vast majority of musicians are regular blokes like you and me guys, okay. And they make a living with what they do in an honest way.

They’re honest, artisans, crafting music for everybody to enjoy. And I think they deserve and get to be paid and to make a living from what they do.

  • Now show us 10 unethical ways to steal tunes

I teach only things I know. And so I am completely unable to teach you 10 unethical ways of stealing links. Because I never practice this stuff,

  • I love this sort of basic stuff, some of us have big gaps in our education and maybe heard these patterns a million times without really noticing. If more people paid attention to the profundities of simple pop songs, there might be a lot more people writing good pop songs

Exactly! Writing pop songs is actually much harder than it looks.

There are a lot of subtle ideas in there, and a lot of crafting their exact right notes the exact right chord at the exact right moment, and a lot of artistry to put the climax of the song in the right position.

It is definitely not as easy as it looks.

Again, you may like pop or not. And that’s perfectly legit. If you don’t like pop, no problem.

But we cannot for a moment kid ourselves and think that this is easy. It’s not, not at all. I know those small things, all those little things that musicians study and learn, really make a difference if you’re going to be successful or not, if it’s really a good pop song or not.

It is not a chance that several great musicians have covered pop songs, it is not a chance that several great jazz musician, for instance, made their fame and fortune by covering pop songs or in general popular songs at the time. Okay, in their own style, because the melody the harmony was already solid. So they can we could build stuff on top, they could make it even better. Okay.

But again, let’s not kid ourselves for a moment. Composing pop is not easy. And if you don’t believe me, just try :-)

  • Your video’s about 15 minutes long by this time my nieve said memorized the fretboard. Trust your way is not the most efficient.

If you can memorize the fretboard in 15 minutes, more power to you. It’s great.

But you see that’s the point. I never said this is the fastest method.

It’s probably not. Maybe there’s a faster way.

What I said is that the method I teach is the method that gives you permanent learning.

So you need to do it only once. You go through the whole method and then you’re done. You tattooed those notes into all your synapses, you burned them in and you will never forget them anymore in your life.

Just like riding a bicycle, it’s permanent. You do it once, you know it.

That’s what this method is for, you are perfectly correct in saying there are faster, faster methods. I know a few of them. And I have not put them in a video.

Why? Because you do them once, you put in a lot of work in a short amount of time, and you know your fretboard for a week, and then you start forgetting it. Okay. And it’s very, very unpleasant to put in all this kind of work and then for nothing. Okay?

So the method I gave you is the one that gives you permanent results.

That said, learning the fretboard in 15 minutes is a feat. So if you actually did that, if this actually happened, that’s great. You are very good. So more power to you.

And thank you for your comment.

  • You’re too talkative.

Duh! I’m Italian. What do you think? We are famous for a few things now. Pizza, mandolin, Mamma. Okay, good, good food in general.

And because we talk a lot and we talk loud.

Now, do we have any other slightly racist comments to make? :-)

  • I find modulation slightly unpleasant.

That’s interesting because most people find modulation interesting and pleasant.

But I do believe you okay, that’s, that’s legit. It’s a legit position. Okay. It’s interesting, though, because modulation is a bit it’s been invented precisely to make music more emotional and more a bit more variety.

It could be because of the music you listen to. Meaning it could be because you listen to music without many modulations and so that you grew to like that and dislike modulations.

It could also genuinely be something innate in you, meaning you like to have a single tonal center and not change it.

It’s legit but I’m curious. So if you would like to tell me more about that. I’m actually curious about that because I think you are the first people who tell me that and I would like definitely to know more.

So please, if you’re seeing this video right now, either write in the comments or write me an email, I want to know more about that.

  • Once you know the fretboard how can it help for improvisation?

Legit question! You see once you know your fretboard and this is a comment on the video on how to learn the notes on the fretboard.

So let’s begin with one thing: learning the notes on the fretboard is one step of learning the fretboard. It’s not the whole thing, okay, but even just when you know your notes on your fretboard then you start to get an orientation around.

For instance, if I am playing an A minor chord, the notes are A, C, and E. If I know the notes on my fretboard I can start playing those notes all around the fretboard, okay and now I’m not saying playing only those two notes is the best thing ever to improvise on these chords but it’s something.

You can essentially play the same notes of the chord around and they always work. Okay.

And this will be one thing you can start thinking about what are the notes of the chord around the fretboard.

If you don’t know your fretboard and get to do this with a fretboard diagram, it’s a pain. Okay, it’s a pain to go okay, where is the A note and the C, you spend more time consulting the fretboard diagram than actually playing, it’s a pain.

Another thing you can do, is if I’m playing a chord like an Am, then all the A notes will sound the same on that chord because the A is the root of the chord. The octave may be different, but the emotional content of the note is the same. It’s a very stable, it’s a very stable note on this chord.

The third (C) the minor third will always sound the same whether you’re playing it here or here.

Wherever you’re playing it, it will sound less stable note than the root note, but still in the chords. And this applies to any other note.

Every note over this chord has a meaning, and wherever you play it on the fretboard, it will have the same emotional meaning.

And this is important because when you improvise when you play a solo, why you’re doing it? Because you want to transmit emotion to the listener, okay, you’re not just filling up the space and the air, you want to transmit emotion to the listener.

That’s why you like music.

If there was no emotional transmission, you would not like music that would be no “liking” to be done. Makes sense?

So when you start thinking this way, and you start identifying what are the emotions of those notes, what is the feeling of those notes, and what is the feeling of the combination of those notes?

You just gain control of your improvisation and you get all those kinds of guidelines that help you create exactly the feeling you’re going for, whatever feeling that is.

And this is just by learning the notes, which is the first step of learning the fretboard.

Imagine if you do all the other steps! And if you want to do all the other steps, this is the internet so I have to recommend my courses and you find them on the link here: Complete Chord Mastery guitar course

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