5 Guitar Fretboard Exercises to Move Freely Across the Neck

In this lesson I explain the name of the notes on the guitar fretboard and give you a method to memorize them while in this lesson I explain the relationship between guitar notes, intervals, scales and chords.

It is important to have a basic knowledge of how these patterns on the guitar neck work as well as have the names of the notes memorized before doing the exercises in today’s lesson so that you’re not only able to move freely, but also know where you’re going and why. 

In the guitar fretboard exercises in today’s lesson you will start learning how to apply the knowledge you have to navigate freely on the guitar neck.

Each of these exercises uses notes from the A minor natural scale. This makes life easier since this scale doesn’t have any sharps or flats.

You can think of these exercises as a study in the A minor natural scale, however once you master each exercise, make sure you also play it in different minor keys (ex: C minor) as well as apply it to any other scale you are learning (ex: major scale, minor harmonic).

Guitar fretboard exercise 1: Octave on each string

In the first exercise we’re simply playing one octave of the A minor natural scale on each string of the guitar, starting from the first A note that appears on that string.

To play each exercise, shift the position of your entire hand so that your index finger goes to the first fret of the next group of notes (over which is marked “PS”)

I suggest that you practice this exercise slowly at first, and name each note you’re playing in your head – to memorize the notes on the guitar fretboard even better.

Once that becomes easy, play faster while memorizing the linear pattern of the A minor natural scale.

Guitar fretboard exercise 2:  Three note per string patterns

There are different systems you can use to learn scales, one of the most common being the CAGED system. 

While this system is ideal for learning open and barre chord patterns, I don’t find it particularly efficient when it comes to learning scales and instead use the 3 note per string system.

The next exercise covers 5 patterns of the A minor natural scale using this system. These 5 patterns give you control of all the neck when playing in this key.

Once you’re comfortable playing these scales, you should try playing them in all minor keys.

It will take you quite some time memorizing these 5 patterns and you don’t need to do it all in one go. 

Make sure you know them well though since this will not only help you master the fretboard but also to improvise fluently in any minor key.

Guitar fretboard exercise 3: Position shifting

In the next exercise we’ll be using four of the patterns given above and you’ll shift the position of your hand to move from one pattern to another, using the indicated fingering.

This will help you navigate from one pattern to the other as well as connect the scale patterns.

This exercise also ends with the power chord of A.

Guitar fretboard exercise 4: Four notes per string

While 3 note per string patterns are my favorite way of learning scales, learning a 4 note per string pattern helps you see the same scale from a different perspective.

They also involve some wide finger stretches which will help with your guitar technique.

Guitar fretboard exercise 5: A minor natural etude

The last exercise is a short etude in the key of A minor.

Though in this etude I do make use of phrasing techniques like string bending and vibrato, my main aim here is not to be melodic but to show you the notes you have available to use for soloing and to get your fingers to move through them.

In reality, your guitar solos are likely to contain fewer notes, and more melodic phrases.

Keep in mind that scales and arpeggios on the guitar fretboard only show you which notes you can choose from when you’re creating music.

A good sense of rhythm, phrasing and melody are other important components you shouldn’t neglect – playing the right notes is not enough.

Conclusion: Applying this knowledge

If you’ve done everything given in this lesson, congratulations.

The only step between what you know and your ability to improvise good guitar licks, riffs, and solos, is actually starting to do it.

Find a backing track in A minor in your favorite genre of music and jam all over it using the notes and patterns you have just internalized in this lesson.

The purpose of these fretboard exercises is in fact that you get to know these notes and patterns so well, that when you’re improvising you don’t need to worry about them at all.

Some people wrongly think that learning things like we’ve been doing here – applying music theory to the guitar – somewhat limits your creativity when creating music.

In reality, the exact opposite happens.

When you gain the ability to move freely across the fretboard and know where you need to go, to more you can concentrate on creating melodic phrases since you don’t have to look for the notes.

You only look for the emotions you want to express.

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