"I still don't get the fretboard. I just don't get it.
As soon as I start reading guitar theory I just get frustrated."

"There are so many holes in my knowledge of the fretboard. Every time I go down the guitar theory path, I just don't seem to be able to connect the dots. All my attempts at learning end in being overwhelmed with charts and scales and little idea how they relate to the experience of playing."

You've tried it all. Nothing has really worked. The fretboard still eludes you: you seem to be stuck, repeating the same old fingering patterns again and again. So much time, so much frustration. Man, does this suck!

You see, on its own, guitar theory is not only boring: it's useless. You want to actually play guitar and make some music. For that, you need it directly on the fretboard, straight to the action: all the connections in a meaningful, systematic and consistent, yet fun and manageable way. That's what brought you here, right?

If this is you, then Fretboard Addicts has something to offer that may change how you see your guitar, for good: it's free to try for a full 7 weeks and it takes only one minute a day to get started. Are you ready?

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 Music has been a part of my life since forever, with a constant 'oh but you can't.' I have a bunch of books and it always looked the same, it just looks like nothing, I look at it and it doesn't make any sense. It's cycle where you just feel dumber and dumber, 'by now I should get it.' But now in seven weeks… I see, actually, I could probably play guitar, like really play it.

Aracely Bock, singer-songwriter, Chicago

'Just put your finger here' they say. 'No theory needed' they promise.

Chord bibles, CAGED, box patterns, tablature: all they tell you, literally, is where to put your fingers.

When you ask why, they tell you this:

"(the author) became aware that there was a guitar-specific pattern organization that was completely separate from the various musical considerations such as theory, technique and style. He eventually came to the conclusion that the issues of this pattern organization should take first priority over the issues of music or style..."

Man, I feel like an idiot. Forget music, forget style, forget theory, forget technique, just... put your fingers there. No thinking allowed, no listening required, just follow the dots.

Is this how to learn the fretboard?! Modes? Chords? Pentatonics? Triads?

Not if you want to play music... you know, with style, and executed with technique to make it sound like something, informed by music theory to keep your listeners there. Or, for short, musicianship.

It's your choice, really. Did you start because you love music, or because you wanted to 'put your fingers there'? Think about it.

Back to this:

"There are so many holes in my knowledge of the fretboard. Every time I go down the guitar theory path, I just don't seem to be able to connect the dots. All my attempts at learning end in being overwhelmed with charts and scales and little idea how they relate to the experience of playing."

Why do you think so many people end up feeling lost? Catch-22, baby! People try approaches that ignore music, then wonder why they can't just play music. Yes, music, you know, on the fretboard.

If you're sick and tired of repeating the few patterns that have stuck then you're through with 'just putting your fingers there.' It's time for something new.

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 Before, it was just a case of noodling about. I would get into a rut and then try to experiment, and that would get me into hot water: I could better describe it as trying to disguise a mistake, trying to make it sound deliberate. But now I have a structure and a reference in my mind. My fingers know, so I'm always within safety trying to improvise.

Nick Brooks, author

Why then do these "guitar theory" approaches even exist?

Ever hear this joke?

How do you stop a pianist from playing? Take away his sheet music. Now...

How do you stop a guitarist from playing? Give him some music to read!

Done for.

How did this happen?

Guitar players can't read not because they can't read sheet music, but because they can't read it on the fretboard, in spite of — actually because of — all this "guitar theory." To begin with, the guitar is a two-axis instrument: there are two pitch axes, one along and one across the fretboard.

the fretboard's horizontal and vertical pitch axes

This means, for example, that you have five different options for playing middle C. You're reading sheet music. Middle C shows up. Quick! Which one? It's in five places! The clock is ticking.

If you're reading tablature, fret 10 of string four is always just fret 10 of string four. So you play it, forget about musical context, throw out the guitar theory and boy does this get some claps. Freezing in place? Not so much.

The piano's keyboard, by contrast, is a one-axis affair:

the piano's pitch axis

Any self-respecting pianist caught playing from keyboard tablature would kill himself. Lucky guy. He'll never need it. Sheet music is piano tablature.

Think about it: every note has one spelling and one location on the thing. The piano gives you direct, visual, tactile confirmation that what you're playing really is the note you want.


 I think in terms of shapes, that's the problem. I know this shape and maybe it's movable, but unlike piano I can't look and immediately know what note is there. On the saxophone and on piano I can read the staff, but I can't on guitar: I can identify the note immediately on the treble clef but I don't know where it is on the guitar quickly.

This was an eye opener. First, it's just a different way of looking at the fretboard, and hooking it up to ear training in a systematic way. That's amazing. I sort of aspired to it vaguely in the past, but to have that structure help understand the fretboard, and to deal with the psychological, making sure that you enjoy playing… it's eye opening.

Seth Karten, Stanford University School of Medicine

But violin has 2 pitch axes too and they seem to be doing just fine!

Throw them a major third in the middle, see how they cope with it!

This is what screws up all your attempts to grok guitar theory. Think about it. The violin and it's fellow instruments all follow a simple rule: pick one interval and tune every pair of strings. It's either fifths or fourths. Simple.

Got this fingering? Good! Now go and put it anywhere on the instrument. It works.

Guitar almost follows this rule. Which means that it doesn't. Give me an E. Give me an A. Give me a D. Give me a G. So far so good.

the guitar's tuning system

Now... put a B right there for no seeming reason. G, A, B, count it out. Shit, lads! We had perfect fourths, now this? A major third? What the fuck for?!

Got this fingering? Good! Now put it on another string group. It's broken.

Quick, lads, back to the drawing board. 64 string groups, 2 pitch axes, intervals, inversions, voicings, modes... a million permutations. Back to guitar theory, chord charts, fretboard charts, guitar scales, patterns... where's the missing link? What's the secret key to unlock all this?

"Well, I'm gonna learn 'em all!" said cowboy Jack with admirable resolve and died later that afternoon from brain damage.

This is the real reason. Nobody understands that there's an underlying system, so they try to work around it using chord bibles, CAGED, box patterns, tab, a load of rote and zero understanding. Any approach to "guitar theory" blind to that system fails. It doesn't work, folks, never will. Time for a change.

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 I had gotten to this point where I was super super depressed… some parts of a person are so important that they are not a luxury. They are a necessity. For me, music is a necessity. I have tried over and over these past 15 years, wanting what I couldn't have. Finally, I get to have it! I learned more in 7 weeks for how to make the fretboard mine than all the years I had tried. I love it, I really really love it.

Julie Casil, Stone Mountain GA

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