Memorizing the Fretboard using the Cycle of Fourths
Its been a while since I practiced, but I’m at it again. I’m trying to learn the notes on the fretboard, one string at a time, and I read through the following pages on StudyBass, which has what I think is a good method with good reasoning.
- StudyBass: Memorizing Fretboard Note Names (gives reasons for memorizing the notes)
- StudyBass: Note Name Memorization Method #2 (this method makes sense to me)
Basically, what it has us do is this:
- Divide each string in half. The 1st half is Open – 11th fret. The 2nd half is 12th fret and up. So, you have 8 halves on a 4-string bass, 10 on a 5-string and 12 on a 6-string, because each string has a top half and bottom half.
- Pick a string half, play the Cycle of Fourths and call out each note as its played. I’m doing this starting on the 1st half of the E string. So, I’m using the open E and all the frets up to the 11th.
The Cycle of Fourths is a music theory thing. I won’t get into it here because I don’t fully understand it yet. But, for exercise & memorization purposes, starting on C, go up 4 notes at a time until you come back to C. So, starting on C, the cycle looks like this:
C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – A – D – G – C
StudyBass has some tips for memorizing the notes above. It was helpful to see that BEADG is repeated twice, once with flats and once as naturals. As long as you remember the BEADG pattern (think open strings on a 5-string bass) then all you have to do is remember to start with C & F and end with another C.
Here’s the pattern worked out in fret numbers for the first half of the E string:
The thing that’s super-important here is to call out each note as its played. Its probably better to work out where these notes are for yourself before using the above fret positions to cheat, but its here if needed. When I have this reliably in my head and under my fingers I’ll post up another 1/2 of another string.
[edit 03.09.2015] I just logged into Talkbass and I see other beginners are trying to figure out ways to memorize the fretboard, like me. Someone even suggested the same method I’m using: learning via the Cycle of 4ths or Cycle of 5ths. So, I’m just linking to other posts related to this, in case its helpful to anyone.
- 01.08.15 Memorizing notes on the E-string using the Cycle of Fourths
- 01.17.15 Memorizing notes on the A-string using the Cycle of Fourths
- 02.06.15 Memorizing notes on the D-string using the Cycle of Fourths
- 02.09.15 The Cycle of Fourths
Also, starting around 01/11/2015, in the Practice section of my history page, there are some other posts with progress updates and exercises.