A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Posts tagged “fretboard memorization

Memorizing notes on the E, A & D-strings using the Cycle of Fourths

Apparently, I can play the Cycle of Fourths starting on C on the E, A and D strings. However – it seems that what I’ve really done is learn the pattern of the Cycle, which is just what I’ve been afraid of. I’m up in the air about whether to continue and learn the notes on the G string or find a way to really learn the notes so that I actually know where to find them, and not just how to play the Cycle.

I’m probably going to end up moving onto the G string this week, just for completeness. Its a good exercise, and I’m able to consistently use it to practice 5ths and other stuff. I’m sure that on some level, I also actually know the fretboard better than I did a month ago as well, but its not how I want it just yet.

I tried playing each note on all 3 strings – so finding all 3 C’s, then F’s, then Bb’s and so on. That was hard. Its also how I confirmed that I didn’t know the notes as well as I’d like to. I think what I’ll do is break them into smaller chunks and practice like that. Maybe groups of 3, so [C-F-Bb], then [Eb-Ab-Db], then [Gb-B-E], and finally [A-D-G].

Tabbed out for the E, A and D strings, the exercises will eventually look like this:

Cycle of 4ths - E A D strings (by note)

Also, I think I got a feel for the D string faster than the first two, so something is clicking subconsciously.


Memorizing notes on the D-string using the Cycle of Fourths

I have the notes on the first 12 frets of the E and A strings in the Cycle of Fourths down well enough that I can play them without making mistakes often now – unless I use a metronome, then I don’t last too long. I can play them one after another, going from the E string to the A string and then back again. I can also play short patterns starting on them now, like the root-5th or even the minor scale. Starting on the 5th and landing on the root is ok, but sometimes, I still lose my place.

That said, I’m worried that I’m going to fall into the pattern where I play the same thing over and over again without getting better mentally, so I’m moving onto the D string now.

So, just like always, the Cycle of Fourths (starting on C) is spelled like this:

C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – A – D – G – C

Here are the notes in fret numbers for the first half of the D string. As always, its probably better to work out where these notes are for yourself before using the fret positions below to cheat, but its here if needed:

Cycle of 4ths on 1st half of D String (frets 0 – 11)

Cycle of 4ths on 1st half of D String (frets 0 – 11)


Memorizing notes on the E-string using the Cycle of Fourths 6

I was just reviewing the Cycle of Fourths on the E string and I found a new permutation to practice it with that has a nice melodic ring – I reversed what I was doing a week or two ago. Instead of playing a given note in the Cycle and then its 5th, I’m playing the 5th and then landing on the note in the Cycle. It causes me to hesitate a little, because I’m seeking out the note, but playing the one on the string above, and 2 frets down, before hitting the root note each time, but its an interesting (if simple) mind-game for me right now. I’m going to run this for a day or two and then move it onto the A string.

Here’s what it looks like:

Cycle of 4ths - E String with leading 5ths


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 4

So, I’m practicing the Cycle of Fourths on the E and A strings, as per my post from earlier tonight. Everything is going well. Its slow at first, as I work to play a note on the E string, find its counterpart on the A string, then remember my place well enough to go to the next note. I still screw up D and Db sometimes, going to B or Gb instead, but overall, its running smoothly.

Sometime while practicing that, it occurs to me that I can switch it up. Instead of starting on the E string and playing the same note on the A, I’ll start on the A string and play the same note on the E. Well, it takes me a few runs to get it right, but its somehow going faster than when I played it using the E first. Am I quietly getting smarter? I’ll have to ask the wife. Objectivity – that’s what they’re good for.

Then it occurs to me… there’s some kind of pattern going on here. It takes me another run or two, but I realize that for most of what I’m doing, when I play a note on the E string, the next note on the A string is on the same fret. I’m practicing the Cycle of Fourths. The bass is tuned in fourths!

Cycle of 4ths on the A & E strings playing the same note on both strings

Cycle of 4ths on the A & E strings playing the same note on both strings

Look at the diagram above. As long as you know the Cycle on the E string, it puts you right where you need to go on the A string. Since we’re moving in fourths, and the bass is tuned in fourths, all we have to do is move up a string to get to the next note.

Now, that may or may not help me with fretboard memorization, but its definitely interesting to know. It also means that I can play 1/3 of the cycle from one position, then switch and play another 1/3 and switch one more time and play the rest. Its 4 notes per fret, each on a different string. I don’t think I’m going to use that information just yet, as it defeats the purpose of trying to memorize the notes, but once I have them down on all 4 strings, I’m sure it will help me to navigate. And, by then, I’ll hopefully have the Cycle drilled into my head enough that I’ll know what note I’m moving into by going up a string but remaining on the same fret.

Its starting to come together. I love it when a plan comes together.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 3

Playing the Cycle of Fourths along with the 5th of each note and naming them is too hard for me to do. I just don’t have the brainpower to recall the 5th each time, so I’m tabling that for now. What I’m doing instead is playing each note in the Cycle on both the E and A strings together. So, I play [C on the E string], then [C on the A string], then [F on the E string] followed by [F on the A string], etc., until I reach the end. Then I repeat.

That seems to be working a little better. Here’s what it looks like in tab:

Cycle of 4ths on the E & A strings playing the same note on both strings

Cycle of 4ths on the E & A strings playing the same note on both strings

I think that I really have just been memorizing a sequence each time, which is why I’m looking to mix things up using baby steps. I know that I should do these backwards as well (the Cycle of Fifths) but I think that right now, it would throw me off completely, so I’m waiting a little more on that.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths 2

A snowstorm just passed through the NY-metro area last night. We got about a foot, which isn’t so bad, considering that parts of Long Island got around 3 feet. 😉 Hopefully things will be a little quiet and I won’t get too many client calls/emails, so I can practice a bit today until the baby wakes up and wants to help me work (she likes typing the letter “O” into Word documents for me).

So, I read a little more about the Cycle of Fourths earlier this AM, just to see how others apply it to their practice, and so far, it looks like at my level, its simply used to repeat patterns to drill them into memory (practice scales in all positions via the Circle, etc.). Since I’m using it to memorize the fretboard, I’ve been trying to get a little more out of the motion at the same time, so I’ve been running the Cycle and playing the 5th as well. So basically, I play a note in the Cycle, follow with the note one string up and two frets higher, and then move onto the next note.

Right now, I’m chaining the Cycle along two strings. I play It on the E string, and then I immediately continue on the A string. I’m now able to play each note and its 5th without losing my place. Its funny how just adding in a single note to my practice makes me make mistakes at first. But, with that under my belt, I’m going to try to start naming the 5th each time I play it. I think it’ll help me to cement in those note names & positions, and it’ll begin to help me memorize the relationships (root/5th) between those notes by name instead of position on the fretboard (one string up and two frets over).

Here are the notes in the Cycle along with their 5ths:

Cycle of 4ths & their 5ths

You know, now that I’ve written that out and I can look at it, the 5ths follow the same pattern as the Cycle of Fourths, except that they start a 5th higher (duh!). I suppose that should have been obvious, but I’m not that quick on the uptake these days. Blogging about this stuff really is helpful – writing to communicate it makes me analyze what I’m doing more. Hopefully, its understandable to some of you and my sometimes-garbled thoughts aren’t too confusing.


Memorizing notes on the E & A-strings using the Cycle of Fourths

Its coming together. I didn’t practice with the metronome so far for today, but I ran the Cycle of Fourths on the A string for a while. I then went back and did it on the E string, and I thought, what the hell, let me see if my pea brain’s been cooking any of this stuff under the skin. So, I did the Cycle on the E and immediately continued on the A string.

It was flawless. 😉

I then tried it again, and this time, when I finished with G on the A string, I continued with C on the E string, and kept doing that in a loop. This means that, right now, as long as I’m in sequence, I can find 24 notes on the first two strings! Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

This is what it looks like, together:

So, what you want to do, if you want to practice this is, play the Cycle on the E string, starting on C and ending on G. Once you finish (you’ll be on the 3rd fret of the E string) immediately move up a string to the 3rd fret of the A string and start the next Cycle on that C. When you end, you’ll be on G on the A string (10th fret). You can then slide back two frets and down to the E string and continue again.

Here’s an observation from this:

  • The bass is tuned in 4ths
  • We’re practicing playing 4ths (hence, the name Cycle of Fourths)
  • Moving from G on the 3rd fret of the E string to C on the 3rd fret of the A string is a 4th
  • Every time you move up a string but stay on the same fret, you’re moving up a 4th.