Fretboard Blueprint Course

699686_fretWelcome to Fretboard Blueprint!
Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • play 5 shapes ascending and descending in key of C
  • play all intervals (2nds, 3rds, etc) in each shape in key of C
  • connect the shapes together horizontally in key of C
  • improvise over chord changes
  • create melodic solos by targeting chord tones

Keep in mind, this is NOT all about scales. Instead focus on shapes. Playing the shape up and down is more for getting the shape in your head than to practice scales. Take your time with this material, it is literally months and years of work that can complement your other studies.

Practice tips:

  • Play chord first, then the shape and/or exercise
  • Use metronome
  • Use alternate picking (up/down)
  • Make each note sound clearly and consistently

For extra credit:
-say note names ascending and descending for each shape in key of C

Resources:

The 5 Shapes Diagrams in PDF for you to download.

External links:
CAGED system (includes diagrams and pentatonic scale shapes) – keep in mind my chord shapes and terminology is slightly different.
Scale diagram generator

Fretboard Blueprint

Introduction – Part 1

If you know how to play bar chords (chords with no open strings), you’ve already realized that the guitar is a pattern based instrument. This means that if you move a C major bar chord up two frets with the same fingering, you will instantly be playing a D major bar chord. When you think about moving a chord, all you need to think about is where is the C root note (in this case under my index finger) and what root note do I want to go to (the D note). Since it’s two frets higher, I just have to shift my left hand up two frets.

If we look at the C major scale on the fretboard (some notes higher and lower have been omitted for now) we can imagine this as a moveable scale shape, although it’s much bigger than a typical bar chord. The important thing to note is that you can move this whole shape up or down to play in other keys.
C major all shapes

Because this shape is so big, we can break this down into 5 shapes. This is often referred to as the CAGED system. You can read more about the system here (external site). Although there are differences in terminology preferred by various authors out there, the main thing to focus on are the shapes. When you look at the shapes below, note the location of the root note (C) in relation to the other notes.

Shape 5

Shape 5

Shape 6

Shape 6

Shape 7

Shape 7
Shape 2

Shape 2

Shape 3

Shape 3

There are only 5 shapes (no shape 1 or shape 4). For each shape, note the location of the root notes (C in this case).


Introduction Part 2

What we are doing with these 5 shapes is trying to relate the root notes to the overall shape. We are associating a pattern of notes which form a shape with a root note shape. The root note shape can be the root notes, or can expand to be a larger shape such as a C chord. Associating a chord shape with a scale shape is the basis of the CAGED system. The two problems that I have with the CAGED system are that:

  • Some of the chord shapes they use are difficult or impossible to play (the D shape for example). This is okay if you just ‘visualize’ the shape rather than try to play it
  • They name the shapes C, A, G, E, D to spell CAGED which is confusing when you transpose to other keys. For example, playing the ‘C’ shape chord in the key of F is actually an F major chord. ie. F major (C shape) is confusing to me.

For the five shapes in addition to noting the roots (C) and what shape they make for each of the 5 shapes, we can visualize chord shapes. Note in case the chord is a C chord (sometimes without the 3rd of the chord which is known as a power chord). Also note that in each shape we are visualizing the same chord (ie. C major) – in order words there are 5 C major scale shapes and within each shape there is a C major chord shape. If we transpose this to another key we can say “in the key of F major there are 5 F major scale shapes and within each shape there is an F major chord shape.”

Here are the 5 chord shapes in the key of C. They are slightly expanded from the root note shapes.

C shape 5

C shape 5

C shape 6

C shape 6

C shape 7

C shape 7

C shape 2

C shape 2

C shape 3

C shape 3

When practising the scale shapes, play the chord shape as well so that you learn to associate one with the other. This will help when you start to improvise over chord changes, because when you see a chord in a piece of music you can associate a scale shape with the chord depending on where you’re playing on the neck.

In the next lesson, we will practise each shape ascending and descending in each position. You should also play the chord shape before you start the scale.

5 Shapes Across Neck

In this lesson we are practising the 5 shapes ascending and descending with the metronome set at 100 bpm. The usual way to practice anything is:

  • Play the shape without the metronome until you have it in your mind
  • Play the shape while tapping your foot. Try to keep the tempo but slow down if required
  • Turn on metronome set to low bpm such as 60 bpm and build up from there.


Intervals – 2nds

We can now break up the linear scale approach with intervals. A 2nd interval is G to A, A to B, C to D, etc. Here we play along with a metronome, ascending and descending in each of the 5 shapes. I’m not providing TAB because I want you to do this sequence within each of the shapes you’ve already learned!

Intervals – 3rds

We can now break up the linear scale approach with intervals. A 3rd interval is G to B, A to C, C to E, etc (ie every other note, skipping one in between). Here we play along with a metronome, ascending and descending in each of the 5 shapes. I’m not providing TAB because I want you to do this sequence within each of the shapes you’ve already learned!

Intervals – 4ths

We can now break up the linear scale approach with intervals. A 4th interval is G to C, A to D, C to F, etc (ie every other note, skipping one in between). Here we play along with a metronome, ascending and descending in each of the 5 shapes. I’m not providing TAB because I want you to do this sequence within each of the shapes you’ve already learned!

Intervals – 5ths, 6ths, 7ths

I want you to work these out on your own, ascending and descending, now that you have the idea of the 2nds, 3rds and 4ths. Lots of brain power!


Connecting the Shapes

No tab as I want you to do this yourself to get it in your brain!

Part 2 – Using the 5 Shapes

Welcome to Part 2 – Improvisation/Soloing. Ready to learn lead guitar? This course is the practical application of the Fretboard Blueprint section. You will learn how to use the 5 shapes in a musical context such as playing over chord progressions.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section you should be able to:

  • improvise using chord tones in key of C
  • improvise using 5 shapes ascending and descending in key of C
  • improvise using intervals (2nds, 3rds, etc) in each shape in key of C
  • connect the shapes horizontally

Practice tips:

  • Don’t worry about modes or scales
  • Listen to what you are playing (perhaps record yourself)
  • Try to make melodic lines. When you find something try to note it’s shape, pattern of intervals in the idea, etc

Resources:

The 5 Shapes Diagrams in PDF for you to download.

Backing Tracks – you need to loop them in windows media player, winamp, etc.

Dm-C Backing Track (Acoustic) (use key of C major)

A minor Backing Track (Heavy) (use key of C major)

Rock Backing Track (use key of D major)

External links:
CAGED system (includes diagrams and pentatonic scale shapes) – keep in mind my chord shapes and terminology is slightly different.
Chord Tone Soloing by Barrett Tagliarino
Fretboard Logic by Bill Edwards
Scale diagram generator

Soloing using 5 Shapes


Using 2nd Intervals

Using 3rd Intervals

Chord Tone Soloing

This is probably the most important and exciting topic of all the courses about improvisation. The biggest misconception that people have is that scales and chords are two different things. People tend to ask ‘What scale do I play over such and such chord?’. This inevitably leads to incredible amount of time spent on learning and practicing scales and modes. This will no doubt improve your technical ability but often does little to produce memorable and melodic solos. As guitarists, we tend to overplay scales as well. It becomes a mindless wailing over chords with little or no thought given to the underlying chords.

Here’s the deal: when wondering what to play over a certain chord you can be certain that the notes in the chord are the most obvious notes to play over the chord! So as chords go by, you could decide to emphasize the root, 3rd or 5th of the current chord. Same goes for the next chord and so on. Let’s show an example with the Dm – C chord progression that we’ve been using. Let’s use shape 6 (5th fret position).

Try these with the backing track. If you were to play the roots as whole notes you would get the following (shown in tab and music notation):

roots1

If you were to play the 3rds as whole notes you would get:

thirds

If you were to play the 5ths as whole notes you would get:

fifths

These all work and are your safest options. Get to know how each note (root, 3rd and 5th) sounds in relation to the chord. Thirds are strongest as they define the chord as being major or minor. For example C major is C-E-G and C minor is C-Eb-G. The only difference is the 3rd (E to Eb).

You can also mix up the notes. For example you can play the 3rd (F) of D minor then the 5th (G) of C major.

thirdtofifth

Try other combinations yourself. Next we’ll be talking about adding more notes by approaching each chord tone from below or above.

Once you are able to play the chord tones for each chord in a progression, the next step is to add approach notes from either below or above the chord tone. Use shape 6 (5th fret) in key of C over a Dm to C progression and will use eighth notes to start.

Try using one approach note from below

Try using two approach notes from below

Try using three approach notes from below

Try using one approach note from above

Try using two approach notes from above

Try using three approach notes from above

Conclusion
In this course you have learned that everything can be derived from 5 simple major scale shapes. These shapes can be moved to other keys by locating the root note within each shape and shifting it up or down the neck to the new key.

You also learned how to use intervals within each shape to break up the scalar type playing that is so common these days, and to help better visualize the shapes.

You also learned the power of chord tones and how to start using them in your solos, to make the chord changes stand out and create really melodic solos.

Take your time with this material. It could take months if not years to master everything here. Take it one step at a time and add this to your other practicing (transcribing, learning songs, etc).

Good luck!

Will