As young children just learning to talk, we begin by making a few sounds, and we learn which ones communicate our feelings to others. We develop a rudimentary collection of words that we know we can use for simple messages. We might use phrases like “go outside now,” or “more food please.” But as we grow and develop our communication skills, we learn our ABCs, we learn new and more nuanced words and their spelling, and we learn rules of composition and syntax. As time goes on, we study the great writers’ works and develop a set of tastes and preferences for certain turns of phrase and writing styles. All those ingredients eventually become second nature to us, and we often find ourselves communicating effectively without having to think about spellings, syntax, grammar, or the examples we’ve studied. We “find our voice.”
It turns out that most musicians develop in similar ways. Indeed, we can think of music as a language, with instruments as voices. We learned how to speak by being immersed in an environment where everyone else was talking and we realized we could make our noises sound like theirs. Many of us learned how to play guitar in a similar way. It was exciting to discover that we had a "voice" that we could use to reproduce pitches repeatedly and reliably. The simplicity of the guitar also made it possible to develop a rudimentary vocabulary of note patterns and even multi-note chord "words" like G, C, and D and E, A, and B. Thing about the language of music is that most of us don't have an innate ability to discern from our environment what the syntax and rules of grammar are.
At some point, most of us come to realize that the apparent simplicity of the guitar is something of an illusion, because while it had given us a quick entry to simple communication, it had also lulled us into a wishful belief that memorizing a set of words and some simple rules could allow us to make all sorts of beautiful music. But while that opens the door some, we soon discover that while building a vocabulary is essential, learning how to say "post office" in French has only limited value, even when in Paris!
When I made this discovery, I finally accepted that I would need to go well beyond simple vocabulary, first to commonly used phrases, how to think of and say them all naturally and without deliberation, then learn the rules of syntax and grammar that would allow me to speak in complete sentences, and paragraphs, and finally tell interesting stories.
If you’ve come to a similar conclusion, this book is for you. It provides a pathway to mastering the ABCs of music as they’re expressed on a guitar fretboard. While a few individuals might be able to do otherwise, most of us will need to develop fretboard mastery to become proficient enough on the guitar to be able to tell meaningful, musical stories. We need to know without hesitation what notes are where, and how they combine to define the fundamental tonal building blocks that form colorful and expressive musical messages.
When I decided to take these steps, I really couldn’t find an effective approach that kept my interest. Trying to simply memorize the fretboard by studying diagrams wasn’t getting me anywhere fast enough to actually learn the ABCs before becoming bored silly and giving up. I’d learn bits and pieces, then go back to E, A, and B, C, F, and G, or G, C, and D chords.
Along the way to that point, I’d been guided to a great book that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to build his or her musical vocabulary. That book, Patterns for Jazz, presents – in a very different form and context – many of the fundamentals and phrases in this book (and indeed offers much, much more), but since it isn’t written for a particular instrument, it doesn’t include guitar tablature. Learning the fretboard ABCs, standard musical notation, meaningful phrases drawn from the “greats,” and how to express them with efficient and effective left-hand mechanics was often overwhelmingly difficult and slow, and I recall on many occasions thinking to myself that there must be some ways to put these lessons to practice that would be better than others. So I set out to discover them, and in this book I present them in the context of a set of exercises that will build your fretboard knowledge and understanding of tonal structures in a logical, orderly, and confidence building approach.