An important part of understanding mandolin (or any instrument really) is understanding where the notes are on the fingerboard. This can be challenging for many players, but ultimately is a key to success.
There are a few layers of understanding depending on your current level. I classify those levels as follows:
- Basic pattern recognition – here you don’t care about the notes being played, just that you know the pattern of how to play the major scale, arpeggio or whatever you’re trying to understand. Usually this does involve knowing where the root or start is but not necessarily the other notes.
- Advanced pattern recognition – in this phase, you know all the notes in the scale / arpeggio you’re playing but not necessarily their function and you typically need to start with the root note to get the pattern completed.
- Advanced understanding – in this phase, you can see the pattern, know the notes in the pattern, and can start anywhere in the pattern. Here you understand the functions of the notes as well (i.e. where the 3rd is, where the 5th is etc) and purposefully use those notes to create some tension and interesting licks etc.
In my opinion, writing out fingerboard charts is the best way to fully understand important patterns like scales and arpeggios. Here’s a few samples of G, C, and D (the squares are the Root note):
Ideally writing the fret numbers and names of the notes next to the dots will help (unfortunately the program I use to write these digitally doesn’t allow for that). My suggestion is to write out fingerboard diagrams for the following:
- All major scales – start with the common keys like G, C, D, A then move to less common like Bb, Eb, etc. Eventually you want to write out all 12 major scales. Here you want to focus on remembering where the important notes are like the root, 3rd, 5th, and dominate 7th (or b7)
- All Major Chord Arpeggios – start with G, C, D, A, and E chords, then move to the less common. Eventually you want arpeggios for all 12 major chords. This will show you everywhere on the fingerboard that the particular chord exists. Memorize as many different positions as possible.
- Repeat the above for minor keys (and/or any other scale / chord) in the same fashion
For beginners, I suggest writing out these diagrams by hand frequently since that will help you memorize them. After writing them out, just play the scales and arpeggios to a metronome at about 60 – 80 bpm. The core goal here is to get to the Advanced Pattern Recognition stage.
For more advanced players, I suggest choosing a song and writing out the major scale for the song and all the chords for the song. Then play the song in various positions using the diagrams as a guide. Below is a good pattern for this
- First use only the open position for the chords and melody
- Next use only the first closed position for both
- Next use only the second closed position for both
- Last play the song by mixing all the positions
Doing this regularly will greatly increase your knowledge of the fingerboard which in turn will open up new skills for you. This will help you to get to the Advanced Understanding stage.
Here’s a blank one if you need:
Good luck! As always, feel free to contact me for help!