How To Visualize The Guitar Neck And Improve Your Expressiveness On Guitar

Author: Ed Cupler

Mike Philippov is a  professional guitar player, recording artist and guitar - music teacherDo you practice guitar for hours but still have a hard time making the music you hear in your head come out creatively from your guitar? If you said yes, you are in the majority of guitar players. I also had the same issue in my guitar playing for years. To make matters worse, one thing I remember hearing constantly whenever I asked anybody about musical creativity was that we were all born with a natural creative "ceiling" beyond which we could not go. Few things are worse than the feeling of hopelessness that comes from thinking that you might never realize your creativity goals as a guitarist and musician.

The good news is that musical creativity is a goal that can be achieved by anyone. If you doubt your own potential to become a creative musician and fear that you ‘lack musical talent’, think about how only people who are NOT musicians (or at least are not ‘great’ musicians) make such ignorant claims, and nobody among the world’s top guitar players believes in this myth.

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However, despite the fact above, there are still several reasons why so many guitar players have a hard time improving their musical creativity. Here are a few of them:

1. The majority of musicians do not consciously plan or even know what it is they need to work on to become more creative on their instrument.

2. Many musicians approach the process of becoming more creative by looking for a single specific thing they must practice on guitar that will give them the desired result. In reality, guitar playing and musical creativity is a result of combined practicing of MULTIPLE skills (that, at first glance may appear to have little to do with each other). This is similar to learning to speak a new language and needing to do many overlapping activities (such as learning the vocabulary, studying rules of grammar, immersing yourself into a new culture etc.) to reach your goal of fluency.

3. Too many guitar players cannot distinguish between being “musically creative” and being an “original” musician. To be original, you must have the ability to come up with musical ideas that nobody has heard or played before. Contrary to that, to be musically “creative”, all that is necessary is for you to play music that YOU are happy and fulfilled with, regardless of whether or not you are truly original. The reason why I’m emphasizing the difference between these two terms is because understanding clearly the goal that you are after in your guitar playing will help you to reach it much more quickly. To learn more about this point, watch this guitar practicing video lesson.

The entire list of topics that is needed for becoming a highly creative guitar player is much too broad to be covered in only one article. However, in the points below I will help you to learn how to practice one particular aspect of guitar playing which is highly important for developing musical creativity. This aspect is the ability to visualize the entire guitar fretboard. Of all the skills you need to work on in order to improve your creativity, mastering the guitar neck will help you to see instant progress in your ability to express yourself on guitar, even though (ironically) this element is rarely practiced as much as it should be. Becoming totally fluent in your visualization of the guitar will make it a whole lot easier for you to master other aspects of making more creative music.

In the rest of this article I will list for you some of the ways in which you can (and should) be practicing guitar fretboard visualization. As you continue reading the points below, consider how the practicing ideas I present are interconnected to help you develop the same general skill (of fretboard mastery) from a variety of angles.

Here is what you must do in order to completely master your visualization of the guitar neck:

Learn To Recall The Notes On Guitar

The most obvious skill you must develop to make yourself a better songwriter or improviser is the ability to recall EVERY note on the guitar neck. In addition, you need to be able to do this instantaneously, without having to think about the note names any more than you think about the names of the months in a year. Many guitar players stop after they develop the skill to merely ‘find’ the name of any note on guitar after several seconds of thought. This is not enough for you to truly benefit from this knowledge in your guitar playing and you must work towards a much more intuitive command of the note names on your instrument. To get help with this, see this video demonstration of how to learn the guitar fretboard.

Master Scales All Across The Guitar Neck

This is a skill that you need to work on separately from learning individual note names on guitar. There are some guitar players who have memorized the note names for every fret of the guitar, but have never worked on playing scales in more than one area of the guitar neck. As a result, their superior knowledge of individual notes is of limited value to them because it is not connected with a more tangible musical element of scale playing. To see more about how to practice this aspect of your musical creativity, study this guitar scales video lesson.

If practicing scales in this way is new to you, then you can expect to see quite dramatic improvements in your creativity on guitar once you learn to play scales all over the fretboard instead of only in 1-2 areas of the guitar neck.

Learn What Chord And Interval Shapes Look Like On The Guitar Fretboard

One rarely mentioned skill that is nonetheless critically important for complete mastery of the guitar fretboard is the ability to visualize the patterns (shapes) of frets that form intervals, scales, chords and general licks you play on guitar. This will enable you to play a note on your instrument and immediately know where to find a chord, interval or scale pattern based on that note. This skill will greatly speed up (and make easier) the process of expressing yourself creatively on guitar. If you want to see a demonstration of how to practice this, I explain it in detail in this free video about how to learn the guitar fretboard.

Play Guitar In Different Keys

As guitar players, we often get used to playing in certain keys that are easier due to taking advantage of the natural properties of this instrument (such as open strings). That being said, in order to expand your total control of the guitar neck and your creativity along with it, you need to test your ability to quickly transpose all of your comfortable guitar parts into totally random and obscure keys. Note that even though it is quite simple to understand in theory what it means to slide a certain scale fingering from the key of A major to the key of Eb major (for instance), doing so will still make it more difficult for you to play guitar until you become comfortable with visualizing the guitar neck in this unusual key. If you get yourself to spend time working on this task while practicing, you will find it much easier for yourself to feeling confident with playing creative music on guitar.

As you can see from reading the guitar practice advice from this article, you do not need to have lots of natural talent in order to improve your musical creativity. All you need is an understanding of the elements that go into making this skill possible, as well as consistency in applying these points into your guitar practice sessions. Even though there is much more left to be said about the general idea of musical creativity for guitar players, if you follow the advice in this article you will surely see significant growth in your ability to express yourself creatively with your music.

To learn even more about improving your guitar playing and musical creativity, make sure to study the items below:

About the author:

Mike Philippov is a professional guitar player, recording artist and guitar/music teacher. His guitar practice columns about learning to play guitar are read by guitarists worldwide. His instructional music website contains advice for guitar players on overcoming the most common problems faced when learning to play guitar.

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