For the last few weeks, I’ve been haranguing you to learn the names of the notes on your fretboard.
Today we’re going to turn your greatest weakness into an asset.
If you missed the lessons on learning the note names, go back and start with this post.
Charting The Course
Pilotage and Dead Reckoning are terms that come from the world of navigation.
Dead Reckoning is when you use one position to determine another.
“Broadway is one block over from Sheridan.”
“Head down this road about two miles and you’ll hit Savannah.”
The average guitarist thinks about the fretboard almost entirely in terms of dead reckoning. The most obvious example is TAB. When you see this…
…it’s telling you to go up one string from the floor, and then go over three frets from the nut.
Barre chords, chord grids, scale shapes, using a capo: it’s all derived from dead reckoning.
(Or as I called it in this near-rabid article, “By Shape.”)
I’ll refrain from remounting that particular soapbox, but trying to navigate the fretboard with only dead reckoning is one of the three big reasons that you’re not a helluva lot better at guitar today.
This Is Your Pilotage Speaking
Pilotage is when you use fixed visual references to guide your way.
“Go down this road and turn right after the school.”
“Take exit 79A.”
This whole learn-the-damned-names-of-your-notes thing that I’ve been yammering on about is pilotage: we now know that this note is called D, that note is called Bb, and we’ve learned to identify them on sight.
Things have names. Learn them. Internalize them. Use them.
Attempting to make sense of the guitar without first learning the name of each note is an exercise in futility. You can’t be a poet in a language you don’t speak.
Plus If You Act Now
You’ve heard me say again and again that there’s a world of information hidden inside the music you already know how to play.
To unlock some of that hidden information, you can combine pilotage and dead reckoning to reverse-engineer some real-deal music smarts.
Here are some examples:
- if you know the name of one note (pilotage), plus an octave shape (dead reckoning), then you can find the name of another note.
- knowing the names of the open strings (pilotage) and the musical alphabet (dead reckoning) means you can figure out the name of any note, anywhere on the guitar.
- if you know how to play a (let’s say) C7 chord (dead reckoning), and you know that names of the notes on your fretboard (pilotage), you can know what notes are in a C7.
- almost anyone can use their ear to figure out a major scale by starting with the open note on any string. From there, you can transfer the same intervals (dead reckoning) to a different string (dead reckoning) to get a new major scale. If you know the note names (pilotage), you can figure out 5 (of the 12) major scales just on the open strings of your guitar!
I don’t want to overwhelm you with examples, but suffice it to say that armed with only the note names and a tiny bit of curiosity, you could be well on your way to proper Guitar Badassery.
Knowing the note names gives you a framework on which you can hang an entire universe of guitar & music knowledge.
But you have to have them down cold. You need to know them like you know your phone number. They need to be blatantly obvious to you, requiring the same amount of thought as remembering how to spell your name. It’s that important.