Advice for learning fretboard positions

Hi folks! I’m about halfway through B2B and i love the teaching technique! I really enjoyed learning the syncopated groove for All Star, and I’ve been trying to play the whole song. I’m running into an issue that hasn’t really come up before now - how to keep track of what position my left hand is in as it moves up and down the fretboard.

If i directly look at what I’m doing on the fretboard, I can play thru the song more or less ok - the issue is when I get to the transitions between verse and chorus and bridge - when I look at the sheet music, my left hand doesn’t quite make it to the correct spot.

I guess my question is - are there any tips for memorizing the layout of the board so I can move between different positions without having to look at my left hand? i feel like this was so much easier on a wind instrument :sweat_smile: tho I don’t miss memorizing scales :grin:


Congrats on the progress so far! As far as “knowing” where your fretting hand is without looking at it, it’s really just muscle memory, and that’s just time and practice. The more you do it, the more it will sink in.

Also, don’t feel that you “shouldn’t” look at what you’re doing. It’s a good idea to look at your hand at times - IE: during a slide, it can be a good idea to look at the destination so that you slide to the right position. And if you’re having trouble during a certain portion of a song, memorize that portion so that you don’t have to look at the music and are free to look at your positioning.

Lastly - I’d guess that if you thought back to when you were a complete beginner on that wind instrument, positioning wasn’t entirely natural either. But time and practice made it second nature… Same idea here.

Hope that helps a little - good luck!


The only way is practice… lots and lots of playing, and if you’re making big moves like from frets 1-5 up to 8-12, you pretty much do need to look at the fretboard.


Something that I found useful was for deliberate one-handed practice where I’m going slow and constantly looking at what my hand is doing so I make sure my hand/fingers move to where I want.

Do this for a least a few practice sessions before advancing to looking away and moving your hand/fingers, but even slower than when you were looking. After you’ve moved your hand/fingers, look down to check you are in the right spot. If you’re not, then go back to constantly looking and try again without looking (can be same session or a different one).

This applies to both your fretting and plucking/slapping/picking hand and the key is one hand at a time and really looking and concentrating on your hand/finger movements. Once you’re getting confident with single hand, introduce the same technique but with both hands.

Good luck, it’s a great journey, with a mixture of feeling like things are long and slow to “ah-ha” moments where you fly through something.

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The exercise here will move you across the fretboard and strings. Great way to warm up and become more comfortable with the frets.

There’s a PDF somewhere in the replies which I am loading here

jamerson_full_chromatic_exercise_in_C.pdf (63.1 KB)


The most direct way to learn is to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down. Truly, break the line, riff, song into short, manageable (memorable) bits and play them slower than Christmas. Then string those bits together.

And voilá!

This will yield fantastic progress in the shortest amount of time. Get into the Zen of slowing down. That will help you master so many aspects of bass playing.

Go for playing cleanly. Then, once you can play cleanly at a super-slow tempo, increase your speed incrementally until you mess up. Then slow down a bit from that tempo until you can play cleanly again.

Rinse and repeat until you hit your goal. Which you will.


That’s why i love playing on yousician, it makes it so easy to slow things down and loop sections! I wish you could import your own music into it.

Guitar Pro 8 has some great features for that now too.


Yep, I have Guitar Pro 8. It’s great for a lot of uses.


Focused practice. Meaning…a method with a plan.

I found the single best way is TalkingBass’ Sight reading course. It’s a lot more than sight reading. Since I can already read music, what I got out of it is two things.

  1. Leaving the fretboard cold.
  2. Learning how to play without looking at the fretboard.

Yep, Simple Steps to Sight Reading is absolutely a great course. The title is technically accurate, but it’s also misleading inasmuch as it teaches so much more than just sight reading.

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It’s the P word. Your only a few weeks in. It will come.

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I think i spend more time figuring out how to do things than actually doing things :laughing:


Thanks for all the great advice!

I think a sight reading course is what i’m looking for in the long term, once I wrap up B2B. i don’t want to become a serial course-starter-and-not-finisher :sweat_smile:

in the meantime, it’s great to hear that it’s ok to look at the fretboard :slight_smile: i think in the short-term i’ll practice the Verse / Chorus transitions on their own (slowly!). the Jamerson chromatic exercise seems something nice to add to the practice routine as well!

There are a lot of “tricks” to figuring out the neck notes, and these are things you’ll eventually just memorize. Obviously you know what notes your open strings are. The 12th fret on each string is the same note as your open string, just up an octave. The 5th fret on each string is the same note as the next string up. i.e 5th fret on E is A, 5th fret on A is D, 5th fret on D is G, 5th fret on G is C. Same thing with the 7th fret, except this time down a string. i.e 7th fret on E is B, 7th fret on A is E, 7th fret on D is A, 7th fret on G is D.

These are easy to remember, and once you know where these notes are, it’s pretty easy to figure out what comes on either side of those positions since it’s just a half step up or down.

Once you’ve got all of those notes ingrained in your brain that only leaves a handful of frets that you’ll actually need to think about, and since the notes all repeat from the 12th fret up, you will have the neck memorized a lot faster than you think.

I do not have my fretboard memorized (been playing a little over a year), but I can find notes pretty quickly using the method I described above. Hope that helps!

One thing you can always remember too is that the notes go across the neck in order of the Circle of 4ths.

Just memorizing the open string notes and where G, A, B is on the odd strings and C, D, E on the even strings will take you a long way. Just those twelve frets are a great start and it’s easy to find the adjacent B’s, C’s and F’s from there (and remember them as the odd intervals).

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And wherever there’s a C, there a G a 4th down and a 5th up

Practice, practice, and more practice. It takes a while for you to get muscle memory, so the more you practice the more the muscles learn where the positions are.

I only recently realized that it has a pulldown to filter the attached audio track so you can enhance/attenuate bass/medium/hi freq :laughing:

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