Musical Creativity - Guitar Fretboard Visualization

How To Practice For Musical Creativity On Guitar By Developing Guitar Fretboard Visualization

by Mike Philippov

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Many guitarists feel like their music lacks creativity and they have a hard time improving this area of their guitar playing despite putting their best efforts into practicing guitar. If you have this same problem, then you no doubt can understand how depressing it can be when the sounds you can produce on your guitar don’t match the music you hear in your head. To make matters worse, you have probably also heard claims that musical creativity is limited by one’s amount of natural talent and cannot be developed or “practiced”. At first sight it may appear that this problem doesn't have a solution that is within your control. This is something that most musicians (myself included) have gone through in the pursuit of developing high levels of musicianship.

Fortunately, it is possible for anyone to develop their musical creativity to an advanced level and you do NOT have to be a naturally talented genius to become a highly creative musician. If you have a hard time letting go of this myth, consider the fact that ONLY the people who are NOT great musicians typically say that one needs to be born with natural talent to become an expressive artist while the best musicians do NOT make such claims!

That being said, there are several reasons why so few musicians are truly creative on guitar and here are a few of them:

  1. Most people simply don’t know what skills they need to practice on guitar to become more musically creative.
  2. Many people think that musical creativity is a “single” skill that can be practiced in isolation, similar to learning to play a particular guitar technique or understanding a certain music theory topic. As a result, they search for a “single thing” to practice that will make them more creative. The reality is that musical creativity is not “a skill” by itself but rather “the outcome” of using a variety of seemingly unrelated musical skills to achieve a creative result. This is similar to mastering a foreign language. One doesn't become fluent in a language simply by memorizing 10,000 new words OR only by memorizing all the rules of grammar or by getting rid of their accent in order to speak like a native. Unless you do ALL of these things together, your ability to communicate will still have some flaws that you will be unhappy with.
  3. Some people confuse musical “originality” with musical “creativity”. The term “original” in a musical context implies trying to create music that has never been done before, whereas “creativity” refers to coming up with inspiring musical ideas that sound appealing, fresh and expressive to YOU and keep you excited to make more music (regardless of whether or not your music is really “original”). The reason why this distinction is so critical is because being clear on what you ultimately want to achieve in music will guide your actions towards that specific result when you practice guitar (to learn more about this last point, watch this video on learning to play guitar).

The complete list of skills for practicing musical creativity is too long to be discussed in a single article. However, there is one element in particular that can help you to become a better musician more quickly, even though it rarely gets the consistent practice it deserves. This element is “guitar fretboard visualization”. This term refers not only to knowing what all the notes are on the fretboard, but also to knowing how to instantly find any scale or chord in any key anywhere on the guitar. Having complete mastery of the guitar neck will make it much easier for you to use the other skills that make musical creativity possible.

Fretboard visualization can be practiced in several different ways that all work together to help you achieve mastery. As you read about how to practice this skill (below), I want you to notice how the different practice methods all reinforce each other to help you develop guitar fretboard visualization more quickly.

Memorize The Notes On The Guitar Fretboard
If you ultimately want to be free when writing music and playing or improvising guitar solos, then you MUST know the names of every note on guitar AND you must be able to identify them INSTANTLY. Many guitar players think that they “know” their way around the fretboard because they can “figure out” the names of each note in 10-15 seconds. This level of knowledge will do little to help you be highly creative on guitar. Instead you must be able to recall the names of every note on every fret of the guitar as quickly and intuitively as you can name the days of the week. If you don’t have this skill mastered yet, watch this free video lesson that will help you learn how to memorize the notes on guitar.

Practice Playing Scales All Over The Guitar
This is somewhat related to the point above about memorizing notes on guitar, but it is a skill that you must practice separately. There are many musicians who may know the notes on the guitar fairly well but struggle to play the scales they know in more than 1-2 places on the guitar fretboard. To learn more about how to practice this, watch this video on how to practice scales on guitar.

If you have never practiced scales in this way before, then this one element alone will help you to greatly expand your musical creativity once you include it into your guitar practice sessions. In addition, if you combine practicing of scales all over the guitar neck with memorizing the fretboard as described above, both skills will reinforce each other to make it A LOT easier to create expressive guitar solos AND write creative music.

Visualize Chord And Interval Shapes
It’s not enough to simply know the names of the notes on guitar “in isolation”. It is also necessary to know how “shapes” of scales, chords and intervals look on the guitar, so that when you find one note, you know instantly how to form a chord or a scale shape in relation to it. To learn more about how to practice in this way, watch the video mentioned above on how to memorize the notes on guitar.

Play And Improvise Guitar Solos In Unfamiliar Keys
Although you can easily transpose barre chords and scale shapes into any key, playing in unfamiliar areas of the guitar neck can be challenging for your mind at first. However, the more you challenge yourself to do this, the easier this process will become and the more free you will feel when you play anything on guitar. Spending some time each week on practicing in this way will go a long way towards helping you to express yourself in music the way you want.

As you can see, there is nothing magical or impossible about developing musical creativity on guitar. The elements that make this ability possible can be practiced in a very tangible way that is no different than practicing to play arpeggios or songs on your instrument. The specific area of guitar fretboard visualization is one of the critical components of musical creativity and you must make time for developing it in your daily guitar practice schedules. As you do this, you will see many new doors open up for your musical expression that you have never imagined before.

To help you learn more about how to develop musical creativity through guitar fretboard visualization, study the free additional resources that I have referred you to throughout this article:

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