The first thing is technique and the second component
to “guitar control” is fretboard knowledge. This includes the
knowledge of the scale patterns, but also where the
notes are on the fretboard, knowing
their various combinations (such as scales, modes,
chord voicings, etc), and beyond. It
encompasses music theory, and how that
theory applies to the particular layout of
the guitar fretboard.
For example, take a simple A minor pentatonic scale,
starting on the 5th fret low A string, playing two
notes per string, and ending on the 8th fret high E string (C).
This is the pentatonic scale that guitarsists are
probably most familiar with. The scale itself is
easy to learn and play.
But go a little deeper with analysis, and you discover
a wealth of fretboard knowledge…Notice all the degrees of
the scale, and the intervallic relationship to every other note.
Notice the physical relationship on the fretboard.
Notice the first octave is 2 frets and 2 strings away.
Notice the V (5th) note (E) on the B string at the 5th fret.
Now go deeper, notice how the notes in A pentatonic
(A C D E G) are a subset of the notes in C major,
without the IV and the VII. Notice the A minor triad
overlaps with the scale on the 5th fret on the top
three strings. And this is all just the beginning.
Now expand these kinds of observations to more positions, more
scales, and to entire chord progressions. Notice the
relationship between scales used to solo over a
progression and the chord tones within the chords of that
There are many, many, many ways to conceptualize
the fretboard, and the more you know, the
greater your fretboard knowledge and mastery will be.
“Memorizing” the fretboard is often a misused concept.
Let’s say you memorize that the 8th fret on the B
string is a G. That by itself is of some value, but it is
more meaningful within the context of a scale or chord
progression. For example, in an A blues progression,
using the A minor pentatonic scale, the G is considered
So if you’re playing the G on the 8th fret B string,
you should be able to see all the notes around it,
such as the A on the 10th fret B string, which is the root.
Then, you should also be able to see that the G is part of
the A7 chord, in multiple voicings.
And you should be able to see that the G is one
half step above the F#, which is the third of
the D chord, which is the IV chord in the progression. And
you should be able to see the relationship between the A7 chord and the D7
chord, and the smooth voice leading from the G down to the F#.
I could go on and on, but hopefully this gives
you an idea of what I mean by fretboard
knowledge. The bottom line is, the more
familiar you are with all these conceptualizations
of the fretboard, the deeper your understanding will go.
Now here is a critical concept – when you’re playing
a deeply passionate solo, there is no
room for thought. There is no room for conceptualization.
Therefore, you learn the various ways of thinking
about the fretboard, you deepen your understanding
and knowledge, but you don’t let this get in the way of
emotion and feeling.
It can help you in many subtle ways. One way is “if you get
lost” on the neck, you can fall back on what you know.
This idea of looking at the scale from as many angles as possible is the concept behind
the guitar scale system software, which will grill you and drill you to make sure you
know the scale everywhere.