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Jazz Guitar Lessons

Music Theory Specifically​ for Guitarists



Jazz guitarist Leon Rodriguez provides a lesson in music theory specifically for guitarists – from his Fretboard Theory Course.

 If you are a guitarist who has wanted to learn more theory without having to labor through the translation of lessons that were meant exclusively for keyboardists, we have just the thing for you. My method does not require any sight-reading but it can advance your reading without you noticing. 

The subject of Music Theory can seem intimidating to we guitarists. That’s understandable. The guitar is two-dimensional, strings by frets, like a matrix. Its range is staggered with many duplicated notes. That fact, compiled on top of the myriad of possible fingerings, makes the guitar one of the most difficult instruments on which to sight-read. 

The sight of a note on the staff does not evoke an immediate spontaneous muscle reflex toward a single point on the instrument. It blossoms out into a plethora of possibilities. Suffice it to say, according to super guitar educator, Mick Goodrick of Berklee College of Music in Boston, there are more than 150 ways to play a simple C major scale on the guitar; so for the novice guitar student, confusing doesn’t begin to cover it! This is a familiar cringe point for every guitarist at some stage of our learning curve. Hence; what usually suffers as a result, is the guitarist’s access to technical proficiency, i.e. Music Theory, the laws that govern all music. Music Theory is taught for the keyboard, whom from the perspective of a guitarist, is a one-string instrument with 88 frets! It’s one dimensional. 

Leon Rodriguez

When I was in college, I had to take piano in order to study music theory. Being a guitarist, I was constantly frustrated trying to translate the Bach Chorales to the guitar to get the same benefit of the analysis. It’s not the same. A one dimensional and two-dimensional physical layout of the notes requires two entirely different approaches. I’ve spent about half a century building a teaching method ( that incorporates our required processes and comfortably omits the unnecessary baggage that comes with less guitaristic approaches. 

We’re going to start right from the beginning to learn the incredible logic, symmetry, and musical language of theory. Learning your instrument and learning how music works are in fact two different subjects. Our method will merge them together into a logical visualization on the fretboard that exposes the theory. 

We begin with the natural notes on our instrument, that is the analog to all the white keys on a piano. Let’s imprint some neurons with simple two-dimensional shapes; triangles. Get your guitar. Ok! Knowing the note names on the fretboard very well is a must. This is a good review for everyone. 

Once you get this exercise in your mind and hands. You should make it part of your daily warm-up just to reinforce your knowledge into intuition. 

How to use this diagram to learn the fretboard: 

  • Print it.
  • Take a clear transparency like you might use for an overhead projector and tape it over the image of the fretboard. 
  • There are 7 days in a week and there are 7 natural note names. A through G 
  • Sunday, use a whiteboard marker or grease pencil to find and fill in all the A’s. 
  • Draw a line from one A to the nearest A. Continue all the way across. Note that you end where you started an octave higher 
  • Take note of the shape. 5 triangles! Each triangle has its own idiosyncrasies and nuances. More on this to come. 
  • Play the notes and listen to which notes are the SAME pitch and which are an octave above or below. Fight the temptation to ‘skate’ over the 5 triangles. Spend a little time on each triangle. Make each triangle familiar to you. Remember the string set of each. 
  • On Monday, use a whiteboard marker or grease pencil in a different color to find and fill in all the B’s 
  • Draw a line from one B to the nearest B. Continue all the way across. Note that you end where you started an octave higher 
  • Take note of the shape. 5 triangles again. 4 of the triangles SHIFTED UP a whole step leaving room for a new one in 1st position. 
  • On Tuesday, use a whiteboard marker or grease pencil of a third color to find and fill in all the C’s 
  • Draw a line from one C to the nearest C. Continue all the way across. Note that you end where you started an octave higher 
  • Take note of the shape. The same 5 triangles with a half step shift (1fret). Take each triangle up and down the fretboard but return to the ‘note of the day’, (It’s Tuesday so It’s the C note) before selecting the next adjacent triangle to traverse up and down the fretboard. 
The 1st position triangle has unique properties. It is a {5/32} string set, the notes on the 2nd and 3rd string are in unison at a 4-fret difference rather than a 5-fret difference. That middle voice can be manipulated! From a CAGED perspective, it covers the C form and the A form*. Using the natural note chart for reference, we move that triangle up and down the fretboard. *More on CAGED to come. 
  • Continue this pattern until you reach the G note on Saturday. You now know the naturals on the fretboard. If not, just do it again, and again, etc. 
  • The natural fretboard is the analog to the white keys of the piano. The unmarked locations are the analog to the black keys 

Jazz Guitar Today: Thanks Leon!

To be continued…Books and On-Line Private Lessons available at 

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