Learning the Fingerboard

For most beginners, the fingerboard with its 19 frets and 120+ notes is daunting.  After mastering the open position, when and how should one begin learning the fingerboard?  The Shearer Method Book III, Learning the Fingerboard and Book V, Learning the Fingerboard Supplement provide a secure approach based on the idea that students learn best when the fingerboard is studied one position at a time.  In this way, students avoid distracting left-hand shifting while firmly relating upper-position notes in a context with notes on surrounding strings.  The books include a wealth of media support, including videos, online articles, and audio.

The following outlines the method in Book III:

Begin by understanding the position.

Next, understand the five fixed-position major scale forms.   These involve no open strings, are transposable for playing anywhere along the fingerboard, and provide a template for learning all new notes.

Scale forms are identified by a tonic note, which starts and ends the scale.  For example, Scale Form I is identified as  2 on ⑤. 

The scale begin here, ascends to 3 on ①,  descends to 2 on ⑥, and finally ascends back to 2 on .  Notice there is a squeeze shift between strings ③ and ②, where the hand shifts to a position one fret higher.

The scale form played in Position II, would be C major, with its starting/ending note as C

by Category

Position Preparation

To learn Position II,  first review all new notes at fret V,  as well as an overview of all natural notes in the position (see Second Position Approach for complete information on how to prepare the position).

Natural note overview

Next, visualize, pre-read, and practice the C-major scale (Scale Form I).  When playing, repeat each note twice or 4 times, if necessary.  S.S. stands for squeeze shift.

In addition to scales, music consists of skips sometimes organized into chordal patterns, called triads.   These can be practice in the key progression (I-IV-V-I).

Musical Application

When preparation is secure with new notes, scale and triads, begin learning the second-position duets ranging in rhythmic difficulty from easy, medium, to challenging  (see Invention No. 1 in C major below). Each part is student playable and may be practiced with a teacher or on your own, using the audio files and software that comes with the book.   The software enables you to:

  • speed up or slow down tempo
  • control volume for each track
  • solo individual parts
  • turn on/off the metronome
  • loop sections to repeatedly practice them.

Carefully observe all fingerings.  All notes are to played stictly in the position, unless indicated as an open string with “0.”

How to Study

To solidify your learning, always apply techniques of visualization, pre-reading, and air-guitar (for information, watch the Mindful Learning videos).   Work slowly, one segment at a time, and practice with the audio, provided with the book.

All inventions in each position are organized by key, e.g. in 2nd position–C major, G major, D, Major, A Major, and F major.  However, the inventions may be worked through by level, focusing on all, or just those that best suit the user.

by key:

by level:

Continue this process throughout the book as you ascend from Position II to VII.   All Position IX materials: Inventions and accompanying audio are available at the Supplement. For more information on The Shearer Method: Learning the Fingerboard, see the ASF Bookstore or the Online supplement


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