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How To Master The Guitar Neck And Boost Your Musical Creativity

Mike PhilippovThe majority of guitarists struggle with improving their creative skills on the guitar. Even though they may practice for many hours each day, sometimes it may seem that the fingers simply aren’t able to perform what the mind wants to hear. Sound familiar? It certainly does for me. I spent years being extremely frustrated with my own level of creativity and expression on guitar, and to make matters worse, everybody I spoke to about this problem told me to accept the fact that I may have reached the limits of my natural talent. If you have faced the same challenge in your guitar playing, then you no doubt can relate to feeling helpless in your ability to become a more creative musician.

Although the above situation is very common, there DOES exist a real tangible method for developing musical creativity on guitar. If you cannot dismiss the conventional wisdom about the “need” to be talented in order to become musically creative, realize that ‘only’ those who are not high level musicians make such ignorant statements, and you will be hard-pressed to find a world-class musician to support this myth.

Nonetheless, there are a number of explanations as to why only a small number of guitar players become creative musicians. Here are some of them:

1. Most guitar players aren’t aware of ‘what’ they need to do/practice to achieve higher levels of creativity.

2. A lot of guitarists consider creativity in music to be an isolated practice item that is meant to be learned as a single skill, similar to learning a song on guitar or memorizing a new scale. Because of this, these guitar players look for an isolated item to play/practice on guitar to reach this goal. The truth is however, that creativity in guitar playing and music is not an individual “thing/item” that you practice, but rather a result that appears from being able to use ‘several’ guitar playing skills (that on the surface seem disconnected). Think about the process of learning to be fluent in a foreign language. To speak fluently, it isn’t enough to ONLY learn ‘a lot of words’ or to ‘only’ master the rules of syntax or ‘only’ work on your pronunciation. You must do all of these tasks simultaneously in order to develop the same command of a language that native speakers possess.

3. A big number of musicians mix up the concepts of being ‘original’ in your guitar playing with being a ‘creative’ musician. Originality refers to doing something radically new in music in attempt to stand out from all other guitar players. In contrast, ‘musical creativity’ is about making music that sounds inspiring, creative and fulfilling ‘to you’ , no matter what the others think. It is very important to be clear on the definitions of terms because the more you understand about what your true goals are, the more accurately (and faster) you will be able to reach them. To find out more about this last point and how to benefit from it when you practice guitar, see this video lesson about effective guitar practising.

The full inventory of items you need to practice to develop creativity in music is too big to be fully addressed in a few pages of text. In this article I want to talk in more detail about one of the contributing elements to musical creativity, which involves visualization of the guitar neck. There are 2 reasons why I want to talk about this skill here: First, this particular musical skill will help you right away to see substantial progress in your creative abilities. Second, this component of guitar playing creativity often isn’t practiced nearly as much as it should be. Developing total control over the guitar in this way will give you the keys to unlocking other elements of musical creativity.

It is possible to train the mastery of the guitar neck in multiple ways that all combine to help you develop this skill and I will list a few of them below. As you read the rest of this article, observe the fact that the practice approaches I discuss all overlap with each other in different ways to allow your visualization of the guitar neck to develop more fully.

To practice your guitar fretboard visualization, you must:

Memorize All Notes On Guitar
To become more creative when playing guitar solos or writing songs, one fundamental thing you must learn is what all the notes on the fretboard are called ALL OVER the guitar. Most importantly, you need to be able to recall the notes QUICKLY (in the same way you can recall your birthday, your phone number or other facts that you know by heart). Many guitar players make the mistake of ‘stopping’ to work on learning the notes on the fretboard further once they develop the basic ability to ‘figure out’ what a note is called after thinking about it. This is not good enough. In order to have this knowledge be usable in your musical skills, you must speed up your ability to recall the note names on the guitar neck. If you are not sure about how to practice to achieve this, see this video on how to memorize guitar fretboard.

Play Scales In Every Position On Guitar Fretboard
When it comes to the skill of fretboard visualization, few things are more common among guitar players than the problem of only knowing how to play scales in one position. Until you learn how to play the scales you know everywhere on the guitar neck, your ability to be creative on guitar will be severely (and needlessly) restricted.

Conversely, when you CAN play scales all over the guitar, your ability to be free to express yourself in music will go through the roof. To find out how to work on this in your practicing, watch this video on how to learn guitar scales.

Get Used To Identifying What Fretboard “Note Shapes” Look Like.
In order to fully and fluently visualize everything you play on guitar, you must focus on the ability to see in your mind the fretboard patterns formed by scales, licks, chords and intervals that you play on your instrument. Although this skill is not often talked about or practiced by guitarists, it is very important for learning to be free when playing music. When you develop the skill to identify fretboard note shapes, you will find that you can play any note, anywhere on the guitar and know what chord, scale or lick can be played in relation to that pitch. Study this video on how to memorize guitar fretboard to discover what this skill consists of and to learn how to train for it.

Become Confident At Playing Guitar In Any Key
Due to the unique nature of the guitar, it is common for guitar players to become locked in to playing in a certain set of keys that are physically easier to play. However, this leaves a significant portion of the instrument unexplored when it comes to playing in unfamiliar keys such as Db major, F minor and others. Although you probably already know how to slide/transpose barre chords and scales to any key, there is a difference between theoretically knowing “how” to do something and actually feeling confident about playing in strange and unfamiliar keys. The good news is that by practicing to play in keys that you aren’t used to yet, it will become much easier to visualize the entire guitar neck and to have your playing feel much easier and more creative as a result.

After reading the points above, it should be easy to see that building musical creativity on guitar does not revolve around tricks or secrets that only the “naturally talented few” are born with. Although there is a lot more to the general topic of creative guitar playing than what I have time to explore in this article, the practicing steps for developing visualization of guitar fretboard can be done by anyone and the result will be a much higher level of freedom and control over expressing yourself on guitar.

To get more advice and help about developing both your mastery of the guitar neck and musical creativity, study these free guitar lesson videos:

About the author:
Mike Philippov is a guitar teacher and professional musician. His lessons and writings about the process of practicing guitar are read by guitar players around the world. Go to to find a collection of free guitar learning materials that will help you to become a more advanced musician and guitar player.

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