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What the pros say
To add some support to the idea of building a mental map of the fretboard in your mind, here are a couple of excerpts from interviews I came across recently:
Decades ago before I knew how to play A flat harmonic minor harmonised in fourths, a lot of my practicing had to do with getting familiar with music and guitars.
But then at some point you learn it and you go “Well now what do I do?”
I know all the scales, I know the harmonies, when I look at the guitar it’s like a map that I’m so familiar with I could close my eyes,
so then you realise well wow, now the REAL work begins – just how do you play good, how do you throw out all the didactic and methodical stuff and just make it sound like music.
… the fretboard lights up per key, the trick when I first learnt to do that was to get comfortable with the fact that every key exists anywhere on the fretboard,
and knowing how to play through chord changes without having to disrupt your ideas.
It’s just a matter of knowing all the different shapes.
One thing that has helped me a lot is that I probably see arpeggios first more than anything, so that’s what I’m looking for as I play through the changes.