Fretboard Navigation Choices: Left Or Right?

Seeing Two Chord Shapes As A Whole Chunk

In this tutorial, I want to give you a new way of thinking when it comes to learning guitar chord shapes.

Suppose you want to play an E7 chord in the middle of the fretboard, placing the root of the chord on the 7th fret of the A string.

A question you could ask yourself is:

Am I going left or right? Or, in other words, will I go up or down the fretboard?

fretboard direction choices

There are at least two different fingerings that share some frets, one that extends itself to the left part of the fretboard, and the other to the right.

Please have a look at the image below, as you can see the two shapes share the notes on the 7th fret (B, D and E).

fretboard E7 chords

The Benefits Of Knowing Multiple Fingerings

This is a simple concept, in certain ways similar to CAGED system, but seeing these two possible options as a whole chunk, helps you navigate your own way on the fretboard better.

In fact, knowing multiple fingerings for the same chord can be useful for a few reasons:

  • It can give you more options when playing through a chord progression. Depending on the specific chords and the position of your left hand, one fingering may be more comfortable or easier to play than another.
  • It can help you voice chords in different ways. For example, using a fingering that extends to the left of the fretboard may allow you to use more open strings, which can give the chord a different sound compared to a fingering that is closer to the middle of the neck.
  • It can give you more flexibility when soloing. If you are improvising over a chord progression, having multiple fingerings for the chords can allow you to play with more fluidity and move more easily between chords.

Overall, the ability to play the same chords in multiple positions on the fretboard is a useful tool for any guitar player, and can help you to create a more musical and expressive performance.

Important suggestion: when you learn a chord, try always to learn its two versions, the left and the right ones, and consider them as a whole shape!

Some Examples

Here below I'll show you some examples of the main chord types, of course, this is only a subset of all the possibilities.

Be sure to experiment with other chord qualities and roots position. To this purpose, you might find useful our complete fretboard tone maps and my chord identifier tool.

C maj7

In these two versions of the Cmaj7 chord you can clearly see how you can exploit open strings if you go to the left.

C maj7 chord

C min7

And these are the two shapes for the Cmin7 chord. Notice how you can avoid the barrè shape by using the version on the right.

C min7 chord

How To Practice This Concept

A great way to practice the concepts in this tutorial is to choose a specific area of the fretboard to focus on, 5 frets wide, and play a chord progression, in all the keys.

For example, we'll use the 2-5-1 jazz chord progression.

Choose a key and determine the chords for the 2-5-1 progression in that key.

For example, in the key of C, the 2-5-1 progression would be Dm7-G7-Cmaj7.

Practice playing through the progression using only the notes within the chosen area of the fretboard.

Repeat the process for all the keys.

In this way, you'll be forced to use the "left version" or "the right version" of a chord.

You may need to experiment with different fingerings and inversions to find the best fit for the given constraint.

This exercise can help you to develop your chord vocabulary and improvisation skills while also forcing you to think creatively and work within a specific musical constraint.

It can also help you to become more familiar with the layout of the fretboard and improve your finger dexterity.

Find detailed instructions about this exercise on my Jazz progression workout tutorial.

Does This System Work Also For Scales?

Yes, of course! In this case, the pattern will depend on finger you're going to use to play the first note of the scale:

fretboard scale left or right

The first pattern uses the pinkie on the root C (low E string, 8th fret), while the second pattern uses the index finger on the same note.

You have many options when playing guitar scales and arpeggios (4 notes box, 3 notes per string, diagonal patterns and so forth), you learn more on scale fingerings here.

Going To Left Or To The Right: Conclusions

Ok, this quick and easy tutorial has come to an end. The final aim is still the same: to give you a holistic view of the fretboard and free you from fixed shapes and patterns, and, eventually, help you express better on the instrument.

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