Method #2: The StudyBass Note Name Memorization Method
The StudyBass note name memorization method is fairly simple. It combines three elements: The cycle of 4ths, specific fret ranges, and the metronome.
Note Names in the Cycle of 4ths
One of music's most important series of notes to remember is the cycle of 4ths. My note name exercise not only teaches you where the notes on the fretboard are, but it also beats this cycle pattern into your head. We've already seen the cycle in the lesson on the circle of 5ths and 4ths. The cycle is the same as the circle going counter-clockwise.
The cycle of 4ths is a loop of notes. Each note is a perfect 4th above the previous note, and is as follows:
If you haven't already, you should commit this series of notes to memory as soon as possible. It will come up often—especially in chord progressions. It may help you in memorizing it if you notice the stretch of BEAD G with flats, and BEAD G without flats. Quiz yourself by starting on any note name. Recite the note names all the way around the loop.
Recite the cycle of 4ths to yourself all of the time until it sounds natural. You can't do my note name exercise without the cycle memorized.
12-Fret Ranges, Two Per String
You are going to work with one 12-fret range of notes at a time. This is to limit you to only one instance of each note. On most instruments you will have two ranges on each string.
For example, you will study the notes on frets 0 through 11 on the E-string. Then, frets 12 through 23 on the E-string, and similarily on each string.
I've highlighted the 8 fret ranges on a 4-string bass with 24 frets in the following graphic:
Many basses have fewer than 24 frets. In that case, modify the exercise to the last 12-fret range. For instance, on a 22-fret bass use frets 0-11 and 11-22. Don't worry about the overlap of notes with the previous range.
You will use this same 12-fret range approach on each string of your instrument, eventually covering the entire neck.
The Exercise: Start Finding Those Note Names!
The exercise has you find and play each note of the cycle within each 12-fret range to the beat of the metronome.
1. Turn on your metronome at 60 bpm. (Alternately, you can use the play-along exercises which accompany this lesson.)
2. Choose a single 12-fret range.
3. Find and play each note of the cycle of 4ths, changing notes on every 4th beat of the metronome.
Say the note name out loud as you play it! For example, "C"-2-3-4-"F"-2-3-4-"B flat"-2-3-4-"E flat"-2-3-4, and so on. Singing the note name is even better. (Singing is good for you!)
Don't worry about sustaining the note for all four beats. Play it as briefly as you want, and use the rest of the time to find the next note.
As you start to master one range, add a new one. It doesn't matter what order you add them. Eventually, you will play through all ranges in one sitting.
On a 4-string bass with 24 frets, you have eight 12-fret ranges. At 60 bpm going through all 8 ranges will take 6.4 minutes.
Once you can play through all ranges on your bass, speed it up by playing every 2 beats:
"C"-2-"F"-4-"B flat"-2-"E flat"-4, etc. That will only take 3.2 minutes.
Next, play them on every beat, and you're down to a one-minute review every day!
What About the Sharps?
Practice in the same manner, but change the flats to their enharmonic equivalent:
Variations on the Exercise
You can modify the note name finding exercise in a couple of ways. Try any 12-fret range. For example, 5-16. You can also use any series of notes. How about going in 5ths? One series to avoid is going up a scale. Walking up C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C won't test your memory well.
Learning your note names takes patience. If you can work on this exercise for a few minutes a day, it won't take you too long to master the note names. With the two ranges on each string being the same (frets 0-11 and 12-23 are identical), you can easily master one string a week. You can get them all in one month or so.
To review the exercise: Memorize the cycle of 4ths. Pick a 12-fret range. Turn on the metronome, and go!
You can also do this exercise without your bass. I'll explain in the next lesson...