Today we’re talking with Scott Sharp, the creator of Fretboard Toolbox – an innovative way to explain the notes and chords in each key for guitar, bass, piano, banjo and more.
Interestingly, Scott started learning music later than you might expect and really didn’t consider himself all that musical. But an impactful experience in his day job as a high school biology teacher unlocked music theory in a way that let him start improvising, playing by ear, and being creative and confident in music.
He built on that insight to create his “fretboard toolboxes” for a range of instruments, and provides them online at fretboard-toolbox.com. He’s also just released a very cool “Theory By Hand” eBook that makes it easy for you to figure out the scales and chords in any key.
In this conversation we talk about:
- The big theory insight that let him start playing by ear and improvising and led him to create a whole new way to show how music theory works
- Why learning to play a whole bunch of instruments isn’t nearly as hard as you might imagine
- And the advice Scott would have for anyone who fears they’re “unmusical”
Scott’s Fretboard Toolboxes are an amazing resource for any musician looking to explore the more creative side of music-making and give themselves a shortcut to sounding good and understanding what they’re doing with the notes they choose to play. Please enjoy this conversation and come away inspired to explore this approach to theory yourself!
Listen to the episode:
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Christopher: So Scott Sharp, you have a great name for music education. I presume there must be a Scott Flat out there somewhere that’s your arch nemesis.
Scott: Yeah, exactly.
Christopher: Let’s start at the beginning, if you wouldn’t mind. How did you first get started making music?
Scott: A friend of mine in college played guitar and lots of great Neil Young tunes. And I always thought I’d love to play the guitar, but I was 22 and I thought, “Well, it’s just too late to start,” and he made a mockery of me and said, “You’ve got plenty of time left.” So I got started with it and have been going ever since.
Christopher: Fantastic. And how did you find that experience of learning guitar? Did it come easily to you?
Scott: Absolutely frustrating and absolutely difficult for me. I’ve always loved music, but aside from a few months of trombone in fourth grade, I have no musical training. And those first few times trying to play chords on a guitar are just brutal on your fingers and my ear was not developed at all. I had no clue about how notes relate to each other, so it was a lot of years of just fumbling around.
Christopher: And how did you think about that? Did you worry that maybe you didn’t have what it took to be a guitarist? Were you thinking about talent and having a gift or were you kind of comfortable with the fact that this was just gonna be something that took a lot of work?
Scott: No, I thought that there was definitely just there’s musical people and non-musical people and I was in the latter group.
Christopher: But clearly, you loved music enough and I guess you were seeing a bit of progress to stick with it year by year.
Scott: Yeah, just enough to keep me going at it. But then I’d take long period off and then pick it back up, but just kind of felt like I’d plateaued at a really low level for a lot of years.
Christopher: And music was a hobby for you? Guitar playing was something you did in the evenings and weekends, was it?
Scott: Absolutely, yep. Just for fun and just songs, Bob Dylan songs I like or Neil Young songs I’d like and look up the chords and try to fumble through it.
Christopher: And obviously now, with Fretboard Toolbox, you’re somebody that people look up to as a music educator and are inspired by. How did you get from there to here? Where did you go next with your guitar learning?
Scott: Well, I teach high school biology and I have, this’ll be my 17th year. And about 10 years ago, I had a student who would… I’ve always had a classroom guitar, just something the kids could noodle around on or I could noodle around on. And I had a student who showed me… Phenomenal guitar player, and he showed me that there’s certain chords that go together in a key and this was towards the end of year, maybe March or so and it was mind boggling for me. Like, “Oh, there’s rules to which chords go together and you can predict what chords sound good together?” I had no idea.
Christopher: So take me back to that moment, how did that conversation come about? Why was your student suddenly telling you about all this?
Scott: He had taken music theory class at school and was just playing and he knew I was a frustrated guitar player. And he just casually mentioned one day, like, “Certain chords go together in a key,” and I thought, “What? Are you kidding?” And so then he wrote out a chromatic scale for me and then I took a sheet of paper and made marks where the I and IV and V chords were, ’cause he told me what those I, IV, V chords are. And then I saw that if I could slide that piece of paper back and forth on a chromatic scale, that it would show me what the chords were, those three chords were in every key. And I just thought, “Wow, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Christopher: And had you dived into theory before that? Had you studied a bit of theory but not come across this particular way of thinking about it or was theory just not a part of your guitar learning up until then?
Scott: Never even thought about it. I never gave it one… I had heard of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, but that was the extent of what I had heard of.
Christopher: And what did it feel like to see that and realize there was some kind of structure underlying all of the stuff you’d been learning?
Scott: Oh, I thought it was so beautiful. I didn’t realize there was all this mathematics that underlies all of music. And it was so empowering to be able to play G, C, D and have that sound good and then play C, F, G and then have that sound good. Like, “Oh, well, I can figure this out in any key,” and it just blew my mind.
Christopher: So explain a bit more. We’ve said a few things there that some of our listeners might not be familiar with, so the chromatic scale and the idea of a I, IV, and V chord. Can you describe a bit more, what was it that your student communicated to you that let you have that understanding of which chords go together? How did that work in your brain or what was it he particularly pointed out to you that made it click?
Scott: Well, just I could tell that G, C, and D sounded good together and then he introduced me to this idea of each chord has a number. And then the first, fourth, and fifth chords played as major chords all sound good together and then that the second, third, and sixth played as minor chords sound good together. And if I could make that little slide rule, I could see what those chords would be in every key and that was an absolutely pivotal moment for me.
Christopher: Terrific, so it sounds like it was those two concepts. It was the idea that certain chords go together, but also that that’s something that can be carried across keys quite easily. I remember from my own experience, I started out with cello and clarinet and so key signatures were really intimidating and big part of what you had to think about when you were playing. And it took me a long time, certainly, to realize that keys, in a sense, are all the same and the things that work in one key will work in another key. It sounds like you had that kind of insight too that suddenly this idea that G, D, and C go together could be carried across to any other key. Is that right?
Scott: Yes, absolutely. And I wish it was something that people would teach right at the beginning for kids and maybe not the whole theory of it, but just that, “Hey, there’s these certain chords that go together. And so the first three chords we’re gonna learn are G major, C major, and D major, and those will sound good. And you can just strum those in different orders and you’ll start hearing, ‘Oh, that kinda sounds like this song or that song.'” And just realize, “Okay, so there’s certain chords that go together and we’re gonna learn one key and learn three of those chords and then start branching a bit from there.”
Christopher: I’m absolutely with you on that one. I think the way we teach guitar in particular could be a lot more rewarding and a lot quicker if the teachers took advantage of this idea and showing kids that they can go a lot further with just a few chords than the traditional method would have them believe. So why do you think that had been missing from your guitar studies up until then? ‘Cause clearly you had been working away at it year by year, why do you think it took so long for this to come in front of you and suddenly make sense to you?
Scott: Well, I think that the way that music is typically taught is, “Here’s this song you want to learn, here’s the chords that are in the song.” And there’s no real talk of what key this song’s in and or what scales would sound good with this song, but just, “Here’s the notes or here’s the chords. Play those in this order and it will sound good.” And that’s really exciting and you can play the song that you want, but if you can’t sing in that key… At least I was, I was powerless to then say, “Well, maybe I could try that song in a different key and maybe that would be better for my voice,” and so it was stifling. It was my fault for probably not seeking it out sooner, but there’s not a ton of places that teach the theory in a way that is understandable. So often, you look up theory online and it just gets so dense so fast. I mean, it’s even tiring for me and I’ve studied it for years and years now and it’s like, “Wow, it’s just so much drudgery. It’s no wonder people have such a bad taste in their mouth about it.”
Christopher: Absolutely. And I think we’ve inherited a lot of baggage from the classical music world in terms of how theory is taught and while that, as you say, is very valuable and there’s useful information there, it can be a lot to process as a beginner musician. There are, thankfully, some sites, like your own, and one I like called HookTheory that does focus on a kind of more practical approach to music theory. But like you, it took me a long time to realize that music theory, it could be something that made music more enjoyable for me and actually made it easier to do musical things rather than being this whole other world that was intimidating and overwhelming.
Scott: Absolutely. Just even getting the basics of theory is so liberating. Sometimes I’ll have students just play a few notes from the G major scale while I play some chords from the key of G major and they just get so excited ’cause they’re kind of improvising. And they’re nervous at first to just try these random notes, but then it’s just so exciting and you think, “Oh, this note sounded really good right there.” And it’s just like learning to walk, you need to stumble a lot. And so often in music, we’re taught to try to play the perfect version of something and we didn’t see the composer, all the mistakes they made and the different things they tried out when they were writing the song. “No, I don’t like that, I’ll try this,” and that’s such a critical part, but we tend to overlook that and just try to cut straight to the perfection, which is, to me, really stifling and not tremendously helpful.
Christopher: I agree and when we teach improvisation in Musical U, we often use this idea of playgrounds. The way to get past that overwhelm and intimidation of improvisation is to give yourself constraints that actually make sure you’ll sound okay. I like your example with sticking in G major and that’s something that is just often not taught. A teacher will kind of help you start to improvise, but you’re still left in this mindset of, “I can play any note and it might sound terrible.” Whereas setting up kind of a playground and a safe area where you know things will sound more or less musical, it makes it a whole different experience, right?
Scott: Exactly. So often, I feel like when people teach improvisation, they’re like, “Just try notes out,” and so you’re like da, da, da, ehh. And you just hit all of these bad notes and then it’s this negative feedback that builds, like, “Oh, I can’t improvise.” But I love how you describe it as a playground ’cause same kind of thing I’m doing, when you can see, “Here’s all the notes in the key of G major all up and down the fretboard. Now when I play stuff in G major, I want you to just hit those notes.”
And then when they’re playing that, they’ll inevitably hit a wrong note or a note that’s not in the key and then I’m like, “Stop right there. Now see how that one’s not in the key?” And then they think, “Oh, okay. So I didn’t expect that one to sound good,” or they’ll find a rule breaking note and they’re like, “Oh, but I kinda like that sound.” And then, “Well, the next level is what rules can you break? Now that you know the rules, what can we break?” And then that’s where the fun happens for me.
Christopher: For sure. So tell me, when you had this insight and things started to click in your head in terms of the notes in a key and the way chords were built, how did that change your relationship with music?
Scott: Oh, it changed it just dramatically because once I saw the chords that fit together in a key, then I went and figured out what notes make up the chords. And I saw that the notes that make up the chords are all from the scale, so the chords that make up the key of G major, those notes are from the scale. And then I was able to see, “Okay, G major, the chord is always built of the notes G, B, and D, so then if I can see Gs, Bs, and Ds, I can really understand the chord.” And so I looked at the G major I’ve always played and, sure enough, I’m playing Gs, Bs, and Ds.
And then I looked at some different shapes up the neck and, “Wow, those are Gs, Bs, and Ds too.” So then I thought, “Well, can you do it with a mandolin?”, and then laid out a fretboard of a mandolin and once I could see the Gs, Bs, and Ds, I didn’t have to look up how do you play these chords. It’s just, “Where can my fingers grab them and I can see 20 different places to play them,” and then it just really opened up from there.
Christopher: And were there places you went to learn this? Was it a matter of sitting in a room by yourself and kind of figuring it all out or were there useful books or resources? How did you learn over the next year or two?
Scott: Lots of Google, lots of Wikipedia, lots of just every source I could find that would give me some information on it. And what struck me was that there wasn’t any place where all that information was in one spot and so that’s kind of where I saw an opportunity just because I made the books for myself ’cause I wanted to see. I need to see what notes build the chords. I need to see what chords fit together. I need to see some common chord progressions and then I need to see where those notes found all over the fretboard. And I set up pages like that for each key ’cause once I set it up with one key, I was like, “Wow, this is so exciting. I wonder what it looks like in the other keys,” and then it just really opened from there.
Christopher: And a lot of people, if they were lucky enough to have this kind of breakthrough in their music learning, they’d set themselves up with those reference sheets and they’d figure it all out and they’d just go off and play their instrument and that would be that. But you actually took that breakthrough and developed an extensive website, a YouTube channel, the range of books to help others learn this too. Why did you go to all that trouble?
Scott: Well, the truth is I take my son to karate and during karate time, I was reading a biography on Ben Franklin and I was just impressed with what a renaissance guy he was and just how many different things he invented. And I thought, “Well, I’d really like to invent something,” not having any idea how much work all of the business and the creation and things were, but it’s just been absolutely fun. It’s been an opportunity to meet people all over the world and to help expand people’s vision of music and to tell people who think, “I can’t improvise or I just can’t play an instrument,” like, “Sure, you can. Just start with some things that are safe.” And you let them know some safe places and then it build from there, I feel like.
Christopher: Great. And I’d love to talk much more about Fretboard Toolbox in a moment, but you touched on something there that I don’t want to pass by, which is you thought to yourself, “I wonder if I can do this on mandolin too.” And you, I believe, now are someone who plays guitar, bass, piano, mandolin, banjo, and more.
Scott: To some extent!
Christopher: To some extent, sure. That’s something that a lot of people, particularly those who took up one instrument a bit later in life, they weren’t a childhood prodigy, they maybe found learning music tough, would assume was really out of reach for them. To play multiple instruments, be able to pick up something they don’t play regularly and just kind of strum sound good sounding chords. Was it surprising to you to find that actually you could start picking up other instruments like that?
Scott: Oh, absolutely. I was shocked and every instrument I would do was just so exciting. And then it just made me wonder, after the mandolin book, “Can it work on ukuleles? What’s a baritone ukulele or a tenor guitar? Or how is this thing tuned or that thing tuned?” And then I thought, “Well, I’d love to figure out piano too.” And then it’s just so beautiful when you understand those pieces that build the music, then picking up something new is just a matter of, “Where are my Gs, Bs, and Ds? I want to play a G major chord,” and it gets really fun.
Christopher: Great, I was kind of a casual multi-instrumentalist myself. I totally relate to that. It is fun to learn a new instrument and particularly when you can carry over some of your knowledge or experience. I think what stood out to me that was really interesting was that piano was in there because I think when you look at music instruction sites, it’s not unusual to see banjo alongside guitar or guitar and bass together, but to take the concepts you’ve been working on and apply them to such a different physical layout on an instrument I think is really interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Scott: Yeah, I became really curious about… I know guitar’s low note is an E and I know the bass’s low note is also an E and a ukulele’s is a G, but I wanted to see where are all of those notes laid out. And so just for myself, I took a photo of my keyboard and then I started learning about C3, C2, the various different octaves that are on a piano. And then I wanted to see, “Well, where are all these notes on a guitar fretboard? Where do they relate to the piano?” And so I created a sheet like that and color coded it and made some color coded arrows for my piano so I could see that this C is the same as that C. And then it just made me look at the fretboard in a whole different way instead of just knowing there’s C in these six different positions or so, which Cs are those? And this is the same C as that C and things like that.
So the piano really opened up a lot of it because it’s so beautiful, it’s so linear, and then it just kind of made all the other stringed instruments make so much more sense once I could see that layout.
Christopher: So, in fact, the piano was a new insight into the stringed instruments as much as you were taking your fretboard knowledge and applying it to piano.
Scott: Right, exactly. And then I saw if I could play a chord on a guitar, I could figure out what notes those were and play the same chord on a piano and vice versa, and then that kinda opened up a lot for me too.
Christopher: And I guess that comes from the fact that you have this connection to the underlying theory of it. That it’s not about this finger shape on the fretboard that makes it a G chord, it’s actually about the fact that it’s a G, B, and D note and that’s what you can transfer to any instrument, really.
Christopher: Very interesting. And I suppose why I find that interesting is that there’s a lot of guitar and bass instruction that thinks purely about patterns and it’s like, “Here’s your pentatonic scale pattern. Go and learn it and then play the pentatonic scale.” Whereas you have that level beneath that says, “Well, what are the notes in the pentatonic scale and can we start from any note and build a pentatonic scale,” which gives you that flexibility and that power to a level that just a purely pattern based approach really doesn’t.
Scott: Absolutely. And then if there’s kind of a bluesy riff off of a pentatonic scale, I know what are those bluesy notes and what rules of the pentatonic scale are we breaking? And pentatonic scales are interesting because people that I talk with often are so intimidated by the sound ’cause it’s just such a big, powerful sounding word, but most folks aren’t too intimidated by the idea of a major scale. But then when you tell them a pentatonic is just cutting two notes out of the major scale, it’s always the same two notes, the fourth and the seventh, cut them out and then you’re playing a pentatonic. And it’s like, “Oh, well, I can do that.”
Christopher: Absolutely. And it’s a stepping stone we use in Musical U for a lot of our scale based skills, like note recognition, because it’s so powerful and versatile, but it is just that notch easier than the major scale. And as you say, so many instrumentalists are taught, “Now it’s time to play scales, here’s the major scale,” and actually that’s quite a big jump to take.
Scott: Right, absolutely, and the pentatonic scale just doesn’t have many sour notes. Any chord progression in G, if you’re soloing with G major pentatonic, it’s gonna sound okay. It may not blow away the pros, but for someone, like me, who’s just playing in their house and wanting to good around, it’s like, “Oh, that was kinda some neat stuff.”
Christopher: And it can be a great framework too for, as you say, introducing other notes or understanding how to throw in that IV or the VII from the full major scale. It’s such a great baseline to begin with.
Scott: I agree.
Christopher: So we’ve touched a few times there on Fretboard Toolbox and I’d love if we could just talk a bit more about it because for the listener who hasn’t seen it, it’s maybe a bit hard to imagine what would be in one of these books that would give them this insight we’ve been talking about into how the scales are put together and how you can play chords that sound good in any key. Could you just describe for us what is a Fretboard Toolbox?
Scott: Yeah. I started out with these, what I call the complete edition, which is, on one page, there’s the G major scale and then what’s called the E minor, which is the relative minor of G major. And then on the page next to it is the G blues scale ’cause I wanted to see those major and blues scales next to each other. And they’re super intimidating when you open up a toolbox, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, there’s just so much information.” So I really, I like best when I get to be with someone when they’re checking one out, which is why I have all the YouTube channels ’cause I can kind of do videos so I can be with them while we’re looking at this and we can break it down.
But it’s mainly three parts, the top section of each page is this big grid that shows the chords that belong in the key and then their roman numerals, like the I chord, the II, the III, IV, V. And then there’s the notes that build up the chords and so it’s just a way to be able to see quickly, “Okay, G major, here’s the notes I need. C major, here’s the notes I need.”
Christopher: Sorry to interrupt, but visually, they’re looking at a fretboard diagram there, would they be?
Scott: No, but that’s what a lot of folks think that they’re looking at and they’re just looking at a big grid that shows chords and then notes that make up the chords. And then the middle section is chord progression, so if I learn these chords sound good in the key, what are some different common ways I can arrange those chords? And then the bottom section is a layout of a fretboard that shows where’s my major scale notes, where’s my major pentatonic notes, where’s the natural minor notes, the minor pentatonic. And then I can see the different locations of the notes that make the chords I want to make and then soloing notes that will sound good with those chord progressions.
Christopher: I see. And so it’s probably that bottom section, then, that means you have a different book for each instrument because that fretboard or, in the piano case, the keyboard would be different. Is that right?
Scott: Exactly, so everything else in the books is the exact same. So if I’m on page 19, it’s C major on any instrument ’cause I just want to be able to find them quickly ’cause I made these books for myself. And so the only things that differ really are the fretboard layouts at the bottom and then that color page that shows the piano layout and then where all those notes are found ’cause those vary per instrument.
Christopher: That sounds like a very powerful reference sheet. To have all of that on one page is a dream, I think, for a lot of people for whom theory has seemed like a lot of hard work. Could you give some examples of how someone would use this? If they sit down with their Fretboard Toolbox, what are they gonna be doing with it?
Scott: Yeah, so in that chord progressions section, on my website, I’ve got free jam tracks that’s me playing through all of those chord progressions at different speeds. So I would say level one would be I learned some chords that are in the key of G major and then I go to the G major jam tracks and then I’m gonna just work on strumming along with those chords and just getting comfortable moving from a G to a C or a C to a D. And training my ear to hear, “Okay, this is the sound of going from a I to a V chord or this is the sound of a I to a VI minor chord.” And I’ve got some chord progressions that break rules so you can hear, “Oh, well, I can play this chord as a major or that chord as a minor,” once you kinda get those basics down.
But the basics is how do I play… is being able to strum along with some chords, common chord progressions and learning those roman numerals ’cause it’s so helpful if someone can know I’m going from a I to a IV to a V. ‘Cause when you play them for a while, you start realizing the IV has a special sound to it and a V has a special that makes you want to go back to the I and you start seeing those connections.
And then for more advanced students, you can use those same jam tracks and then if I want to work on improvisation or soloing, I click on the G major jam tracks and then now I’m just gonna work on messing around with the major scale or the major pentatonic and see how does it sound over this chord progression. And then, hopefully, people will start seeing, “Okay, when I play an A note, it sounds really good over the D chord.” And if you can see D major’s made of D, F#, and A, you start realizing, “Wow, melodies are really tied in with what chord’s being played. And if I know the notes of the chord, it makes it really powerful for finding melodies.”
Christopher: Wonderful. I think what I love most about that is that what you’ve described, it’s all kind of starting from scratch. Someone is sitting some with a Fretboard Toolbox and they’re starting to make music without learning anything beforehand in terms of what notes to play or what chords to play. They’re kind of just using that reference sheet to tell them what’s safe to play and then they’re creating their own music. Whether it’s playing through a chord progression and experimenting with the role of each chord in that key or improvising over a jam track, it’s all that kind of from scratch creative output. That’s wonderful.
Scott: I spent a lot of time on it too. I set those jam tracks up for myself too ’cause it’s hard to find a good friend who will play hours and hours of G, C, D for you so that you can noodle around over, “Hey, let me try that one more time.”
Christopher: So if we imagine you a couple of decades ago learning guitar and really going from the song by song approach where you’re gonna learn what chords to play to play the Led Zeppelin track you love or whatever it may be. For a musician like that, is there a way they could incorporate Fretboard Toolbox to that kind of rote learning where they know how to play this song or they know how to play this solo? Could they connect that back to this more kind of creative and free approach?
Scott: I would think so, but what I find with… And like I said, I’m a high school teacher, and what I find with lots of the younger folks is that they want to be able to…. Like, “I want to play this cool song at the lake with my friends,” and that’s kind of the… They don’t see, a lot of times, the value of, “Okay, I’ve gotta put in some time to learning how these things fit in,” and I wish they would because it’s so much more liberating. When you know those rules, you can create and that’s the thing I couldn’t do with the rope method is I could learn a complicated arrangement and I could play it and it would sound like, “Oh, he can play guitar.” And then somebody plays something different and they’re like, “Play along with me,” and, “Oh no, I can’t.” And that was so stifling for me and I don’t like to be stifled. I like to be able to just, like, “Here’s what’s safe, go out and make something up,” and that’s the fun for me.
Christopher: And you’re getting that message out in a terrific way through the website and through your YouTube channel, which is very popular. What’s next for Fretboard Toolbox given that you’re already reaching a lot of kind of passionate amateur musicians who are teaching themselves and looking for a new way? Where are you gonna take this in the future?
Scott: Well, I would love to see the younger folks start to learn these things too and I think that… And maybe not how Fretboard Toolboxes are set up, but just in however it’s done, help the kids from early on do the things like you’re talking about where here’s this playground. And I would like to see kids have that because the kids that I teach with the toolbox, it’s intimidating for them at first, but then it’s really so fun to see them making progress and to be able to speak music too and understand what a V chord is and IV chord. And, “Hey, I made up this new chord progression. Check this out,” and, “Here’s some soloing notes that sound good over it,” and that’s when I see them really light up. It’s fun to find some good tab and to be able to play the song that you want to play in that one key with the one location of the fretboard, but it’s really fun when you can create.
And so I would love to see that and I would love to see an app someday. I think that if I could just make it happen immediately, I would have an app where you could pick any instrument and you could pick any tuning and any number of strings. I get people all the time who… I’ve got a guy from Puerto Rico that said, “Do you have a book for a cuatro, a right handed cuatro?” And I look up what the arrangement is and, for me, I made my books initially on Microsoft Word, so it takes me months to create a new edition. But if we could just have a way to say, “Here’s this tuning and here’s the key you want to play in and then here’s your G, B, and D notes. Okay, and here’s your G major scale.” And then I would be more apt to want to experiment with alternate tunings because I can just quickly take a brand new tuning and then see, “Okay. Oh, here’s a weird shape that will give me a G major and there’s a D major right next to it,” and then I think it would just open up a lot of things for me.
So I would love to see that one day, but I’ve just gotta find… It would have to be someone who’s deeply passionate about music and programming to be able to make something like that.
Christopher: Okay. Well, we definitely have some deeply passionate people listening right now and maybe a few of them are apt developers in their spare time. If anyone listening wants to help develop the Fretboard Toolbox app, don’t be shy, do reach out to Scott. I’m sure he’d love to chat to you about that.
Christopher: From what you said, it sounds like you currently find that Fretboard Toolbox is mainly used by adults. Is that right?
Scott: Yes, yes, and that’s not something I realized going into it. I found most of the folks tend to be in their 50s and 60s, which I love. I love that people that are heading towards retirement or just into retirement are just finding something that’s just gonna give them a lifetime of enjoyment and passion and they’re some of the most passionate learners that I’ve come across.
Christopher: For sure. But I think at the same time, in my experience anyway, there can often be a bit of a fear that learning is not as easy as it used to be and that maybe they are past the point of learning new tricks as it were. But it sounds like that’s not the case with Fretboard Toolbox, the kind of epiphany you had several years ago can happen at any time in life. Would that be right?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to let people know that if you think that you’re not musical, you cannot start much less musical that I am. There was a time that I was tuning the high E string of a guitar and if you hit the fifth fret of the B string, it’s the same E note as the guitar. And I was playing da da, da da, da da, da da, and I’m like, “Nope, it’s still not there.” And I just kept tuning it up and then the string snaps. I can’t even guess how far apart on a piano those notes would’ve been and I was trying to match the note ’cause I just had no ear training at all. And that part is really fun, it’s really fun to be able to hear a song…
That’s another thing that I do with the toolbox a lot is I’ll put music on shuffle and then I’ll find the key, find what note brings it home. Like da, da, da, “Okay, it’s that last note that brings it home.” And then I’ll find what that note is on a fretboard, flip to that key’s page, and then start messing around with the notes. And if I’m in the right key, they’re gonna sound good. And lots and lots and lots of hours of that leads to being able to find the key really fast and when you can find that key and then you know the chords that are most likely in that key, jumping into a song that someone’s already playing is so much easier.
It was never possible before. I would see folks at jam sessions, a song would get started that they hadn’t played before and then they’d jump in and start playing and soloing and I just thought it was black magic. And what I found is that even if they can’t describe it, and lots of the great players can’t describe it, they just know it ’cause they’ve done it so much. But they just get, somehow, the idea of what chords sound good and what scales go with the different keys and then they can just take off from there.
Christopher: Wonderful. I think you’ve created such a valuable tool there to help people at whatever stage they’re at and however musical they may or may not feel to kind of shortcut that process of getting that intuition or the kind of play by ear black magic. And I know a lot of our listeners, what you’ve just described is a dream come true for them to be able to hear a song and then sit down within 30 seconds and be able to play along with the chords or improvise a solo or figure out how the melody works. So I highly encourage any listeners who are feeling inspired to head on over to FretboardToolbox.com. And maybe, Scott, you could just give us a few pointers, how can they dive in best with Fretboard Toolbox?
Scott: What I would do is… There’s a link called Pick Your Instrument and then you can go to the instrument. I have guitar, mandolin, banjos, pianos, tenor guitar, ukuleles, bass. So you pick whatever instrument it is and then I’ve got links that say, “Look inside,” and you can download every bit of instructions for free and then the key of G major page is for free. So people can mess around with the key of G major and see, “Is this useful?” And if not, then they’re not out anything and hopefully they read through some of the things, like, “Oh okay, I picked up a couple things,” and then just discard it. But if they find it useful and they want to see it in other keys, then there’s links right there where they can purchase the book. And I would say that that’s a good place to start.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, from what you’ve told us today, I imagine someone could spend quite a few happy hours just playing around in G major using that Fretboard Toolbox sample, so I think that sounds like a very easy and enjoyable way to get started and see if this is a good fit for you.
Scott: Well, I think so. I hope so, at least.
Christopher: Terrific. Thank you again, Scott, for joining us today to share your story and your insights on musicality. We’ve just told people they can visit FretboardToolbox.com for more information about these fantastic reference guides. Are there any last parting pieces of wisdom or guidance you’d give to our listeners?
Scott: No, I would just like to thank you for what you have put out because the ear training is just so powerful and being able to hear those intervals. And I haven’t come across many sites that have as much information as you have that is so easy to navigate. And I love the checklist that you have so I can see, “Okay, here’s where I need to be working,” ’cause I read on your bio that you struggle with focus sometimes too and I do as well and so it’s just perfect for me.
Christopher: That’s great to hear. Thanks so much, Scott. Thank you again for joining us.
Scott: Thank you.