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Excel For Guitarists

This is a follow up article from last week’s first part that covered how I use Excel for deep harmonic analysis and chord on chord ideas for comping and soloing. This week I’m going to do a deep dive on how I use Excel as a guitarist, and really it can be very useful for any stringed instrument of the fretted variety.

Essentially what I use Excel for is to create simple fretboard diagrams that allows me to parse out scalar, chordal, and other ideas visually. Here is an example of a fretboard diagram I use frequently:

My guitar happens to have 24 frets, the diagram can obviously be adapted to any amount of frets, strings, or tunings you desire. I like to create one of these diagrams and keep it blank so that I can copy and paste it over and over again as I’m developing different ideas.

So, how can we use these diagrams? Let’s say you’re learning a G Major 7 chord. You want to sort out 3 different voicings for the chords, one with the root on the 6th string, one on the 5th, and one on the 4th. The notes of the G Major 7 chord are G, B, D, and F#. Let’s look at a diagram that’s been highlighted with chord voicings that fulfill the criterion we’re looking to fulfill:

Here we have the different voicings of the chord color coded based on the root note. This pretty easily demonstrates three useful voicings for G Major 7, but also we can look at these diagrams and see easily how these chords can be modified to create other voicings. Say I wanted to play G Major 7b5, all I have to do is identify the 5th in each chord shape, in the case of G Major 7 it would be the D, and flat it by a half step to Db. Now I can do that in every shape and figure out quickly how to make that modification.

Now let’s take this a step further. Let’s say we’re working on chord inversions. These can be worked out simply with these diagrams. Let’s look at inversions for the G Major 7 we just looked at with its root on the 6th string:

Here we’ve started with the G Major 7 chord we’ve already figured out and to work out each version of the inversion we simply start with the note on each string and move it to the next available chord tone on the same string. From the first chord (highlighted in green) we move the root G note to the 3rd (B), the F# on the D string to G, the B on the G string to D, and the D on the B string to F# and we’ve created the shape for the first inversion of the G Major 7 chord. Doing this two more times will give us all four options from the original chord shape. You can do this same exercise for any triad or chord shape to find inversions all over the neck.

The next logical thing we can look at are scales. Below I’ve created diagrams for a G major scale, using a positional scale, a 3 note per string scale, and a 4-3 combination (that starts on the 7th):

These are all G major scales that employ a different amount of notes per string, to different advantages. Positional scales are concise and don’t require a lot of horizontal movement. I like to organize a lot of my ideas based off of positional scales. 3 note per string scales are really nice for legato and extend the range of the scale slightly. The 4 and 4 combo has an interesting effect where the finger movements are identical for each pair of strings. All of these ideas are worth knowing, and figuring out how they can work for you.

You can also use the diagram to easily sort out scale modes. We can find A Dorian from G major, simply by using the same notes as G major but using A as a root:

We can do the same thing for B Phrygian:

You can, and should, work through all the modes for the scale using positional scales, 3 note per string, and the 4 and 3 formats.

One other useful way to use these diagrams is to find arpeggio inversions inside of every scale. Here I’ve taken the A Dorian Scale and highlighted every G major 7 chord tone:

Here I’ve done the same thing for E-7:

You can, and should, do this for every diatonic chord in every mode. Memorizing these inversions is a great way to learn how to navigate changes on a tune without getting pushed around the fretboard.

This is all just a small highlight of how you can use Excel to create useful fretboard diagrams for the guitar. There are a lot of other creative ways you can use it to explore the fretboard, gain useful harmonic knowledge, and save yourself some money on a chord or scale book. I also think the work of laying out these diagrams yourself is beneficial to your overall development and will help you navigate your instrument more confidently.

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