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Arts & Entertainment

Theory: Unlocking the Fretboard

Tom Morello

Lesson time 16:42 min

In the next step on your soloing journey, Tom teaches you his methods for soloing in any key, anywhere on the neck.

Tom Morello
Teaches Electric Guitar
In 26 lessons, Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello will teach you the guitar techniques, rhythms, and riffs that define his signature style.


And now the time has come at last to unlock the neck, to unlock the fretboard, to learn how to solo all over the fretboard in any key. The way that I came to it was this. We've learned how to solo in A pentatonic. We've learned how to solo with an A blues scale. So now, let's do the first step to unlocking the neck-- let's learn how to solo with an A minor scale, what I call first position. Here it is here. I'm going to play it. It should be up on the screen. You play it along with me. It's going to play the-- it's also the Aeolian mode. We're not going to worry about modes right now. We're just going to call it the first position for now, the A minor scale. [PLAYING NOTES] And then back to the root note of A. [PLAYING NOTES] What we're going to do now is learn those notes all over the neck. So it starts here. We've already played it. [PLAYING NOTES] They begin again. [PLAYING NOTES] All right. So check it out. Here's the first position of the A minor scale. It says Aeolian there, which is the mode, but don't worry about that right now. That will all come later. These are the notes. The notes that are circled are the root note, in this case A. So everywhere you see the circle, that is a note that's A. That's the scale. We play it across and back. These are the notes. When we start at A and we hear A minor with a chord progression, play these notes, and they should fit snugly and sound like you're soloing like a fledgling genius on the guitar. All right? We're going to now play the second position of the A minor scale. [PLAYING NOTES] And now the third position. Again, these are the same notes, just we're moving up the neck. In the third position, the identical notes, just a little bit higher in pitch. [PLAYING NOTES] The fourth position. [PLAYING NOTES] The fifth position. [PLAYING NOTES] Sixth position. [PLAYING NOTES] Seventh position. [PLAYING NOTES] And what would be eighth position is back to first position, one octave higher than we began. First position, again, one octave up. [PLAYING NOTES] So just as we used the notes in first position to solo along with our chord progression, and it fits snugly, those are the same notes up and down the neck. So what I've done is I've memorized those seven positions. So I know where each of those positions and each of those note groupings are of the same notes are all over the neck. So we're going to use the notes of the A minor scale, no longer just in first position, but using all the positions to play a solo over the same chord progression. Let's go. [METRONOME TICKING] [MUSIC PLAYING] So what you're seeing is the same sequence of notes all the way up and down the neck, starting at different points. Each of the positions teaches us where they are at that particular part of the neck. The relative positions always remain the same. That's how you solo up and down the...

Strike a Chord

Tom Morello is a two-time Grammy winner and one of Rolling Stone’s "greatest guitarists of all time." In his first online guitar class, the co-founder of Rage Against the Machine will teach you the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career and sent his music to the top of the charts. Tom will share his approach to making music that challenges the status quo and teach you how to create your own musical style.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

As a complete beginner i really felt what tom was saying . he really encouraged me to let out my creativity and that it doesn't matter how good of a player i am , as long as it is meaningful to me. also it was pretty fun hearing him talk about his past

Loved the MasterClass! Very in depth and detailed lessons, covering everything related to Tom Morello's playing style. Enjoyed it tons!!

Thank you Tom! This class has so much information and inspiration in it, it's incredible! It has transformed the way I look at/approach music/guitar

So much insight into Tom's world and his psyche. All very inspiring. Even if you're not familiar with his work or a fan there is still so much to be taken from this. Not just a course on guitar but being an artist too.


Azure L.

can anyone explain the phrygian mode part.He seemed to have skipped a few things and the positions

A fellow student

I am unable to find the backing tracks in the resources page. Would love to practice/play along to these.

A fellow student

there is a typo for the a minor 6th position, after G on the first string, on the 17th fret it should be A instad of E. Other than that, awesome one. Cheers Tom.

Lee A.

This is brilliant teaching, boiling complex sonics down to three modes in a matter of minutes. He’s not just teaching guitar. He’s teaching composition. It’s very interesting to me how mediocre his playing is in these lessons. I have enormous respect for him as an artist, and his performance in studio recordings is spectacular. But his timing is pretty loose in these videos. Considering how rhythmically perfect RATM is, I find it encouraging that this monster of rock is kind of a sloppy player. (Smiley face)

Quinn J.

Very interesting how he laid out the positions of the scale. Typically you will have two scale forms. a 3 note per string form and a CAGED form(meaning that the scale form doesn't go beyond 5 frets, unlike 3nps). But Tom's shapes actually have a little bit of both, altering between 3nps and CAGED forms. One thing to keep in mind with these forms is that if you ever wanted to learn how to economy pick these scales, I'd strongly recommend learning the 3nps scale forms. The guitarist, Frank Gambale has a wonderful video on this topic which ill link with tabs below.

Glen B.

I loved your Pentatonic lesson and thought I had figured some of this out..... Then you moved on to Unlocking the Fretboard..... Its as if you started speaking an entirely different language. I am now totally lost. I guess its back to the capo for me.

A fellow student

Sure would be nice to have it tabbed out on screen when playing the notes of the modes. If I wanted to use a 186 page download I would buy a book. Bought master class to learn online. So much for that I guess.

Michael R.

I don't understand why the A (root note on the B string) appears in the 2nd and 3rd position but not the 4th.

A fellow student

Awesome lesson. However, I didn't really understand how to make it sound Major like Tom did. How do I know what C is the relative major key of A? And how would I know to play in the third position of A minor? How would I apply that all over the neck?

Mats N.

For everyone who misses the diagrams from the video in the pdf – just make screenshots of each and then open them next to each other and play along.