There’s no doubt that as we continue to develop as real players, there are many “mysteries” of the fretboard that should keep on Un-raveling for us. In the beginning, we look at a riff for example, and by putting 2 and 2 together, we realize that it can be repeated all over the neck, in identical fashion, just in new key positions. After a while though, we should be able to see beyond this scope of self-teaching, and be able to see the neck and notes in a more “three-dimensional” way, as opposed to “two dimensional.” This takes time, and not all of us have the mathematical and logical kinds of minds that can easily grasp all of these things, especially when it’s how they relate to the actual sound they make that is the real learning experience!
I’ve also had way too many pupils come to me who have been given a textbook’s worth of knowledge about scales, modes and all other kinds of mind-numbing theatrics, all to no avail, and who are still just as confused as ever! (If not more so!) This is because rather than take a direct one-on-one approach and give the student what they really need, their previous teacher was just “going through the motions” by giving them a ton of info to absorb, with no real music or purpose behind it! This can be a more serious problem than you think, because if it’s done at an age when the student is extremely motivated to learn and is very impressionable, a lot of this “useless” information could leave them searching like “babes in the woods!”
When I teach privately, and as you can probably also notice from my Gibson.com lessons, I have a much more “hands on” approach that insists on whatever I’m showing you, make musical sense, and that it becomes instantly useful and enjoyable to the student. This is how I taught myself, and of course I had the double good fortune of being able to really trust my ear, and to, at the same time be a young professional who was really “out there” in the world of music, putting it all to use right on the spot!
When you’re onstage, in front of an audience, it’s “do or die”, and whatever you play will either communicate with those people out there, or it will leave them flat and un-interested. Again, as I was going through this period, I was certainly still unlocking the “mysteries” of the guitar, but I was being very careful to not try too much too soon, but also to know when the time was right to expand and experiment beyond what I did already know!
So much is “trial and error” as you keep developing that ear along with your guitar skills, and believe me, when those “errors” occur, it’s a great way of learning what not to do in the future!
So, feel totally free to experiment and improvise, but do it in an intelligent and thoughtful way; always keep your music at the forefront, and always play what feels and sounds like music! Don’t just settle for scales and modes, it’s a frustrating and “backdoor” way for many people to learn, and it’s certainly no “shortcut” for those of us who really want to truly know the fretboard!