I can show you how to memorize the notes on the guitar fretboard but unless you also know why you should dedicate the process an amount of your practice time, it’s likely that you won’t do it.
In this article I will give you 10 reasons why learning the notes on the guitar fretboard is a valuable investment of your practice time.
1. You only do it once
As you’ll see in the other reasons below, memorizing the name of the guitar notes is something you’ll be putting to practical use in many other areas of your guitar playing.
Thus, once you memorize the notes, it’s not likely that you’ll forget them since you’ll be indirectly practicing them in different musical contexts.
Now, I still choose a specific note and find it all over the fretboard as quickly as possible, as an exercise, once in a while.
However it’s not a regular practicing item. Once I had memorized the notes, which took a few weeks, finding them on the neck became a minor issue that only needs a little revision once in a while.
2. Applying music theory to the guitar is much easier
Learning music theory can be dead boring, and pretty much useless, unless you apply it to your guitar playing.
And the first thing you need to be able to do so, is to learn the notes on the fretboard.
You don’t need to learn how to read the notes from sheet music to be able to apply music theory on the guitar. (Reading music is not music theory)
But you do need to be able to find, say, the note F on the second string, in the shortest period of time as possible.
Otherwise you will spend even more valuable practicing time finding the notes every time you want to apply a music theory concept to the guitar.
3. Moveable chords
If you’re a beginner on the guitar, you’re probably playing only open position chords.
Soon, you’ll be learning barre chords (as well as power chords).
These chords are moveable since you repeat the same chord pattern up and down the fretboard.
Thus, if you can play the barre chord of G major starting on the third fret of the low E string, in order to play G# major, all you have to do is move that exact same pattern up a fret.
This makes life a lot easier since it means you have less chords to learn, but you won’t reap much benefit if I ask you to play D major and you have to spend time finding the D to be able to do that.
Knowing where the notes are may not affect how you learn guitar scales, but will surely help when you start using them to create music.
5. Intervals within scales
An interval is a distance between two notes, and a scale is a series of notes stacked up in intervals.
Learning each interval within every scale that you’re using will take you steps ahead in soloing and improvisation.
And if you want to find the pattern of say, major 3rd in the key of A on the guitar, you need to quickly recollect where the notes A and C# are.
Transposition means shifting a whole series of notes (or chords), from one part of the fretboard to another.
You change the note you start form but keep the exact same pattern of intervals, as you can see in this example:
Both skills are important, and useful in different situations.
While learning the notes on the fretboard is important for both of these skills, it’s even more necessary if you have improvisation as a goal – since when improvising you will need to find the right notes fast.
8. Ear training
A person with a trained ear is someone who has sounds organized in his head, and will immediately recognize note intervals, scales and chords.
Knowing the notes on the fretboard will not directly help develop your ear.
However it will help you see more easily where these organized sounds are placed on the fretboard, making any development in ear training more useful.
9. Playing with other musicians
One of the reasons I had taken to learning the notes seriously was that I was making a fool of myself anytime I jammed with more experienced musicians.
Someone decides we’ll jam in C# minor.
The pianist and the bassist have already started playing, and I’m still finding the C#.
It’s not nice.
Those notes are the alphabet of music.
If you speak a language fluently, you don’t have to stop and find the words.
You just speak it.
Likewise if you want to use your guitar as a tool to communicate with other people.
10. Think like a musician
One of the reasons pianists never seem to have a problem recollecting the position of any note on the piano at will, is that they rarely ever ask “why should I learn the notes?” in the first place
It’s taken as a given.
On the guitar, not everyone thinks it’s such a priority.
Apart from the practical reasons given above, I also think learning the notes helps improve your guitar practicing mindset since it helps you see yourself as a musician, rather than the guy who can strum a few chords.
A pianist wouldn’t consider not knowing what the name of the notes on his instrument are. Neither would a violinist, a cellist, or even a classical guitarist.
And neither should you if you want to see yourself as a complete musician.
I hope that I’ve given you enough reasons why you need to learn the notes on the guitar fretboard.
You should start doing it now (whatever level you’re at unless you’re a complete beginner), but you don’t need to do it all in one go.
You don’t need to stop practicing other things and spend a few days just memorizing notes.
Memorizing a group of two or three notes every day, will achieve a better result in a month or two, without taking any significant amount of time from your practicing time.
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