The guitar fretboard explained
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The Guitar Fretboard: How to find your way around the guitar neck

In the lesson on understanding guitar notes, intervals, scales and chords I explain important music theory concepts I would suggest you get a grip of before going to the next stage towards reaching your goals of playing and/or making music: Actually applying these concepts on the guitar fretboard.

In this lesson we’ll be focusing on learning the notes on the guitar fretboard as well as explore some cool ways we can use this knowledge.

What are the notes on the guitar fretboard called?

In order to explain the name of the notes on the guitar neck, I will only be using one guitar string as an example: The low E string.

I will give you the guitar neck notes on the other strings later on in this lesson, but in order to understand the names, one string is enough – since it contains all the 12 notes of chromatic scale – that is all different notes in music (though the same notes are repeated at higher octaves on the other strings)

The following are the notes up to the 12th fret on the Low E string: 

Read once through the note names and call the # sign in front of many of the notes a sharp. (E, F, F sharp, G, G sharp etc)

Musical notes take their name from the first 7 letters of the alphabet (A – G). These notes are called natural notes.

Five of them, A, C, D, F, G also have a sharp note following them, but the notes B and E don’t.

It’s for this reason that after the note E you get the note F and after the note B you get the note C. While, for instance, after the note G, you get the note G#.

Enharmonic equivalents

Things are actually a little more complex than this.

The note G# can be called by a different name: Ab (read: A flat)

How’s this?

The following are the same notes on the low E string as above, however this time they’re in reverse: That is start from the note E on the 12th fret and end on the open E.

Call all the notes that have the sign “b” after the letter name flats as in E, E flat, D, D flat etc.

See what’s going on here?

When played in reverse, all sharps become flats.

Thus, while the notes on the first 3 frets are:

F – F# – G

If I’m playing them backwards, they become:

G – Gb – F

F# and Gb are the same note – the second fret on the E string – enharmonic equivalents.

The reasons why we have two different names for the exact same note are related to how these notes can be used to form scales and chords.

Thus, whether the note on the second fret on the E sting is notated as an F# or a Gb, depends entirely on the musical context it is being used in.

We won’t be going into that in this lesson. For now, just keep in mind that every sharp has an equivalent flat, and that these are called enharmonic equivalents.

Memorizing the notes on the guitar fretboard: Layer 1

Now that you have understood what the name of all notes in music are, let’s get started learning where they are on the guitar neck.

In order to make things easier, I’m only giving you the notes on the strings that are natural (have no sharps/flats)

The reason is that once you know the name of every natural note it’s easy to find the sharps and the flats.

If you know where, for instance, the note A is, you also know where A# is (one fret above) as well as where Ab is (one fret below).

The following are the names of all the guitar neck notes on the first 5 strings. The high E string has exactly the same note names as the low E string. They’re the same notes, repeated at different octaves.

The notes here are deliberately grouped in bars containing two or three notes. Start memorizing all the natural notes on the first 12 frets, on all strings of the guitar fretboard.

Note: Take your time to do this. Don’t stop from practicing other things on guitar and spend all your time memorizing the notes on the guitar fretboard.

In general, I suggest to my beginner guitar students to memorize a bar a week and to my intermediate guitar students to memorize a string a week.

Only start implementing Layer 2 once you can find, even if with some difficulty, every note on the 12 frets of the guitar fretboard.

Memorizing the notes on the guitar fretboard: Layer 2

Welcome back.

I hope you have memorized your notes and that if I asked you where the note G on the D string is, your finger will go on this note:

Now,

It’s quite possible that your finger went instantly on that note, in which case, congratulations, you must have done a very thorough job!

However, it’s more likely that your mind went on the D string, and moved horizontally through the notes E and F until finding the G.

In order to add another layer to your memorization of the guitar notes on the neck, this time we’re going to see the fretboard vertically, rather than horizontally.

In each or your practice sessions start by playing every occurrence of a note on the first 12 frets of the guitar fretboard.

For instance, if you pick the note A for today’s guitar practice session, you will be playing these notes:

This time though, unlike in the first layer, you’re also going to find the sharp/flat notes.

On some days, for instance, you’re going to find all the F sharps:

How can you use this knowledge?

Though I usually give my students the first three notes to memorize on the fretboard on the first or second guitar lesson, I actually started bothering to learn them myself when I was already pretty advanced in other areas.

The reason was that I didn’t understand their significance.

In these few points I’m going to show you some ways you can use this knowledge in real musical contexts. There are many other ways identifying the notes on the fretboard will be useful, especially if improvising is your thing.

1. If you’re jamming with other musicians – and you should jam with as many musicians as you can to grow as a musician – you don’t want to be the guy who’s finding it hard to find the note B once it has been decided you’re going to improvise music in B minor.

You want to be the one carefully listening what others are playing and finding something creative that makes the chemistry work.

2. In this lesson on guitar improvisation you will see clearly why knowing the notes on guitar is useful when it comes to making music on the spot.

3. Barre chords: Since barre chords in the root position are named after the lowest note in the chord, you can now easily figure out where they are when learning songs or chord progressions.

4. It’s much easier to apply music theory for guitar playing if you can easily find the notes.

5. It really helps in songwriting. It’s easier to remain in that state of songwriting flow if you can easily find every note – and learn the scales and chords that start from those notes – you have less to worry about and can focus on your creativity.

6. It also makes easier finding and memorizing arpeggios – since you start thinking not just in terms of numbers and patterns, but real musical notes that are following a certain order.

The above are a few example scenarios where this new knowledge can be used.

Try to think creatively.

Go back to stuff you already know and see if what you have just learnt in this lesson can be applied to it.

Most of the thing you have done in the past can be seen through a different lens now that those numbers and patterns on the guitar neck actually have a name.


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2 Comment

    1. I think you mean the notes on the high E string (the one closest to the floor). Those on the low E string are in the first example.

      If you haven’t learned the notes on the high E string of the guitar yet, good news. You don’t have to if you know the ones on the low E – they’re exactly the same.

      For instance, the first fret of both high and low E string is an F, the third fret is a G etc.

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