Before we dive into playing and rockin’ out, it’s important for us to learn about the basic parts of the guitar and the terminology that we’ll be using throughout the course. The basic parts of the guitar are the body, neck, bridge, head, tuning pegs, sound hole (for an acoustic guitar), pickups (for an electric guitar), and most importantly the frets. The frets are what we hold down to create different pitches and sounds on the guitar. In other words, the frets are where you put your fingers! The frets are always talked about in their order, i.e. first fret, second fret, third fret, etc. The first fret is located closest to the tuning pegs and the last fret on your guitar (usually around fret 20) is closest to where you strum the guitar.
Open Strings/Musical Alphabet
Understanding these two elements will help you to tune the guitar correctly. Pretty important if you want to sound good! Here is a basic synopsis of the musical alphabet, (i.e. notes A – G plus the sharps and flats). First and foremost, we need to know the notes of the open strings. The following acronym Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie will help you to remember the names of each of the strings. You’ll need a tuner to get your guitar properly in tune. You can buy one at your local music shop or online. There are also plenty of online and mobile apps you can utilize.
Now that you know the basics, let’s start playing! Look at the following diagrams and notice the proper finger placement in relation to the fret. You will need to apply significant pressure. Using fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4 as shown, position your fingers correctly and firmly press each string on the fret depicted.
It’s extremely important to understand that you don’t want to place your finger directly on the fret. You want to be as close to the fret you’re playing without being on top. This principle will apply to everything you play!
Repeat the exercise for all six strings, then play it backwards (i.e. 4321 starting on the low e-string).
Fret Board Notes
As a guitarist, you’ll want to make sure that you know what notes you’re actually playing as you hold down any given fret. Knowing which note is which takes time to memorize, however, it’s not important that you memorize each note at this time. What is important is understanding how to figure out what note you’re playing should you need to. Now that we’re familiar with our open string notes, all we need to know is the order of notes, also referred to as the musical alphabet, to be able to figure out what notes you’re playing on the fretboard. Take a look at the depiction below to see the order of notes:
As you can see, we have many of the familiar letters we know from our regular alphabet (A-G). We also have notes in between these regular letters called sharps (#) or flats (b). These notes are completely separate notes from your normal alphabetical notes. In other words, A# is a completely different note than A. However, A# and Bb are the same note. As are C# and Db, D# and Eb, F# and Gb, and G# and Ab. Think of it as two different ways of saying the same thing. If you play the note A# it will be the exact same note as Bb so you could call it either name. We’ll learn more about why the notes are set up this way later, but for now just understand that there are 12 different notes, A-G, and the sharp or flat notes that come between the normal letters. There are only two exceptions that you must memorize, there is no sharp or flat between the notes B and C, and there is no sharp or flat between the notes E and F. If you can memorize these exceptions, you’ll easily be able to count up the neck and identify the notes on your guitar!
Every time you move up a fret you’re moving to the next closest note in the musical alphabet. So when you play your first string, for example, open (without holding any frets down) we know that this note is an E, because we tuned it to an E. So if we go in order of our musical alphabet we know that if we hold down the first fret on that same string, the note then changes to F. The second fret would then be F#(which could also be called Gb). The third fret would be G. See the pattern? Keep counting up the neck on that string and see how many notes you can identify.
Here’s a couple hints that should help:
- Once we reach the last note of our musical alphabet (G#) the pattern simple continues to cycle by going back to A.
- The 12th fret note of your guitar should be the same as the open string!