As a guitarist, it’s very important to understand and know the notes of the Fretboard. As you grow more competent in your abilities, you’ll want to begin thinking about what notes make your scale patterns and chords so that you can better understand music theory and music as a whole. The first step, is to understand how identify notes on the fretboard, and working to memorize these notes as you progress.
Identifying which note is which on the fretboard is not as hard or intimidating as it may sound, you just need to know the open string names (E, A, D, G, B, e) and the order of notes, or the “Musical Alphabet”. By now, hopefully you’ve had plenty of experience tuning up your guitar and have memorized the string names. Here’s a quick review:
Open String Tuning:
E – Eddie (Eat) – Thickest String
A – Ate (A)
D – Dynamite (Darn)
G – Good (Good)
B – Bye (Breakfast)
e – Eddie (Everyday) – Thinnest String
Next, we need to know our Musical Alphabet, depicted below:
Please note that this pattern cycles over and over again, meaning that once you reach the end (G#/Ab) it simply resets and keeps going by starting back on A.
This is the order of notes and a list of every note we can play in music. The notes always go in alphabetical order so it’s easy to begin counting up the neck once you memorize the order. The # and b symbols stand for the words sharp (represented by #) and flat (represented by 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!
Before we do an example, there is just one more piece of terminology that you should know, the terms half step and whole step. These terms are just used to describe the distance between notes. A half step is the shortest distance, so the distance between D and its closest neighbors (C#/Db or D#/Eb) is referred to as a half step. A whole step is when we jump a little further to the next closest note. So, the distance between and D and E, or A and B is a whole step, because we skipped over the note that comes in between them. The distance between B and C and E and F is still a half step because there is no note in between them. Let’s do an example by counting up the fret board on the high e string.
Below you’ll see a depiction of the guitar neck with the notes of each fret labeled. To orient ourselves, it’s important to know that the top line of our diagram represents the high e-string (your thinnest string) and the bottom line represents the low E-string (your thickest string). Each vertical line represents a fret on the guitar and this diagram depicts twelve frets, although the pattern that you see will continue beyond the twelfth fret. Let’s begin by focusing on the high e string (your thinnest string) and work our way up the neck. From there you can practice counting the notes of the other strings on your own.
So, ask yourself a question, what note do you think we’re playing when we play the open e-string (not holding down any frets). Well, we tuned our guitar string to E right? So we must be playing an E note! From there it’s easy to count up the neck and identify each note. Every time we move up a fret, we move up a half step, or to the next closest note in our musical alphabet. In this case we move from open E to playing F on the first fret. Use the diagram to help you count through the notes of the e-string up to the 12th fret. Notice how it follows our order of notes or our “Musical Alphabet”? It’s also important to note that on the 12th fret, our guitar essentially resets. See how all the notes there are the same as our open string notes? Once we get to the 12th fret we’ve come full circle! Now, you should practice counting through each string starting with the open string note (E, A, D, G, B, or e) and moving up one half step in our Musical Alphabet for each fret on the guitar. By the time you get to the 12th fret you should be on the same note as the open string. If you’re not, you made a counting mistake so reset and try again!
Knowing the fretboard thoroughly takes time but as long as you can identify notes when necessary by counting through your Musical Alphabet, you’ll have everything you need for now!