Learning the Notes on the Fingerboard

One of the best pieces of advice I received from a former instructor during my developing years was, "You need to know every note on the fingerboard." This seemed like a daunting task to say the least. But this instructor was right on! It's incredibly helpful to know the names of every fret on every string. So let's look at what it takes to accomplish this task.

Open Strings

To start, you must know the open strings of the guitar. From strings 6 (lowest) to 1 (highest) the notes are as follows: E, A, D, G, B, E. By memorizing these notes you now have a home base to work from for figuring out the remaining notes.

Musical Alphabet and Natural Half-Steps

The musical alphabet is made up of 7 notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. When you reach G you wrap back around to A. The distance between each pair of adjacent notes is fixed. For example the distance between A and B is a whole-step and on the guitar a whole-step is 2 frets. There are two pairs of notes that are a half-step apart, I refer to them as natural half-steps, they are the pairs [B, C] and [E, F]. Every other pair is a whole-step apart, see below.


Sharps and Flats

The place where sharps and flats are located is between the pairs of notes that are a whole-step apart. So, the fret between A and B is occupied by A# or Bb (these are the same note with a different name called an enharmonic equivelant).

Put it into Practice

Let's try and figure out the first few notes on the first string. Start by identifying the first string open: E. Next we ask ourselves how far is F from E? Remember that the pair [E, F] is one of the natural half-step pairs. This means the first fret of the first string is F.

Now that we've identified the first fret we can keep working our way up the neck. Ask yourself how far apart is F and G. This is not one of the natural half-step pairs, so we find the G two frets away from F, located on the 3rd fret. Notice we skipped over the 2nd fret, this is where F# or Gb is located.

Look at the diagram below and you will see the notes we've just figured out. Notice at the 12th fret (the grey ovals are fret markers and typically two ovals on the same fret indicates the 12th fret) you see the letter E. The 12th fret is where it starts over, this is the octave. If you've worked your way up to the 12 fret and you don't get the same letter as its open string, then you goofed up somewhere along the way. This is a great way to check your work-the 12th fret note must be the same as its open string.

Fill in the rest of the fingerboard diagram on your own and you'll be on your way to unlocking the fingerboard. It takes time to memorize all of the notes of the fingerboard but it's well worth the effort. Now that you have a process to figure out the notes there's nothing holding you back!


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