Guitar Lesson

Learning the notes on the guitar neck


By Brian Turner

Knowing the notes on the guitar neck is like driving a car in your hometown. If you need to go across town, you jump in the car and cruise with ease taking the easiest path knowing all the short cuts and back roads. On the other hand, if you are driving in territory you are not familiar with, you may be lost and frustrated after making the first turn.

If you know the notes on the fretboard it will make everything else you do on the guitar much easier. Below are four methods I use to teach students the guitar neck.

 

Ex. 1

"To be, or not to be, that is the question." Actually, in this lesson, it is not the question. The question is how do we memorize the notes on the guitar neck? But the famous William Shakespeare quote can help us. Remember the word BE because the notes B and E are the only notes that do not have a # (sharp). All the other notes have a # (sharp). There are only seven notes in the musical alphabet. They are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The notes are always in alphabetical order. But we need to remember as we ascend up the neck every note has a # (sharp) except B and E. Keeping these rules in mind let us look at the notes on the fretboard.

fret
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
1st string ---
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
2nd string---
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
3rd string---
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
4th string---
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
5th string---
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
6th string---
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E

If you know the open notes of each string, then you just ascend up the neck in alphabetical order adding a # to every note except B and E. An easy way to remember the open strings starting at the big (6th) string is Elephants Always Do Grow Big Ears (E, A, D, G, B, E).

 

 

Ex. 2

Another way to learn the notes on the guitar is to find each note on every string, starting with the 6th string. The order of notes follows the cycle of 5ths. The cycle of 5ths is a tool that has many applications so it is a good idea to commit it to memory. The cycle of 5ths is a lesson in itself and can be found in the improvising 31 worksheet. You can read this exercise as you would a crossword puzzle going east to west or north to south.

string
6
5
4
3
2
1
C is on fret
8
3
10
5
1
8
G is on fret
3
10
5
0
8
3
D is on fret
10
5
0
7
3
10
A is on fret
5
0
7
2
10
5
E is on fret
0
7
2
9
5
0
B is on fret
7
2
9
4
0
7
F# is on fret
2
9
4
11
7
2
C# is on fret
9
4
11
6
2
9
Ab is on fret
4
11
6
1
9
4
Eb is on fret
11
6
1
8
4
11
Bb is on fret
6
1
8
3
11
6
F is on fret
1
8
3
10
6
1

 

 

Ex. 3

Another way to learn the notes on the guitar fretboard is to observe how the octaves relate to the 6th and 5th strings. In the first diagram below, notice that the 6th string open is E. The fourth string second fret is E also an octave higher. In the next diagram, we ascend one fret to F then another fret to F# in the third diagram. Next would be G then G# and so on. So if you know the notes on the 6th string then you just need to remember you have the same note on the 4th string only two frets higher. Therefore, if you know the 6th string then you know the 4th string.

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The same rule applies to the 5th and 3rd string. If you know the notes on the 5th string, simply remember the same notes are on the 3rd string two frets higher as shown in the three diagrams below.

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To learn the 2nd string, we observe how it relates to the 5th string. Unlike the previous two examples, the octave on the 2nd string is two frets lower than the notes on the 5th string as shown in the three diagrams below.

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The 1st string is easiest to remember because it is identical to the 6th string as we see in the following three diagrams.

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If we are comfortable with the notes on the 6th and 5th string and understand how the octaves on the other strings relate to them then we'll know all the notes all all the strings by simply know the notes on the 6th and 5th strings.

 

Ex. 4

Another way to learn the notes on the fretboard is to play all twelve notes of the cycle of 5ths on each string as illustrated below. You can read this exercise as you would a crossword puzzle going east to west or north to south.

 

strings
6 5 4 3 2 1
C is on fret
8 3 10 5 1 8
G is on fret
3 10 5 0 8 3
D is on fret
10 5 0 7 3 10
A is on fret
5 0 7 2 10 5
E is on fret
0 7 2 9 5 0
B is on fret
7 2 9 4 0 7
F# is on fret
2 9 4 11 7 2
C# is on fret
9 4 11 6 2 9
Ab is on fret
4 11 6 1 9 4
Eb is on fret
11 6 1 8 4 11
Bb is on fret
6 1 8 3 11 6
F is on fret
1 8 3 10 6 1

 

The previous exercises used the # (sharp) when ascending up the neck. Any # note has an equivalent b (flat). A# is Bb, C# is Db, D# is Eb, F# is Gb, and G# is Ab. Notes that have two names are known as enharmonic tones. The choice of name you use depends on what key you are in.

Happy pickin' and I hope this helps!

 

The Cycle of Fifths

cycle of keys

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