Let's begin the theoretical side of our guitar learning journey with
some essential fretboard basics.
beginner guitarist, it'll likely be your first proper theory lesson
(don't worry, it's easy!) and should come before you
move on to learn chords, scales and technique.
It's important to get to know the
fretboard because doing so will help you understand the
finger positions, strings and notes when you come to playing chords and
lead guitar. As with a lot of guitar theory, you only realise how
important it is once you've learned it.
So let's learn it now!
Fretboard Basics #1 - Frets and Inlays
Your guitar's fretboard has a
sequence of raised metal wires called frets. Most
electric guitars have 21, 22 or 24 frets and acoustics tend to have 20.
Each fret represents a new note for each
string, but when we come to press our fingers on the
we actually use the spaces
in between the fret wires to create the
note, not the wire
example, pick any
fret and the space before
that is the
area that creates the note when applying our fingers.
when we refer to the 2nd fret or 6th fret
we are actually referring to the space just before the actual
wire. Because of this, guitarists tend to think of "frets" as the
spaces rather than the wire.
You'll notice on your guitar's fretboard there are
either dots or symbols at particular fret intervals. Most commonly,
these are found at frets
3, 5, 7,
9 and 12.
fret marker is often more
prominent than the others (e.g. 2 dots instead of 1). We'll see why the
12th fret is particularly significant in a minute.
Once we get beyond the 12th
fret, the pattern of inlays repeats itself. So, the inlay markers will
be at frets
15, 17, 19,
21 and 24 if your
It's a good idea to learn these inlay positions
and their corresponding fret numbers to start with (that was a hint!).
Fretboard Basics #2 - Open Strings & Octaves
Your guitar will most likely have 6 strings
(sorry, this site doesn't cover guitars with 7 or more strings... yet!).
From low to high (low being the lowest
fattest string) we have:
E A D G B and
e (small "e" representing the higher
This is known as standard tuning and is by far the
most common guitar tuning.
Playing any of the strings without pressing any
fingers on the fretboard is known as playing the string
So an open string is basically an unfretted string (e.g. open E, open
A, open D etc.).
Now, here's where the 12th fret
comes in - if you play any
of the 6 strings open, then press that same string at the 12th
fret, you get the same note but what is called
an octave higher. This means the equivalent of "12 frets higher" or "12 semitones higher".
You will better understand why this is as you
progress, but in short
there are 12 notes in total in the musical alphabet. Once you get
passed the 12th note, the alphabet repeats, with the higher pitched
octave notes. More on this another time!
If your guitar has 24 frets, the 24th fret will be
an octave higher than the 12th fret, and therefore
two octaves higher than the open string!
This also means that notes/frets past the 12th
fret will be an octave higher than their corresponding lower fret for
For example, the 13th
is an octave of the 1st fret for each string. The 17th
fret is an octave
of 5th fret. Try and learn all the corresponding
octaves past the 12th
fret as you'll be referencing these all throughout your guitar playing
We'll be looking more at what we actually call the
notes in between
the open - 12th fret - 24th frets in a later fretboard
lesson. For now, though, just ensure you can identify the open strings,
the fret numbers and their octaves beyond the 12th fret.
Numbering your frets is also beneficial when it
comes to reading
guitar tab (a form of notation for guitar), it will show you
at which fret
numbers you need to press your fingers for each string.
Want a head start with mastering the fretboard? I highly recommend
taking a look at Guitar Notes Master.