Step by Step Process for Learning the Fretboard Notes
First, we need to understand what notes are and how they are written.
In their most basic form, notes are the pitch of a sound.
For example, play any string on your guitar at any fret and it will sound a note.
The Three Note Types
There are three types of note - natural, flat and sharp.
For example, an A natural note would simply be written as A.
An A flat note would typically be written as A♭ or Ab.
An A sharp note would typically be written as A♯ or A#.
If we were to visualize the flat and sharp notes in relation to the natural note, we would see the natural in the middle with the flat on the left and sharp on the right...
A♭ A A♯
The flat note is lower in pitch than the natural note. The sharp note is higher in pitch than the natural note.
Referencing Pitch Changes
We also use the terms flat and sharp when referencing a change in pitch.
For example, let's say we had a sequence of notes and we wanted to communicate that one note had changed from its original position.
If the note has moved down in pitch, we'd say it's been flattened (to flatten a pitch).
If the note has moved up in pitch, we'd say it's been sharpened (to sharpen a pitch).
Here's how we'd visualize these changes on the fretboard, with N being your starting note (on any string)...
So as well as flats and sharps being a part of individual note names, they also tell us where notes have moved in pitch.
The Musical Alphabet
Just like on piano, there are 12
notes in total on guitar, that make up what is known as
the chromatic scale.
This means for every 12
frets on the guitar, starting at any fret on any string,
you are covering the entire range of notes. Starting on the note A...
The note after G♯/A♭ will be the note A - the sequence repeats every 12 notes. This 12 note sequence is known as the chromatic or 12 tone scale.
The pitches that have sharp and flat notes are known as enharmonic. A♯ and B♭ are the same pitch (they are enharmonic), as are C♯ and D♭ etc. Which one we use depends on a few factors and you will learn what these are as you progress.
Now, you'll notice that some notes are not separated by sharps or flats - namely, B and C, E and F. This means that a B♯ would in fact be C. C♭ would be B. E♯ would in fact be F.
Contrary to common knowledge, there are instances where you would write
the notes C and F as B♯ and
E♯ respectively, but we'll come to all that later. All you need to know
is that the above is the natural sequence of notes to memorize when
we apply them to the guitar fretboard.
On the Guitar Fretboard
with the low E (6th) string, let's first learn the
- The open E string gives us a low E note. The 12th fret E is the same note, but an octave higher in pitch.
- F note at the 1st fret
- G note at the 3rd fret
- A note at the 5th fret
- B note at the 7th fret
- C note at the 8th fret
- D note at the 10th fret
Remember, the note sequence repeats beyond the 12th fret octave, so the 13th fret will be the octave of (same note as) the 1st fret F. The 17th fret will be the octave of the 5th fret A. See if you can find these note octaves beyond the 12th fret.
Now all we need to do is fill in the gaps with the sharps/flats from earlier. Again, don't worry about whether to use a sharp or flat at this stage, just memorize the positions of these enharmonic notes...
- F sharp / G flat at the 2nd fret
- G sharp / A flat at the 4th fret
- A sharp / B flat at the 6th fret
- C sharp / D flat at the 9th fret
- D sharp / E flat at the 11th fret
Now on to the A (5th) string. Again, memorize the natural notes
first, starting from the open A string...
- A note on the open string. The 12th fret A is an octave higher.
- B note at the 2nd fret
- C note at the 3rd fret
- D note at the 5th fret
- E note at the 7th fret
- F note at the 8th fret
- G note at the 10th fret
think you get the idea now! Fill in the flat/sharp
- A sharp / B flat at the 1st fret
- C sharp / D flat at the 4th fret
- D sharp / E flat at the 6th fret
- F sharp / G flat at the 9th fret
- G sharp / A flat at the 11th fret
If you want, you can apply exactly the same method for memorising the notes on the other strings. Remember, the same sequence of notes exist on the high E string as on the low E, just in a higher octave pitch (the high E string notes are 2 octaves higher than the low E string notes).
So that just leaves the D, G and B strings.
The below diagram shows the completed fretboard with the fret numbers
is for open string)...
You can download a larger, printable version of this diagram here.
Help With Fretboard Note Memorization
To test your knowledge, try the following exercise. Pick any note in your head and see if you can locate it on all 6 strings. At first, you'll be slow, but the more you test yourself like this, the quicker and more "automatic" your note identification will become.
You can also try this fretboard trainer and see what score you get. Try and beat that score on a daily basis.