Quick! Play me a Bb major scale! Now play a G# minor chord! If you can do this, you are ready to rock n roll! If not, it’s most likely that you don’t know how to play the bar chord/scale shapes or know the fretboard notes on guitar. The scale shapes are relatively easy as they can be the same shape no matter where you play them but it’s the note that we start on that determines what chord or key it will be. How do we find those notes? I’m going to show you!
Learning the all of the fretboard notes on guitar can be a daunting task if you try to memorize it all in one go. Depending on your guitar, there are around 120 frets which means there are 120 different notes to memorize! However, the guitar is all about patterns and the more we train our brain to see those patterns, the easier it will be for us to easily find the notes we need.
Where Should We Start?
Starting on the low E string (6th string) is definitely the priority here. There are two main reasons that immediately pop into my head which benefit us from starting here: 1) We can combine the notes with bar chord shapes to play any bar chord we desire and 2) We can set up our scales on the 6th string in the right key to be able to jump right into improvisation or theory. If you have not yet learned bar chords or a scale, this is a great time to start learning them!
If you’ve studied a bit of music, you will know that the “natural” notes go in order according to the alphabet more or less. The notes go as follows:
A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B etc
As you can see, we follow the alphabet until the letter G then we restart at the letter A again. However, some of these notes have notes in between them that we refer to as sharps ‘#’ or flats ‘b’. Let’s take a new look at the notes in order:
A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A etc
Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, Tony! Why are there two notes in between our natural notes?! Well, these notes are actually the same note meaning that they will share the same fret, we just refer to them differently based on which key we are in. For beginners, I would recommend always using the name of either the ‘#’ note or the ‘b’ note to memorize them more easily. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about what these symbols mean.
Accidentals: “Sharp” ‘#’ and “Flat” ‘b’
The symbols, “sharp” ‘#’ and “flat” ‘b’ refer to whether a note is higher or lower than the natural note. If a note is sharp ‘#’, it is higher than the natural note. If a note is flat ‘b’, it is lower than the natural note. To put this into practice, let’s use our guitar as an example. The 3rd fret of our low E string (6th string) is G. If we go below this G to 2nd fret, it will be Gb. If we go higher than this note to the 4th fret, it will be G#. This rule always applies to our notes but if we take a closer look at the notes I listed above, there are two combinations of notes that have nothing between them.
The notes that have nothing between them are E – F and B – C. If you go one fret higher than an E, you get an F instead of an E#. The same thing happens with a B. Instead of going to a B#, you get a C. Make sure you remember these exceptions to the rule!
Using the Guitar Fretboard Notes
Now that we have a basic understanding of how to put the guitar fretboard notes in order, let’s apply this to our low E string and figure out the notes. Starting with the open string, we have the note E. If we go up one fret, what note are we playing? The correct answer is an F! Remember that there is no sharp or flat between E and F. Continuing on from there, we have our basic note patterns: E – F – F# – G – G# – A – A# – B – C – C# – D – D# – E. I only used sharps here for the example so that it’s not too confusing. If you prefer flats, feel free to memorize the notes that way for now!
Now that we have the notes in order, we can apply these to our frets and see that 1st fret of our 6th string is F, 2nd fret if F#, 3rd fret is G, 4th fret is G#, etc. We can use that all the way up the 6th string and map out all of the frets! Now you know all the notes on the 6th string and can combine this knowledge with bar chords or scales.
This is a method to be able to memorize all of the frets on every string but it can definitely take a lot of time and focus. However, there are some awesome shortcuts to seeing patterns on the strings to drastically reduce the amount of time and effort it will take to memorize the fretboard. I go over all of these shortcuts in a completely free 5-day course that also includes other fantastic techniques to elevate your playing. You don’t need anything but an email address to get started and I will send you 5 great lessons over the course of the next 5 days. What have you got to lose?! Check out my course and master the fretboard in no time!
Keep rockn’ and I’ll see you soon!