“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” - Plato
Learning how to play the guitar means that you’ll have to learn which notes each of the 20 to 24 frets on the fretboard correspond to.
It’s not easy learning how to play the guitar as you need to coordinate both hands, learn chords (major and minor chords, barre chords, etc.), scales (pentatonic, triads, etc.), and music theory. At an intermediate level, you’ll have to learn how to improvise.
Half of the guitarists in the US and the UK are women. It just goes to show that music knows no gender.
Would you like to learn the notes on a guitar fretboard?
Why Should You Learn the Notes on the Fretboard?
A lot of guitarists play with chords and scales without having ever studied any music theory. They just need to listen to a song and innately understand what’s going on musically.
Some guitarists learn how to play the guitar from a very young age without having to learn music theory. So it’s not necessary to know the notes on the guitar to learn how to play it. However, every musician knows how the fretboard is laid out.
That said, not everyone will be one of these gifted guitarists who can become a virtuoso with almost no formal training. Knowing your way around the fretboard will help you to play chords without needing a chord dictionary.
With a right-handed guitar, you’ll use your left hand to play the notes. You should know which notes make up the chords and where they appear on a fretboard.
Learn the notes of the open strings and the notes of the subsequent 20 to 24 frets. At the start, learning to play the guitar can be tricky because the notes on the fretboard aren’t arranged in a clear way like the keys on a piano.
A guitar neck includes frets and strings.
This means that you need to understand where all the notes are on the fretboard. To get there, there are a few techniques to help you.
Learn about the different types of guitar.
How to Learn Your Way Around the Fretboard
Understanding your fretboard is all about understanding the intervals between musical notes.
The first stage consists of learning the notes of the open strings in standard tuning: E, A, D, G, B, E. The lowest and highest strings in standard tuning are both tuned to E.
In your first guitar lessons, you’ll learn that you can divide the guitar neck into two main parts.
- The low strings: The 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings.
- The high strings: The 2nd and 1st strings.
All strings are 5 semitones apart except for between the G and B string which are four. This will help you when learning the notes on the fretboard.
Another way to understand the neck is to understand that any note can be played on a lower string if you move up five frets or on a higher string if you move five frets down. Moving between G and B strings is different as you’ll have to move up or down four frets.
If you play the third fret on the high E string, you’ll be playing a “G”. If you move up five frets and move up to the B string, you’ll play the same note.
If you play the third fret on the B string, you’ll play a “D”. By going up four frets and moving up to the G string, you can play the same “D”.
If you play the 5th fret on the D string, how can you play it on the A string?
By playing the 10th fret!
Make sure you keep your guitar clean.
Learning the First Three Strings of the Guitar
You’ll quickly learn the open note on each string.
You need to understand that the interval between each fret is a semitone.
Here’s the rule for the first E string: There are no semitones between E and F and B and C. All the other notes have a semitone between them. This is why there’s only a fret between B and C and E and F. There are two frets between every other note. The first fret is, therefore, an F. Next, let’s find the interval between each fret.
What does the third fret on the E string play?
And on the fifth fret?
If you count between 3 and 5, there are two frets, two semitones. This means you’ll end up with an A.
Since an octave spans twelve semitones, the note of each open string repeats on the 12th fret. The 12th fret on every string is an octave higher than the string when played open.
Most guitar necks have inlays in the shape of dots or trapeziums (or something fancier) on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and 21st frets. Since we know that the 5th fret is A, then the 7th fret is B. This makes the 8th fret C, the 10th fret D, and the 12th fret E.
You can do the same for the A and D strings.
Find out how to properly hold a guitar.
Getting to Know the Neck of Your Guitar
To play a chord progression or find a particular harmony, you might want to learn a scale.
If you know the notes on the 5th and 6th strings, you should be able to play any major or minor chord.
Let’s take C the major scale: C D E F G A B C.
Let’s go to the following positions:
- E string: E, F (1st fret), G (3rd fret).
- B string: B, C (1st fret), D (3rd fret).
- G string: G, A (2nd fret).
- D string: D, E (2nd fret), F (3rd fret).
- A string: A, B (2nd fret), C (3rd fret).
- E string: E, F (1st fret), G (3rd fret).
To make a C major chord, you need to remember that the C is the tonic. Next, you need the third, the E. The fifth is G. The seventh is B. Thanks to the fact that each fret is a semitone, you can discern that the fret after an F is an F#.
The fret below a B will be a Bb. However, this is also the A#.
You should learn which notes the first three frets on each string are. You’ll find the following notes on the first three threads on each string:
- High E string: E, F, F#, G.
- B string: B, C, C#, D.
- G string: G, G#, A, A#.
- D string: D, D#, E, F.
- A string: A, A#, B, C.
- Low E string: E, F, F#, G.
You’ve just learnt the chromatic scale. You can find scale diagrams and tablature online to help you.
Work your way around the major and minor scales from C until you get back to C. This will help you work on your finger placement and you should then be able to transpose them anywhere on the fretboard.
To conclude, don’t waste your time learning the notes all over the fretboard as you can transpose them from the ones you already know.
If you'd like to learn more about how to play the guitar, there are plenty of useful resources online. You can find tablature sites to show you how to play certain songs as well as video tutorials on sites like YouTube. However, if you prefer to be taught how to play, you should consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced guitar tutors on Superprof.
There are three types of guitar tutorial available: face-to-face, online, and group. Each of these come with their pros and cons and it's really up to you to choose which one works best with your learning style and your budget.
Generally speaking, face-to-face tutorials are the most effective as they're just between you and your tutor. Your tutor can focus all their time and energy on you during the tutorial and also plan the tutorials with you in mind. However, this bespoke service comes at a cost and while guitar tutors don't tend to charge a fortune, face-to-face tutorials are usually the most costly type of tutorial available.
Online tutorials are similar to face-to-face tutorials in the respect that they're just between the tutor and the student but their main difference is that the tutor won't be there with you in the room. Instead, they'll be teaching you remotely via webcam and video conferencing software. While these types of tutorials tend to be cheaper than face-to-face tutorials, they do have the disadvantage of not being as effective for hands-on subjects.
Finally, there are group tutorials. With several students in a single tutorial, you won't get as much one-on-one time with your tutor and there's no guarantee that the tutorials will be tailored to you; there are other students that need to be taught, after all. With all the students footing the bill, these tutorials tend to work out the cheapest per student per hour.
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