Unlike the piano keys, there is no clear pattern to the notes on a guitar. In order to learn chords, riffs, and songs, you must first learn the names of the notes on the fretboard. With a little patience and a basic understanding of guitars and music theory, the notes on a guitar can become second nature to anyone. This article refers to guitars that are 'standard' tuned. On standard tuned guitars, the open strings (from thick to thin) are tuned E A D G B E.
Method 1 of 2: The basics
Step 1. Learn the tuning of the open strings (the notes of each unpressed string)
The guitar has six strings, the thickest and heaviest at the top and the thinnest at the bottom. Guitar strings are counted from the bottom up -- so the thinnest string is the 1st and the thickest is the 6th. From bottom to top are the notes E B G D and E. There are several ways to memorize the strings, but one of the simplest is:
Step 2. Know that notes are in alphabetical order, from A to G
In western music, notes are indicated by the letters A - G. After the G, you continue with A, but a higher version of the A. As you go down the fingerboard (the fretboard) (towards the body of the guitar), then you go through scales. The E is therefore higher on the fingerboard than the F, the G and then the next A.
- The note for it is lower. So one B is lower than the next C.
- A note further on is a higher note. An E is a higher note than the earlier D.
Step 3. Recognize the raised and lowered notes between the letters
Between the notes are the raised notes (represented by a #) and lowered notes (represented by a ♭). The raised notes are those immediately after a letter, such as an A→ A#, and the lowered notes are those immediately before a letter, such as a D♭→ The raised and lowered E. are interchangeable depending on the music. For example, the note between a C and D is written as a C# or a D♭. The complete collection of notes:
- A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#
- Note that there is no such thing as E# or B#. E and B never have a sharp and the notes just go from E→F. as such there is also no C♭ or F♭. If you can remember this little exception to the rule, the rest is easy.
Step 4. Move down one fret to raise the note half a step
A guitar's frets are numbered, with 0 being the open string, 1 being the fret closest to the headstock, and so on. A half step is simply the movement from one note to the next (A→ A#), including the intermediate notes (sharps and flats), where a full step consists of two notes (A→ B, B→ C#). Each fret is a half step up from the note before it. So:
- On the top string, the first note is the E (the open string).
- The first fret on the top string is a f (Remember, there is no such thing as E#).
- The second fret on the top string is a F#.
- The third fret on the top string is a G.
- This continues until the end of the test. Try to name each note on a string. If you've done it right, you'll come back to the E on the 12th fret.
Step 5. Find all natural notes on the first string
Natural notes are those without a sharp or flat (A, B, C, D, E, F, G). The best place to learn these is to start at the top (the 6th string), on the E. On this string, the first few important notes are indicated by dots on the fretboard.
- E is on the open string.
- F is on the 1st fret.
- G is on the 3rd fret.
- A is on the 5th fret.
- B is on the 7th fret.
- C is on the 8th fret.
- D is on the 10th fret.
- E is on the 12th fret, after which the pattern repeats.
- E is on the 12th fret and the pattern is repeated.
Step 6. Now suppose the guitar has only 12 frets
Frets are small metal bars on the neck. When you press a string down on a fret, it gives you a higher note for each subsequent fret. But at the 12th fret (usually identified by 2 dots on the guitar), it starts all over again. The 12th fret of each string is the same note as the open string, just an octave higher. This means that you only need to learn the notes from frets 0-12, knowing that they are the same after the 12th fret.
- So on the 12th fret, the notes from the first to the last string are E B G D A E again.
- This is because there are only 12 total notes in western music -- A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. After the 12th note (G#) continue with note 1 (the A).
Method 2 of 2: Finding the right note everywhere
Step 1. Learn each individual note first instead of trying to learn the entire key at once
Memorize the first string and focus on a letter. Start by finding all the E's between the headstock and the 12th fret and then move on to another letter. Trying to learn all the notes at once is way too confusing to be productive, so break the task down into individual notes. There are many theories about the order in which you should learn the notes, but a good order to try is E - G - B - F - D - A - C.
- Practice playing no more than one note, using the same finger each time. Work up your speed slowly until you can find every note without looking.
- You can use the top string to find any note. Once you know all the notes on the low E string, you can use the following tricks to find them everywhere.
Step 2. Use octaves to find the same notes on the lower strings
Octaves are the same notes, but in a different pitch. To understand what an octave is, think of singers singing in perfect harmony, one singing a high note and the other singing low and deep, singing the same note. On the guitar, octaves make it easy to find notes. Move two strings down and then 2 frets to the right, and you have an octave. For example, start with your finger on the 6th string, 3rd fret. This is a G. If you go down the 4th string, to the 5th fret, this is also a G.
- There is one exception to this. The 2nd string (open B) is a half step deeper than the rest. So, to find an octave that ends on the 2nd string, go down two strings and three frets to the right.
Step 3. Know that identical notes are only 1 string and 5 frets apart
If you go down 1 string and then 5 frets to the left, you come back to the same note where you started. For example, if you started on the 4th string, 10th fret, you'll find the same note on the 3rd string, 5th fret (both are the C).
- You can also turn this around. A string higher and 5 frets to the right therefore also produces the same note.
- As with the octaves, the 2nd fret is the only exception. If you end up on the 2nd string, you move 4 frets to the left, not 5. So the equal note of the 3rd string, 4th fret is an open B string, or fret 0.
Step 4. Find the patterns on the fretboard
There are several tricks and patterns that can help you always find the right notes by thinking quickly. Using the octaves and equal notes, you can use the following tricks to find each note as you practice:
- The upper and lower strings are equal to each other (both E).
- The D string, the 4th string, is just the E string, but moved 2 frets down.
- The G string, the 3rd string, is just the A string but moved 2 frets down.
- The B string, the 2nd string, is just the A string, but 2 frets up.
Step 5. Take 5-10 minutes to find each note every time you practice
For example, the first week you could practice finding each E on the guitar for the first 5 minutes. For a week, you'll play each E note on the fretboard, practicing until you don't have to count to find the E's or search. The next week you will continue with each F. After a few weeks you will have memorized the entire test.
- Pick a spot on the guitar and just move up and down on all 6 strings, hitting only the E's in the small box you started in. Slowly work up your speed as you play, until you know all the E's in that part of the fretboard.
- Don't worry too much about the notes in between – if you know the scale, the rest is easy to find.
Step 6. Learn how to read sheet music to test your knowledge
Music notation is written out in notes, so learning how to read sheet music and find the corresponding frets on the guitar is the perfect way to learn the notes quickly and efficiently. Finally, if you can play 'prima vista', where you look at the sheet music and find the notes on the guitar as you play, then you have learned the notes perfectly.