You might think it’s impossible to learn every note on the guitar in under ten minutes. After all, there are six strings and up to 22 frets – that’s up to 132 notes! Fortunately there are some systems you can use to make it much easier.
STEP ONE – NAMES OF THE STRINGS
The first thing you need to do is memorize the names of the strings. Maybe you already know that the thickest string is called ‘E’. So when you play this string without placing a finger on any fret, the note you are playing is ‘E’. Playing a note without fretting it is also called playing an ‘open’ string.
The second thickest string is called the ‘A string’. When you play that string without fretting it, you are playing a ‘A’ note.
The string names in order from the thickest to the thinnest are: E, A, D, G, B, E (The first E is sometimes called ‘low E’ and the second is sometimes called ‘high E’. It’s easier to memorize these string names if you make up a sentence based on the letters of the strings. For example, one of my students made the following sentence: “Every Angry Dog Growls, Barks, Eats”. It may help you to remember it if you make up your own sentence.
Now that you have the string names memorized let’s move on.
STEP TWO – THE MUSICAL ALPHABET
The musical alphabet goes from A to G. The sequence then repeats. So the note after G is A. In other words, it goes like this: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C…etc. The second A is an octave higher than the first A.
STEP THREE – THE ONE FRET, TWO FRET TRICK
Any two consecutive notes in the musical alphabet are either one or two frets away from each other. To make this more clear I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Play the second fret on the G string (remember it’s the fourth thickest string). This is an A note that you are playing.
The distance between A and B is two frets so if you move up two frets (to the fourth fret) on that same string you will be playing a B note. The distance between B and C is only one fret so if you move up one more fret to the fifth fret you’ll be playing a C note.
As I mentioned, ALL consecutive notes have either one or two frets between them. B and C are only one fret apart. E and F are also only one fret apart. Every other pair of consecutive notes has two frets between them.
STEP FOUR – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
You know what all the open strings are and you know the distance between the notes.
So if you think about it you have all the information you need to figure out any note on the fretboard. Let’s try some examples.
Let’s say you want to find an A note on the high E string (the thinnest string). You already know that if you play the note open (ie. without placing fingers on any frets) then that note is an E. You also know that the distance between E and F is only one fret. So that means if you move your finger up one fret to the first fret then that note is an F.
Now the distance between F and G is two frets. So you need to move your finger up two frets to the third fret to play a G. Finally, the distance between G and A is also two frets. When you move up two more frets to the fifth fret you will be playing an A.
Lets do one more example. Say you want to find the F note on the D string. You start by playing the open D. Since the distance between D and E is two frets you’ll need to move up to the second fret to find E. The distance between E and F is only one fret so you would move up one more fret to the third fret to find the F note.
A SHORTCUT TO MAKE THINGS A LITTLE EASIER
Here’s a bit of knowledge that will make figuring out notes higher up the fretboard much quicker and easier. The twelfth fret is usually marked with two dots because it is special. The notes at the twelfth fret are the same as the open strings. That means that if you play the twelfth fret on the B string you are playing a B. It’s just an octave higher than the open string.
If you’re trying to figure out a note on the fourteenth fret, it’s much easier to start from the twelfth rather than the open. The same thing is true if you are trying to find a note on the tenth fret. Just start at the twelfth and work backwards.
SHARPS AND FLATS
So if there are two frets between an A and a B what is the fret in between those two notes called?
To understand that you have to know what sharps and flats are. To play a sharp note you just move up one fret. So to play an A sharp you just move up to the next higher fret. So since the second fret on the G string is an A that means the third fret is an A sharp. The sharp symbol looks like a number sign. (#)
To play a flat you move down one fret. That means the first fret on the G string is an A flat. The flat symbol looks like an italic lowercase ‘b’.
That fills in all the holes in the fretboard you may have noticed.
So you can see that it’s possible to figure out any note on the fretboard. Don’t worry if it takes a while to do it now. It gets much easier with just a little practice.
Best of luck to you!