Memorizing the guitar fretboard notes is something every beginning guitarist should work toward. Here, we’ll share a quick exercise and guitar notes chart to help you get started.
If the guitar had only one string, it would be quite easy to understand the mechanics of the guitar fretboard. It would be laid out just like a piano, where the further to the right you go, the higher the pitch and vice versa.
It’s not that easy when it comes to understanding a traditional six-string guitar. However with six strings, you get many options for how to play the same note, interval, chord, phrase, and even song.
There is so much variation in sound, which makes the guitar a very unique and beautiful instrument.
Mastery of the guitar fretboard, along with great ear training and technique, will give you the freedom to express yourself on the instrument without any obstacles. Keep reading to learn more!
Understanding the Guitar Fretboard Neck Notes
In order to understand the guitar fretboard notes, you need to keep in mind the intervallic relationship between each string and be able to visualize all the possible fingerings for all intervals.
The guitar strings are tuned in intervals of 4ths, starting from the lowest pitched string. That means that the next higher string is five half-steps above the previous string.
This is true for all sets of strings except for the relationship between the 3rd and 2nd string, which is a 3rd interval (four half-steps) instead of a 4th interval.
This lets us know that the guitar fretboard is not completely symmetrical and that we need to compensate for the 3rd interval every time we go to, or come from, the 2nd string.
RELATED: How to Read Guitar Tabs
Memorizing the Fretboard
Now let’s go over some simple exercises that will help you memorize the guitar fretboard notes. Use the helpful guitar notes chart on the left as a guide.
Start by identifying and memorizing all interval fingerings within an octave that are in a practical position to play on the guitar neck.
For example, a unison, or same note, can be played on the same fret of the same string, or you can also play it on the next higher string but five frets lower in pitch.
As we discussed, the distance between strings is a 4th interval (five half-steps), and each half-step is equal to one fret on the guitar. So you can play the same note on the next higher string simply by going down five frets.
When you reach the fingering of a 5th interval, you will have three practical shape options:
- Same string / 7 frets up
- Next higher string / 2 frets up
- Skip a string / 3 frets down
Keep in mind to compensate for the 3rd interval tuning between the 3rd and 2nd strings whenever you use or cross over the 2nd string.
Once you feel comfortable with visualizing all the possible fingerings within an octave, it’s time to explore these same intervals but in reverse.
This time around, let’s start with the first note on the first string and work your way down in pitch using the same interval fingerings but in reverse. Remember to stick to practical fingerings that you can incorporate into your playing.
The next step would be to explore interval fingerings that are larger than an octave. You can use the next higher or lower octave note as an anchor point to help you visualize where you need to go.
SEE ALSO: Tips for Reading Guitar Chord Charts
This exercise will take lots of patient practicing and visualizing. If you’re a visual learner, looking at a guitar neck note chart – like the one pictured above – can really help.
You can use this guitar notes chart to practice even when you don’t have a guitar around.
This system will eventually allow you to explore scales, lines, and chords anywhere on the fretboard and change positions whenever you want.
It’s also important that you get your ear used to hearing the intervals between notes in scales, chords, and lines so that you can incorporate this system into your playing and feel comfortable all over the fretboard.
We hope this system helps you in understanding the basic mechanics of guitar fretboard notes and lets you play the guitar more freely. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below.
For more help mastering the guitar fretboard, check out our live, online guitar classes today!
Edwin I. teaches guitar, songwriting, music theory and more in Hawthorne, CA. He is a professional teacher and performer with over 17 years of experience, and a graduate of the University of Miami’s Studio Music and Jazz program. Learn more about Edwin here!