The Ultimate Guide to Notes on a Guitar

Looking for help with guitar notes? You’ve come to the right place. Whether you want to learn to improvise jaw-dropping solos, play brilliant classical etudes, or anything in between, learning where to find notes on a guitar is a vital step in your musical journey.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about guitar notes, guitar strings, and intervals.

Guitar Notes: The Ultimate Guide

How Guitar Strings Work

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Understanding the basic mechanics and parts of a guitar is necessary to learn how to play guitar notes.

In simple terms, a guitar works by disrupting air around the strings, creating a vibration. That vibration is then amplified by the hollow chamber of the guitar and the guitar bridge to create the sounds you hear.

The speed and depth of the string’s vibration influences the pitch of the sound that comes from the guitar.

Electric guitars work in a similar fashion, but instead of the sound vibrating through a hollow chamber, the sounds of the strings vibrating against the bridge are amplified by an outside speaker. Electric guitars, on their own, are very quiet.

The strings don’t produce much noise unless an amp is attached, because the sound of the string has no hollow chamber to travel into.

A traditional guitar has six strings and each string is responsible for a different note. The string’s width influences the amount of vibration that’s produced by the string, which influences the sound of each note.

The length of the string also comes into play. You may notice that a mandolin, for example, has a higher pitch than a traditional acoustic guitar. This is because the strings are shorter, and thus the sound needs less time to travel.

Frets, which will be covered in-depth below, can help you change the pitch of a note, or change the note of a string to a completely different one.

Notes on a guitar are both fluid and concrete. An open string on a well-tuned guitar will always be the same note, but pressing the frets down to alter the distance between the string and the bridge can completely change the resulting sound.

Guitar String Notes

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The notes on a guitar are created by the strings of the guitar.

When holding a guitar, the thickest string, the E string, is at the top of the guitar. The E note is the deepest note.

The rest of the strings get progressively thinner and the notes get higher in pitch. They’re responsible for the A, D, G, B and E notes, respectively.

The thinnest string, which is situated at the bottom of the guitar when you’re holding it, is responsible for the E note, which is two octaves up from the low E note.

As you may note on your guitar, there are also marks along the neck of guitar. These markers indicate the different frets on the guitar. Your guitar may have anywhere between 16 and 24 frets.

When you strum a string without pressing down on a fret, it’s known as an open chord. Each fret represents one half-step of the musical scale.

In order to play a higher pitch note, regardless of the string you’re playing, your hands would be placed on a fret closer to the bridge of the guitar. If you’re fretting at the second fret marker on the guitar, the low E turns into an F sharp, which is often denoted as F#.

Focusing on the low E string, holding down the first fret will produce an F, while holding down the second fret will produce an F#; the third fret will produce a G and the fourth, a G#. The seventh fret on the low E string will produce the B note, while the eighth fret will produce the C note.

This process can be replicated on each of the remaining five strings.

How to Learn Guitar Notes

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For the novice guitar player, the above information may seem complicated. Remember: rock stars, professional session players, and even music teachers started at the same place you are now.

The good news, however, is that if you can master guitar notes and gain an in-depth understanding of how they work, you’re well on your way to truly understanding music theory and being able to play the songs you hear on the radio on your guitar. So now you’re probably wondering about the best ways to learn guitar notes. Here are some of the best options.

Private Lessons

Learning to play an instrument isn’t easy, especially for individuals who have never picked up the instrument before. The guitar, in particular, can seem confusing, but really is a straightforward instrument to play. Once a student understands the basics, it’s perhaps the most enjoyable instrument out there.

To learn the basics, including the anatomy of a guitar, students would be best served learning from a private instructor. A private instructor can offer the guidance and explanation needed for students to truly understand the structure of the guitar.

This is an important framework for understanding how notes on a guitar work, and how they work together to create chords, chord progressions, and eventually songs/blog/basic-guitar-chords-easy-songs-beginners.

Mnemonic Devices

To start learning guitar notes, you’ll need to memorize them.

To do this, you can take yourself back in time to when you were first in grammar school. At some point you probably used mnemonic devices to remember grammar rules or the planets in the solar system.

Simply put, a mnemonic device is a technique that helps you remember something by attaching a rhyming scheme to it, or a phrase.

When it comes to the notes on a guitar, the strings progress as E, A, D, G, B, E. Several professional musicians use the mnemonic device, “Eddie ate dynamite, good-bye Eddie.”

Mnemonic devices can help you remember the names of each note, but for this to be truly helpful, you’ll need to memorize them with the guitar in front of you.

Playing each note while reciting it out loud is perhaps the best way to learn the basics. Experts suggest starting with open notes. An open note, as you know, is simply the act of strumming a string without fretting.

Memorizing Intervals

fretboard-chartThe guitar strings are tuned in intervals of fourths, starting from the lowest pitched string.

That means that the next higher string is 5 half-steps above the previous string. This is true for all sets of strings except for the relationship between the third and second string, which is a third interval (4 half-steps) instead of a fourth interval.

Start by identifying and memorizing all interval fingerings within an octave that are in a practical position to play on the guitar.

For example, looking at the chart to the left, find all the As. You can play A on the fifth fret of the E string, on the open A string, the seventh fret of the D string, the second fret of the G string, and so on.

When you reach the fingering of a fifth interval, you’ll 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 third interval tuning between the third and second strings whenever you use or cross over the second string.

Once you feel comfortable with visualizing all 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 ourselves 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.

This alone will take lots of patient practicing and visualizing. If you’re a visual learner, looking at a guitar fretboard chart – like the one pictured – can really help. You can use this chart to practice even when you don’t have a guitar around.

Practice

It may sound cliché, but now that you have a basic understanding of the notes on a guitar and how they all work in conjunction together, the best step to mastering these very basic concepts is to practice.

Experts suggest looking at the notes and playing each one so you can gain a better understanding of how each note sounds. Experts also suggest completing note exercises with an electric tuner attached to the guitar. A tuner is a small device that connects to the neck of the guitar and measures the tone of each note.

Mostly used to help players tune their guitar, it’s a great learning tool too. It can help you understand how each note should sound when the guitar is correctly tuned, and it’ll further help you understand how the notes on a guitar are connected to the strings that are being strummed.

Remember to have fun when practicing guitar notes! When you step out of a private lesson, you shouldn’t just put your guitar away until the next week. Instead, go home and have fun with what you learned.

Try out different guitar notes, follow along to your favorite songs, and try to work out the notes that are most commonly used in your favorite music. This will not only give you a deeper appreciation for the art of playing guitar, but it’ll make your practice a fun experience.

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Photos by Eli Christman, poppy

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