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Notes on a Guitar

Roadmap of the Notes on a Guitar

Notes on a Guitar

At some point along your guitar journey, you’ve probably wondered, “What are the notes on the guitar?”

Whether you want to learn how to improvise rock solos or play perfect classical etudes, knowing what the notes on the guitar are will be a huge help in your journey.

This roadmap will show you where you can find each note, so you can take your playing to the next level. No matter what your goals are as a guitarist, knowing which notes you’re playing will help you communicate musical ideas and learn new techniques in a more efficient way.

For many beginning guitarists, learning the notes on the fretboard is not a priority. While many other musicians learn the note names for their instruments from the very start, new guitarists can rock out basic chords without ever learning what the notes on the guitar are. While this is fine in the beginning, you’ll eventually want to get a grip on the note locations!

In this article, we’ll show you how to memorize the notes on a guitar. We’ll also teach you a few shapes to help you play scales and chords in any major key you want!

Guitar Notes for Standard Tuning

A great place to start getting to know the notes on a guitar is by memorizing the notes of each string played open. “Play open” means without holding down any of the frets.

If your guitar is tuned to standard tuning, these notes should be E-A-D-G-B-E, starting from the lowest pitched string and moving up to the highest.

Memorize the sentence “Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.” This will help you remember the order of the open strings in standard tuning.

The guitar, like the piano, is based on a chromatic scale. In chromatic music, there are 12 notes in an octave, each a half step apart. Each fret on the fingerboard of the guitar raises the pitch of the string by one half step. If you were to hold down all strings on the 12th fret, the notes are the same as the strings played open, just an octave higher.

Guitar Notes on the E and A Strings

For many beginners, the notes on the E and A strings will be the most important notes to memorize. This is because these notes are the root notes for the most common movable chord shapes. The E note on guitar is the easiest to find — there are two open strings to choose from!

One way to figure out what the notes on the guitar are is to think about each open string as the base note of a scale. Take a look at the guitar tab below to see what a scale looks like on the low E string:

notes on guitar e string scale

(If you need help reading charts like the one above, check out this article on how to read guitar tabs).

Following this tab, you will play the notes E, F, G, A, B, C, D, ending with E an octave higher.  These are called “natural” notes. If  you were playing the piano, these notes would be the white keys. Sharp and flat notes occur between the natural notes; on the piano, those would be the black keys.

Most natural notes on the guitar are two frets apart. The exception is the single fret intervals between E and F (open string and the first fret) and between B and C (seventh and eighth frets).

For another example, take a look at the natural notes in an octave on the A string:

notes on a guitar a string

As you follow this tab, you will play the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and A. Notice again that there is just one fret between B and C (the second and third frets) and between E and F (the seventh and eighth frets).

To memorize the guitar notes on the E and A strings, practice playing just the natural notes going up and down the strings. Say the name of each note as you play it. Repeat this a few times at the beginning of your guitar practice each day until you feel comfortable.

The Notes on a Guitar Fretboard

You can continue learning the natural notes on the guitar one string at a time following along with the diagram below. Note that this diagram shows sharp notes (ie. F#) but not flat notes (ie. Gb).

guitar notes on the fretboard

A sharp note is a half step higher than the natural note. A flat note is a half step lower. Depending on what key you are playing in, the same note may be referred to as F# or Gb.

Here’s the same diagram, this time showing flat notes instead of sharps:

flat notes on a guitar

Practice Guitar Notes with Movable Scales & Chords

Simply memorizing each note on the guitar won’t improve your playing very much. You also have to understand how the notes relate to each other! The layout of notes on a guitar may seem random, but these simple scale and chord shapes will help you to remember them.

Try this guitar tab for a scale in G major:

movable guitar scale 6th string root

Notice that the scale starts on G, on the third fret of the low E string. For your left hand fingering, we recommend using your index finger for all notes on the second fret, your middle finger for all notes on the third fret, your ring finger on the fourth fret, and your pinkie on the fifth.

Now, try starting on the 4th fret and play this scale pattern again, moving each note up by one fret. Congratulations!  You just played a scale in G# major. Even if you weren’t able to name all the notes you just played, knowing the correct intervals ensures you’re playing notes within the correct key.

Using the same fingering, you can play a scale starting with any note on the fretboard. The first note of this scale is the root note and determines the key of the scale. Practice this scale by moving it up and down the fretboard, one fret at a time.

Here’s another movable scale pattern for you to practice, this time starting on the A string. This scale is shown in D major, but it can also be moved all over the fretboard.

movable guitar scale 5th string root

You can also learn chord shapes that can be moved around the fretboard. The simplest of these shapes are called “power chords.”

To play a power chord in F with the root note on the low E string, place your index finger on the first fret of the E string. Next, use your ring finger to hold down the A string at the third fret and use your pinkie to hold the D string at the third fret. Strum just the three strings you are holding down.

Maintaining the same shape with your left hand, move each finger up one fret. Strum only the strings you have fretted. Now you’re playing a power chord in F#.

Practicing Guitar Notes with Power Chords

Now move each finger down one string, so that you are holding the second fret on the A string with your index finger and the fourth fret on the D and G strings with your ring and pinkie fingers respectively. Strum these three strings. You are now playing a power chord in B.

You can move this power chord shape up and down the fretboard as long as your root note starts on the low E or A strings. Remember, the root note is the note your index finger is fretting. This note will determine the key of the chord.

The Guitar Note Game

Ready for another fun way to learn what the notes on the guitar are? Try a game of guitar note hide-and-seek!

This game is simple: Pick a note and try to find where it is on every string. Then, see if you can play them one after another in rhythm! It may sound easy at first, but it takes some practice.

For example, let’s find all the C notes on the guitar. On the low E string, the C note is found on the eighth fret. If you have any doubts, start at the open E note on the guitar and count the half steps (frets) all the way up to C.

On the A string, C is found on the third fret. On the D string, C is found at the tenth fret. And so on! Check the fretboard diagram above if you get stuck.

Next, put on your metronome and try to play each C note, on every string, in rhythm! Though it may not sound very musical, jumping all over the fretboard like this is a great way to get to know your instrument.

Now that you’re more familiar with guitar notes, it’ll be easier to learn chords and scales. You’re one step closer to mastering your favorite songs. Remember to keep practicing, and good luck on your musical journey!

If you need help mastering the fretboard, find your guitar teacher today!

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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