When you look down at your guitar neck, do you sometimes feel like you’re in uncharted territory?
We tend to get familiar with the fret numbers but not the note names. This is okay when you’re first starting out, but as you progress it’s important to start knowing what notes you’re playing.
It initially seems like a huge task, but with a few simple tricks, you can learn all the note names on the guitar pretty quickly.
What are the benefits of learning the fretboard notes?
This is one of those skills that will benefit any guitarist, regardless of skill level, style, or goals.
Here are some of the best reasons to develop your fretboard knowledge.
- A deeper understanding of chords and scales.
- More intentional improvisation.
- Better communication with other musicians – If a keyboard player asks what note you’re playing, you can’t say “6th fret on the A string”.
- Confidence boost – not needing to rely on fixed scale shapes to know what notes will work.
The fastest way to learn the note names on guitar
We’ve got a few steps you can follow to speed things up. Do these in order and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can name many of the notes without much effort. The trick is to begin with the big picture and then narrow in on details later on.
Start by learning the note names for the following:
- Open strings – most of you should already know these, E A D G B e
- Learn 5th frets – they’re the same as our next open string!* A D G C E a. Easy right?
- 7th frets – are the same note as our previous open string (an octave higher)* B E A D F# b 🤯
- You can think of the D string as the same as E just two frets higher!
*Keep in mind that the B string breaks the system slightly – so you need to make a one-fret adjustment when applying these ideas around that string. You’ve probably already noticed this when using the 5th frets to tune your guitar (you have to drop down a fret on the G string to get a B note).
Do I need to learn all the notes on the guitar neck?
Yes and no.
The aim is to learn all the notes on the fretboard, but you don’t necessarily need to learn each one individually.
- As we’ve just shown, once you understand some patterns and lock in a few reference points on the neck, you can quickly figure out what note you’re playing, anywhere on the neck.
- Over time you’ll come to know the note names instinctively and won’t need to think about it as much.
5 Tips for learning the fretboard
If you dedicate a few minutes per day to learning the notes on your guitar, it’ll only take a couple of weeks to master it.
Here are our top practice tips to help you get there.
#1 – Forget about sharps and flats (for now)
By learning a couple of simple rules, you can cut down the amount of notes you need to learn by almost half!
- If you know your natural notes (C D E F G A B) then you can easily identify the sharps(#) and flats(b).
- For example, one fret below an A will be Ab and one fret above the A is A#.
- The only exceptions to this rule are B – C, and E – F, there is no sharp/flat between those notes.
This method just speeds up the learning process, over time you’ll recognize all the notes independently.
#2 – Learn up to the 12 fret
The 12th fret is where everything repeats again – there’s no need to approach it as though it’s a whole different beast.
- If you learn the first 12th frets inside out, it’s just a matter of making a visual adjustment when moving everything up the neck.
- Even the fret markers are mirrored to make navigation easy – 3rd fret marker is the same note as the 15th fret marker, 5th fret = 17th, 7th = 19th, etc.
#3 – Focus on one musical note at a time
Instead of going up the fretboard trying to memorize all the different notes in sequence, focus on a single musical note and learn it in every position on the neck.
- Each note will appear once per string (within 12 frets).
- Like chords and scales, the pattern is moveable.
- Don’t try to memorize more than one note per day (take even longer if you need to).
Below is a chart showing where each natural note is on every string.
- On day one you learn where the F note is on each string (1st Fret on the E string, 8th fret on the A string, etc.)
- Spend 5 to 10 minutes just playing the notes and creating the mind/muscle connection.
- Saying the note name while doing this will help burn it to memory.
- Repeat this process a few times throughout the day.
- Some may have noticed that we organized each day in the ‘order of flats’.
- This is just to create some physical distance from the previous day’s note to help avoid crossover.
- If you didn’t already know the order of flats, this will be an added bonus!
Here’s a fretboard diagram of ‘Day 1 – F’ to help visualize the numbers on the chart – this shows all the F notes within the first 12 frets.
#4 – Get familiar with octaves
Once you’ve practiced learning a single note in every position, you can move on to doubling them up.
Playing the same note in two positions simultaneously will help strengthen your fretboard visualization and also build a valuable improvisational tool – doubling up a melody with octaves is a common trick in jazz guitar.
Unless you’re planning on doing some monster finger stretches, your nearest octave will be always found by skipping over a string.
#5 – Practice with a metronome
A metronome doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice when learning something theoretical, but you need a certain amount of pressure to improve recall speed.
- Working to a tempo will force you to think quickly.
- You'll also quickly discover which areas of the neck you find more difficult to memorize.
- The time constraint will keep you focused and allow you to highlight the notes you need to pay more attention to.
Check out our free online metronome if you don’t have one to hand.
Hopefully, the fretboard doesn’t seem like such an ogre anymore! 👹
You’ve now got everything you need to build a rock-solid knowledge of all the notes on the guitar neck.
Just remember to start with the basics and build around that.
- Be smart! Don't try to brute force it and learn every single note individually.
- First, learn the open strings, then the 5th frets, then the 7th frets – easy!
- Once you’ve got those reference points, it becomes way easier to figure out the other nearby notes.
After that, just commit seven days to learning the natural notes on each string and the rest will fall into place before you know it!
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