Knowing all the notes on a guitar fretboard is easier than you think – really, it is!
And, I’m going to show you how to do that – By the end of this article, you will know all the notes on the fretboard and be able to quickly anchor yourself based on key fretboard positions; you’ll need to put a little work in, but it’s all here for you!
It becomes important to know the notes on a guitar fretboard at various stages of guitar playing. For example, when you’re starting out, when you are progressing to playing in different keys and ultimately, when you are mastering the instrument in terms of total fretboard freedom!
There will also be a full fretboard diagram to copy and print in both blank and filled out formats.
I am going to show you:
- That you probably know some notes on each string of the guitar already;
- All about the pattern of frets between the different notes;
- Sharps and flats – no theory here, just think of it as a naming convention for the moment
- Some key relationships across the fretboard; that is what notes are next to each other on adjacent strings;
- Some key anchor points and how to use them.
- This article assumes you are using a 6-string guitar tuned to standard (low to high pitch, thick to thin string, E A D G B E).
- I am assuming that you know there are notes called A B C D E F G that sometimes have #(sharp) and b(flat) signs – don’t’ worry, that’s about the limit of music theory for this article!
- It goes without saying, that playing a certain fret number actually means place your finger just behind that fret (between the fret you want and the nut of the guitar) – the fret numbers really represent the fret that the string you are playing is touching;
- I am using a 22 fret guitar fretboard here, (probably the majority of guitars). If you have a 21 fret guitar, just ignore the last fret! If you have a 24 fret guitar, fill in the last two frets yourself, you have everything you need (hint: copy frets 11 & 12 to frets 23 & 24).
The Fretboard Diagrams
I am going to use a guitar fretboard diagram to show you the notes on guitar strings – please be aware that it is not guitar tab although it does look very similar. The reason for this is that it is not showing you sequences of notes to play, it is a static picture showing you the relationship between string and fret positions and the notes they will produce when played.
Here is a blank one:
The numbers are obviously the frets and you can see that I’ll write note names underneath each string – all will become clear, I promise!
And so, without further messing around, let’s get into this…
You Probably Know Some Notes Already
Bet you do!
If you’ve been playing for a while already, or maybe just started, you’ve probably already been shown some things like the open chords (G, C and D; maybe your first barre chord F; the fact that the 12th fret gives you the same notes as the open string just one octave higher.
— If you haven’t don’t worry, I will explain.
Take a look at this fretboard diagram:
Examine this and you’ll see:
- All the notes at the 12th fret are the same as the open strings (they are just an octave higher);
- Any notes on the high (thin) E string are in the same fret position as they are on the low (thick) E string (they are 2 octaves higher actually, but the main point is, as the two open strings are the same note, you get the same notes at the same fret!);
- Any other notes below the 12th fret are also above the 12th fret (just 12 frets higher – 3rd fret is the same note as 15th fret, it’s just an octave higher, so I’ve filled all of that in here as well);
- On the low E string:
- The 3rd fret is a G (this is where the open G chord is built from);
- The 1st fret is an F (where the F barre chord is built from);
- The 5th fret is an A (this is where most folks are shown the pentatonic scale in first position);
- The 3rd fret of the A string is a C (where the open C chord is built from);
- The 3rd fret of the B string is a D (where the open D chord is built from).
Most of the above is important in what it tells you about the layout of notes on the guitar, particularly the points about octaves. You see, you knew more than you thought already!
The Pattern of Frets and Notes
What do we know already (if you don’t, you will soon!):
- Each fret represents a semi-tone – sometimes called a half-step; in most western music, this is the lowest interval (gap in sound) you’ll get between two formal notes;
- An octave is 12 frets along a string – so there must be 12 semi-tones in an octave; We can just talk about frets then as they are the same thing as semi-tones as far as the guitarist is concerned;
- From the fretboard diagram above, we can see that:
- F is one fret/semi-tone higher than E;
- G is two frets away from F;
- A is two frets away from G
- C is 3 frets away from A (look carefully at the A string in the fretboard diagram above);
- D is 3 frets away from B (look carefully at the B string in the fretboard diagram above).
These are all things you should start to understand as time goes on; this is, the number of frets you move to get from one note to the next or from one note to any other.
This does become second nature after a while, honestly, I’m just introducing the concept to you right now but maybe you knew this already?
But, let me map all the notes on to the fretboard for you:
From this, you can see that most notes are two frets (remember, these are semi-tones) apart except for two pairs – B to C and E to F which are only 1 fret apart.
Folks – that is true no matter the octave, no matter where you start, those note intervals remain true.
Sharps and Flats
Put simply – adding a sharp (#) or a flat (b) to a note just means it’s on one of those frets without a letter – that’s it – nothing more to it!
Really! That’s what they mean to us…
- A# means play the note between A and B (for example, 15th fret B string);
- Bb means – err – play the note between A and B (yeah, I know, but hang on);
- C# means play the note between C and D (for example, 4th fret A string);
- Eb means play the note between D and E (same as D# right? Like at the 11th fret on either E string).
Q – So why have two symbols, # and b, when it’s the same note?
A – Because it’s theory, man – theory. Ok, sensible answer, because it depends on the key signature you are playing in and the fact that any scale can’t have the same letter twice. Don’t worry about that too much unless you want to start understanding more theory, then it matters; but for now, they just mean change a half-step (one fret) up=sharp(#), down=flat(b).
Here are two more fretboard diagrams:
All sharps marked in
All flats marked in
Yep – you will not get B#, E#, nor will you get Cb, Fb (well in totally outlandish situations, the theorists would tell you that you can, but for our purposes you won’t!)
I won’t map the whole thing out as it can’t be correct…
Huh? Because, it depends on the key signature you are playing in; but when someone calls out Bb(flat), you know that’s one fret down from B or one higher than A which is the same as A#(sharp) – so they won’t catch you out anymore!
Important Inter-Note Relationships
We’ve already seen that any note played on the low (thicker) E string can be played on the high (thinner) E string at the same fret and they are two octaves apart – remember that?
(Two octaves because there is another note of the same name between them – the two open E strings have another E at the 2nd fret of the D string, this means the pitch of the note is 2 octaves higher – try playing the 3 notes, you’ll see what I mean – low E, 2nd fret D, high E).
But once you get into this, you start to learn all sorts of relationships as they appear on the guitar fretboard and this is when the real freedom to improvise is born.
I’ll introduce the concept here, but I’ll have another article devoted to this as it’s a massive topic!
Looking at the (low) E, A, D & G strings only – do you see that you get a repeat of a note 2 strings away, two frets higher?
A string 3rd fret is C – you get another at 5th fret G string – this is true between the low E string and the D string as well for any note – two frets higher.
On the D&B strings as well as the G&(high)E strings the notes repeat 3 frets higher – see that?
This must mean that other note pairs are consistent as well – and that’s true. Look at 3rd fret A string (C) and 5th fret D string (G). it happens again at 8th and 10th frets on the (low) E and A strings.
These are all important relationships when it comes to learning more about the guitar – so start to look out and absorb them – it’ll be worth it!
Feel free to make your observations on other things you notice in the comments box below, we can build a lot of knowledge for everyone that way.
Key Anchor Points and How to Use Them
Anchors? What is that all about…
What I’m talking about here is “run home to Mummy” places on the fretboard.
Imagine the situation – you’re jamming away, screaming all over the neck and you forget where you are or the chord changes, or the music changes to a different key.
What do you do? Just stop until you can work it out?
No, you have anchor points.
These will be different for each player – but I’m talking about things like:
- G on the 3rd fret or 15th fret of either E string;
- A on the 5th fret either E string (or the open and 12th fret of the A string);
- C on the first fret of the B string, 3rd and 15th fret A string;
- F on the 13th fret of either E string or the 1st fret of either E string;
- Bb on the 11th fret of the B string or on the 1st fret of the A string.
These are all places you can identify and get to pretty fast, and if you know your arpeggios or scales in these positions, you’ll be able to wing it – ehem – I mean, sound convincing!
Try this out…it will save your ego one of these fine days!
Here, I have shown you how to map the notes on to the guitar fretboard together with some practical tips on how to learn and use this knowledge – this does become more important the more advanced you become, so I highly recommend that you start to absorb this information before it holds you back.
For those that are already fairly good players, you may find this knowledge starts to break down some barriers for you – “I never knew that, it makes sense now” type moments.
Watch out for a follow up article on key “shapes” on the fretboard that give you certain melodic intervals and arpeggios.
I absolutely welcome questions and comments, so please let me know in the comments section and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
And, fellow hobby guitarists, that concludes my guide on how to learn the notes on a guitar fretboard – I really hope this helps you out.
All the best and keep on rockin’