4. Notes on the Fretboard (BC-102)

The musical alphabet contains 12 notes. Starting at A, these are:

  • A
  • A#/Bb
  • B
  • C
  • C#/Db
  • D
  • D#/Eb
  • E
  • F
  • F#/Gb
  • G
  • G#/Ab

You might notice that there are three different types of notes here:

  1. Notes without the # or b symbol after them (e.g. C)
  2. Notes with a # symbol after them (e.g. C#)
  3. Notes with a b symbol after them (e.g. Db)

The # symbol tells us that the note is a ‘sharp’, so we would say “C sharp” when we see C#.

The b symbol tells us that the note is a ‘flat’, so we would say ‘D flat’ when we see Db.

All of the notes can have a sharp (#) or a flat (b), with the exception of:

  • B – no sharp
  • C – no flat
  • E – no sharp
  • F – no flat

You might also notice that for those notes where there are sharps (e.g. A#), we also have the flat note of the next note up (e.g. Bb):

  • A#/Bb
  • C#/Db
  • D#/Eb
  • F#/Gb
  • G#/Ab

Each of these note combinations (e.g. A# and Bb, C# and Db, etc.) sound exactly the same and are called enharmonic equivalents. Don’t worry about this for the moment if it’s getting confusing, we just need to understand that the same note can have a different name when it is a flat or a sharp, so A# can also be called Bb, C# can also be called Db, etc. as shown below:

  • A#/Bb – sounds the same. Can be called either A# or Bb.
  • C#/Db – sounds the same. Can be called either C# or Db.
  • D#/Eb – sounds the same. Can be called either D# or Eb.
  • F#/Gb – sounds the same. Can be called either F# or Gb.
  • G#/Ab – sounds the same. Can be called either G# or Ab.

Notes on the Fretboard

As we already know, the guitar has 6 strings: low E, A, D, G, B, high E. These can be represented on a fretboard diagram as follows:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933

If use what we have just learned about the musical notes, we can apply this to the guitar fretboard. Each fret is a note, so if we start on the low E string, we have:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=6 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=6 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=6 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=6 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=6 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=6 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=6 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=6 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=6 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=6 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=11 string=6 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933

Notice when we get to the 12th fret (the fret on the far right of the diagram), we repeat the sequence, starting with the E note. This is the same for all of the strings – the note on the 12th fret of each string is the same as the note on the open string.

Now we can do the same for the A string:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=5 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=5 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=5 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=5 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=5 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=5 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=5 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=5 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=5 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=5 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=11 string=5 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933

For the D string:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=4 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=4 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=4 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=4 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=4 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=4 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=4 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=4 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=4 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=4 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=4 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933

For the G string:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=3 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=3 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=3 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=3 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=3 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=3 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=3 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=3 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=3 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=3 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=11 string=3 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933

For the B string:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=2 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=2 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=2 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=2 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=2 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=2 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=2 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=2 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=2 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=2 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=11 string=2 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933

The top E string has exactly the same notes as the bottom E, so we have:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=1 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=1 text=F#/Gb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=1 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=1 text=G#/Ab color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=1 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=1 text=A#/Bb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=1 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=1 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=1 text=C#/Db color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=1 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=11 string=1 text=D#/Eb color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933

Do I Need to Learn All of the Notes?

You may be looking at these diagrams and thinking how on Earth am I supposed to remember all of these notes? Knowing the notes on the fretboard is an extremely useful skill for a guitarist to have, but it can take years before you can view these instinctively. Don’t get overly hung up on trying to memorise all of these notes, otherwise you could drive yourself mad. As we progress through the course we will repeat this information and it will gradually sink in until it becomes second nature. You can also take comfort in the fact that there are many amazing guitarists who play by instinct and would struggle to find all of the notes on the fretboard.

For now, it’s useful to try and remember the notes of the open strings, E A D G B E. You can remember these using the following phrase:

Eddy Ate Dynamite, Goodbye Eddy!

Once you have these memorised, you can count up the frets from the open strings to find the notes you are looking for.

If you are keen to try and memorise some of the notes on the strings (rather than counting up from the open string), it’s easier to start by skipping the sharp/flat notes, as follows:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=6 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=6 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=6 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=6 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=6 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=6 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=5 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=5 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=5 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=5 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=5 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=5 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=4 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=4 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=4 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=4 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=4 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=4 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=3 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=4 string=3 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=3 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=3 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=9 string=3 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=3 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=2 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=2 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=2 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=6 string=2 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=2 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=2 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=1 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=1 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=1 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=1 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=1 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=1 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933

 

Obviously, this is still a lot of notes, so you might want to break it down by string, e.g:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=6 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=6 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=5 string=6 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=7 string=6 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=8 string=6 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=10 string=6 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=12 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933

 

Or you can concentrate on a certain area of the fretboard, e.g. the top three frets:

fretboard option width=825 option height=260 option frets=13 show fret=0 string=6 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=6 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=6 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=5 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=5 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=5 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=4 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=4 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=4 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=3 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=2 string=3 text=A color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=2 text=B color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=2 text=C color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=2 text=D color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=0 string=1 text=E color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=1 string=1 text=F color=white fill-color=#dd9933 show fret=3 string=1 text=G color=white fill-color=#dd9933

 

If you are really keen to learn the notes, you can try quizzing yourself, either with or without your guitar, using the Guitar Note Trainer in the tools section of the website.

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