Guitar Fretboard Notes
A Beginner's Guide to Learn the Entire Guitar Neck
We, guitar players are one of a kind musicians.
Often, we never bother to learn the notes of the guitar fretboard , but we keep relying on fixed chord shapes and scales patterns (don't miss our free chords and scales pdf).
Saxophonists, pianists and other musicians usually do their homework and perfectly know where the notes are on the instrument.
This makes them able to apply music theory , sight-reading , and being more complete musicians.
And why we guitarists should we not do the same? On this page, you're going to learn how and why to learn all fretboard notes .
It will be easy and fun, and, above all, rewarding .
This free guitar notes map contains several diagrams showing the note on the fretboard for each musical key.
This will help you understand the fretboard step-by-step , starting from a fretboard map with natural notes only , and introducing one sharp or flat note at a time.
This tool shows you the notes on the fretboard.
Click on a fret or select the name of a note and the tool will tell you the note or the fret position. (like this tool? Check the other guitar learning software )
22 frets guitar neck map shown from the same point of view of the guitar player.
The picture above shows you the notes of the fretboard.
At first sight, it seems just a big mess: many frets, sharps, flats.
If you need help deciphering this map, for now just know that in the diagram the thickest string (E) is at the bottom of the image, and the guitar headstock is on the left .
Now we're going to learn some strategies that simplify all this stuff (if you want something crazy, I even created a LEGO 3d Model of the fretboard, that should help you visualize the pitches).
There are some rules that we can exploit in order to simplify the learning of the fretboard.
We'll take this with baby-steps , so feel free to jump to the sections ahead if you already familiar.
Some guitar players use the CAGED system to organize the fretboard.
It's an helpful tool, but to fully apply it you need to know the name of the notes, so stick with us and go ahead with this tutorial.
In the beginning, you should memorize at least 6 notes : the names of the open strings!
You should memorize the name and the order of the strings.
This will be useful for learning other things.
Indeed, often in tutorials and videos, you'll encounter instructions like " place your finger on the 2nd fret of the 6th string ".
So, the names of the open strings are the following :
- 1st string - E (the thinnest, highest pitch)
- 2nd string - B
- 3rd string - G
- 4th string - D
- 5th string - A
- 6th string - E (the thickest, lowest pitch)
For the sake of information completeness, it's worth it to show you the frequency of the fretboard notes .
Probably in your musical career you'll need this stuff rarely, but it's a good thing to know anyway.
A pitch is measured in Hertz , each fret has its own pitch.
A well-known frequency is 440 Hertz , that is 2 octaves up the pitch of the A open string, 110 Hertz . The Diapason , also called Tuning Fork , a device for tuning the guitar, oscillates at 440 Hertz.
- 1st open string: E 329.63 Hertz
- 2nd open string: B 246.94 Hertz
- 3rd open string: G 196.00 Hertz
- 4th open string: D 146.83 Hertz
- 5th open string: A 110.00 Hertz
- 6th open string: E 82.41 Hertz
We can use a mnemonic trick to help us memorize open strings names.
By using a phrase in which the first letter of each word corresponds to the name of a string, our life will be easier.
In the examples below, the names of the strings are ordered from the thickest to the thinnest ( E A D G B E ):
- E at A ll D ay G et B ig E asy
- E very A mateur D oes G et B etter E ventually
- E ddie A te D ynamite G ood B ye E ddie
- E lephants A nd D onkeys G row B ig E ars
It's perfectly fine to create phrases in the opposite order: from the thinnest string (1st) to the thickest (6th), E B G D A E .
Choose what works better for you!
- E aster B unny G ets D runk A fter E aster
- E very B oy G ets D izzy A round E lle
For a more effective memorization, you should create your own phrases ( there are endless possibilities ); here's one of my phrases, with italian words: E mozionanti A vventure D ove G randi B arche E splodono . If you come up with something cool, please share it in the comments below!
Probably you already noticed that actually there are 2 strings with note E: the lowest (6th) and the highest (1st).
These strings, also called external strings (because they are at the upper and lower border of the fretboard) have different pitches, but their note names are the same .
So actually we just have to memorize the notes of 5 strings!
The notes on the 6th (thickest) string are the same of the 1st (thinnest) string! Click to zoom
So far we've considered open strings only. Now it's time to think horizontally and put our attention on frets.
Here are some facts about the frets of the guitar neck:
On chord diagrams, tabs and other kind of guitar music notation, if you find a fret numbered with 0 , that means that you should play the string open, without pressing any fret
On each string, the note at the fret 0 is the same of the note at fret 12 (the same for the next frets, 1=13, 2=14, 3=15 and so forth)
Here's the reason: in music, there are in
total 12 notes
, the natural notes:
and the sharp/flats notes (we'll get to this later in this article)
So, if you start from C and go up one note after the other, after 12 steps will get again to the C:
C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C
The same happens with guitar frets, if you start from any fret, after 12 steps (or frets) you'll get to the same note.
Let's take as a example the E lowest string , shown in the picture below.
The notes of the first 11 frets (0-11) are the same of the 12-22 frets:
The notes of the frets from 0 to 11 are the same of the frets from 12 to 22 (depending on the model, a guitar can have 20-24 frets) Click to zoom
To help you grasp better this concept, here's a different angle: a guitar has 2 equal fingerboards of 12 frets each , one placed next to the other.
Have you ever wondered what do the dots on a guitar fretboard mean?
Even if on certain brands fretboard dots are fancy and sometimes really beautiful (guessing game: what guitar has birds on the fretboard?), they are also useful for finding your way on the neck.
You can exploit them as landmarks for fretboard navigation .
On most of the guitars, these rules apply:
- An inlay is applied at the 3rd fret
- An inlay is applied at the 5th fret
- An inlay is applied at the 7th fret
- An inlay is applied at the 9th fret
- A double inlay (or other symbol) is applied at the 12th fret
- The same pattern is repeated on the frets above the 12th (inlays on frets 15, 17, 19, 21 and double inlays on 24)
Ok, so far we have learned that actually, we need to learn the notes of only 12 * 5 = 60 frets (because the first 12 frets are the same of the next 12, and the 1st and the 6th strings have the same notes).
But there are many other things that can help us master the fretboard .
We're going to take a look in depth at the geometry of the fretboard in the next sections:
Here below you find six images showing the fretboard notes on staff. Even if the ability of reading music is not strictly mandatory for being a great musician, it certainly helps.
E low string notes on staff
A string notes on staff
D string notes on staff
G string notes on staff
B string notes on staff
E high string notes on staff
Now things are going to get interesting.
Once Andres Segovia , the famous virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist, said " The guitar is the easiest instrument to play, and the hardest to play well ".
True story. Even if you're a complete beginner, you could memorize a pair of chord shapes, strum the strings a bit, and you can tell yourself that you're " playing the guitar ".
But you can't say anything about the notes that compose the chords you're playing, or how to introduce variations in what you're playing.
In the following, we'll learn how the fretboard really works.
Before going forward, be sure to get your free access to the download area here: you'll get access to many chords, scales and theory pdfs.
I make you a promise: if you want to really understand the guitar fretboard theory, and you are ready to commit yourself in studying and learning a bit of music theory and its relationship with the neck geometry , you'll be rewarded with the ability to play better and better.
During your solos, you'll find automatically the notes that your mind and your heart suggest.
Long story made short, you'll play music, not guitar .
If you have ever felt yourself like trapped in fixed scale patterns and chord shapes, you know what I mean.
Ok, now you have understood that, in order to become a complete musician, you need to learn the fretboard, but why it seems so difficult at first ?
Well, the main problem with your guitar neck is that, unlike the piano keyboard in which the frets are disposed horizontally one after the other, on the guitar there are different places in which to find the same note .
Piano keyboard layout: there is only 1 path, 1 option for playing the C major scale from C lowest to C one octave (7 white frets) higher
For example, suppose you want to play a C major scale that starts from the 3rd frets of the fifth string (A string).
We all know (at least we should) that the C major scale is composed of C, D, E, F, G, A, B notes.
Have a look at the image below: clearly you have different paths.
You could skip string soon after the C and play the D note on the fourth string (D), or you could stay on the fifth string, playing the D on the fifth string.
Guitar fretboard layout: there exist
for playing the
(option 1: yellow path , option 2: red path )
From a beginner perspective, having too many options makes things complicated .
On the other hand, for those who master the fretboard, the nature of the guitar layout enhances the expressive and musical possibilities.
But don't worry, you'll see some strategies useful to tame the fretboard complexity.
One good mental trick useful to understand the fretboard, is to consider every string like a distinct piano keyboard , that starts from the respective note.
As said before, the standard tuning of the guitar, starting from the thickest string to the thinner, is E A D G B E .
- The sixth string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the E note
- The fifth string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the A note
- The fourth string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the D note
- The third string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the G note
- The second string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the B note
- The first string (and its related piano keyboard) starts with the E note (2 octaves, 14 white keys higher than the lowest E string)
Given the piano keyboard - strings analogy, it's easier to explain the standard guitar tuning .
First of all, we need to have at least the E lowest string tuned with the aid of a tuner device.
This give us a standard reference coherent with other musicians.
Then we can tune the other strings using the previous string as a reference.
We said that the fifth string has to be an A note.
- So we press the A note on the sixth string (low E), that is located at the 5th fret, and we tune the fifth open string (A) until the two strings sounds with the same pitch.
- We do the same with the other strings (see the diagram below).
- The fourth open string (D) has to have the same pitch of the 5th fret of the fifth string.
- The third open string (G) has to have the same pitch of the 5th fret of the fourth string, and so forth.
- Just notice the small difference at the third string (G), on which you must play the 4th fret (instead of the 5th) to tune the second string (B). We'll see why later.
This video shows you clearly how to tune your guitar
Guitar standard tuning
Not it's time to talk about a bit (just a bit) music theory. In western music, the minimum distance between two notes is called half-step (or semitone).
A distance of 2 half-steps is called whole step .
On the piano keyboard, the distance between the keys (white or black) is 1 half-step .
If we look again at the piano
keyboard, we can see that there is a black key between each pair of white keys, except for the space
and C keys
, and the
E and F keys
So here's the first important thing to notice:
- Between C and D there is 1 whole-step (2 half-steps)
- Between D and E there is 1 whole-step (2 half-steps)
- Between E and F there is 1 half-steps
- Between F and G there is 1 whole-step (2 half-steps)
- Between G and A there is 1 whole-step (2 half-steps)
- Between A and B there is 1 whole-step (2 half-steps)
- Between B and C there is 1 half-steps
Thus,the structure of the Major Scale is composed of 2 whole steps ( C-D-E ), 1 half-step ( E-F ), 3 whole steps ( F-G-A-B ) and 1 half-step ( B-C ). On the fingerboard, we have not black or white keys, but we have frets .
1 fret = 1 half-step = 1 semitone
Let's look at the C Major Scale on the guitar neck .
As previously said before, we have different options for playing a given scale.
This time, for visualization convenience, I've chosen to start from the first fret of the B string , that is a C, and play the scale horizontally on the same string , in order to visualize better the steps and half-steps structure:
C major scale on the second (B) string
In music theory, there are two symbols that, when applied to a note, change its pitch and its name.
They are called sharps and flats:
flat (b) : lowers a note by 1 half-step
sharp (#) : raises a note by 1 half-step
For example, a D flat is a D note lowered by 1 half-step, while a C sharp is a C note raised by 1 half-step. D flat and C sharp have different names, but they have the same pitch .
On the guitar fretboard, they are placed on the same fret ! You'll learn why the same fret can have different names in future lessons, technically this topic is called " enharmonics ", but don't worry for now.
Let's now introduce the chromatic scale , a scale composed of 12 half-steps required for going from a note to the same note 1 octave above.
The C chromatic scale is the following:
C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C
C chromatic scale on the second (B) string
Playing the chromatic scale on the fretboard is straightforward because you only have to play one fret after the other.
Notice that between the lowest C and the higher C there are 12 frets , or 12 half-steps
Beginners guitars players usually memorize only the notes on the sixth and fifth strings , because they have learned bar chords shapes and they need to find the root note of the chords.
Starting from this knowledge, it's possible to exploit the fretboard geometry to find notes on the other strings.
Drill down: In the following resource I'll show you the so called octave intervals : starting from a given notes, you can find the same note on the higher strings, 1 or 2 octaves above.
This is a great visual aid that helps you find your notes quickly.
Octaves will be also useful when you'll approach guitar triads and chord inversions.
In the free guitar notes chart pdf , you'll find several neck notes map.
Let's have a look at them:
We can have natural notes (C D E F G A B), notes with sharps (like C# and D#) and notes with flats (like Bb, Db and Eb).
In the beginning, it's easier to memorize only the natural notes, and then the notes with flats, and finally the notes with sharps.
The chart pdf contains several fretboard maps , each one showing a particular guitar key . In this way is easier to focus on the notes of a given key and learn the notes step-by-step.
The layout of the maps is clear and easy-to-remember
In the diagrams, the musical keys are organized following the circle of fifths , that is a way to display and memorize the sharps/flats that belong to a given key.
Starting from the C key, that has not any sharp/flat, you'll notice that changing key, following the circle of the fifths, will introduce just one single sharp/flat at a time.
Don't worry if you're not familiar with the circle of fifths , this concept is well visualized in the pdf.
Here below you find some guitar notes map for the most common tonalities.
: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C
As said before, one of the best ways to learn the notes on the fretboard is to start memorizing only the natural notes.
This strategy requires less effort, as you have to deal with just 7 notes.
So here below you find the guitar notes diagram for the C key , that has natural notes only.
Take your time to memorize these notes, as they'll be the foundation for more complex concepts.
Once you have the major C notes under your belt, you can proceed to the next key, that, following the circle of fifths, is the G key.
The G key has the F sharp instead of the F , so you only have to raise the F by one half-step
G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G
D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D
Sharps/flats: F# C#
The D major key introduces the C sharp notes, now you're a fretboard wizard and you easily find this new note by raising the C note by one half-step.
A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A
Sharps/flats: F# C# G#
The same mechanism of above, the new note in A major key is G#. So please raise that G by one half-step
E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D# - E
Sharps/flats: F# C# G# D#
Here it comes E major key with a new note, the D sharp
B – C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A# - B
Sharps/flats: F# C# G# D# A#
Now it's time of the B major key, A sharp is the new note! You'll find the other keys and relative diagrams in the pdf .
We are a little proud of this tool because is used by thousands of guitar players on a daily basis. It's a free browser game that you can use online, without installing anything.
It helps you memorize all the fretboard notes quickly while having fun.
Launch the fretboard trainer now.
There are many exercises to memorize the fretboard , but this little tool can really speed up your learning, check it out!
Ok, in this tutorial we have covered a lot of ground. Now you should have a good knowledge of the guitar fretboard and some material to work on.
Take your time to internalize these concepts, download the notes map pdf , practice the fretboard trainer game at least 10 minutes a day, and in no time you'll find yourself flying effortlessly up and down the neck .
If you have any doubts or question, just ask in the comments below, and please share your feedback.
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Here below you'll find more resources that will help deepen your fretboard knowledge:
Have you ever wondered why the guitar is tuned E A D G B E?
In this tutorial we'll go back in time and figure out the reason.
Triads are the most powerful concept you can use to gain fretboard fluency.
In this tutorial you'll learn the 4 types of guitar triads and how to build upon them.
CAGED is a useful tool to know. Not everybody like it but, the more you know, the better you can decide.
On the guitar, you always have 2 choices. You can move on the left, or on the right.
Unlike the piano, on the fretboard you can play higher pitches even going left, and the opposite.
A complete map with all the interval geometries across the 6 strings.
This is a useful reference if you want to create your own chord/scale patterns.
Want to experiment with something new?
Try out this tuning. It's a logical and clear layout that pure guitar soloist will appreciate a lot!