Memorising the Notes on Guitar

Firstly, I don’t really think that learning the notes on guitar from scratch is an essential thing to do for a complete beginner. You’re much better off learning to play chords, scales and songs. I mean, even famous guitarists tend to stick to certain areas of the neck.

learn the notes of the fretboard

However, if you want to get any further than being a complete beginner, you’re going to need to know at least some of the notes.

For example, if you’ve learnt your open chord shapes that’s great…but you can only play these chords: C, A, G, E, D, Am, Dm, Em. That’s only 8 chords, not including some variations. I mean, what happens if you need to play a G#?

The answer to this is to use barre chords, moveable chords that can be applied anywhere on the neck. Still, where is that G# to move the shape to?

If you haven’t learnt the positions of at least some notes, you have no reference points when going to other positions on the neck. This is especially true if you’re soloing, and are trying to play just the right note over a certain chord. How do you know where that note is?

This is where actually starting to learn the notes of the fretboard can help!

If you click here you can download a booklet to work through, with exercises and strategies to get you learning the notes of the guitar fretboard quickly.

Which Notes to Learn First?

Well, you could use various tools to help you learn the notes of the fretboard. There are even games to play, or Android Apps that will help you memorize them. However, none of these are a complete solution, and only tools that you can use.

So, let’s start from the beginning…

In case you didn’t already know, all musical notes are named using the letters ‘A’ to ‘G’ of the alphabet. These are called the natural notes.

Any note that’s one fret (in pitch) higher than any of these notes is sharp, and any note that is one fret lower is flat.

That’s the simple explanation, which is good to know because it means that the first notes you should start by learning are the ‘natural’ notes. You can figure out where the sharps and flats are found by going one step up (sharp) or down (flat) in pitch from any note.

Why is it harder than that?

…because one repetition of this sequence of notes is one octave, which is also the distance between the nut and the 12th fret.

Without getting into the maths too much, we have seven notes divided between 12 frets. This means the notes are not evenly spaced over the fretboard.

So the rule is: the notes are 2 frets (a tone, or step) apart, except for B and C, and E and F (which are next to each other).

To put this into practice, we can play this sequence going up the A string. Starting with the open A, we go up two frets to find B on the second fret. Then B and C are only one fret apart, so C is on the third fret of the A string.

Then, D is two frets above C, on the 5th fret; A string. You can continue this sequence up the neck until you reach the 12th fret (which is an A again, and the sequence starts again).

Here is that in tab. Remember that B and C and E and F are only one fret apart.

the natural notes on the guitar fretboard from the A and E strings

Memorizing the Notes on Guitar

So, wouldn’t it be useful if there was a scale made from all the notes above? Then you could just learn that scale, and you’ll also be learning the notes on the fretboard.

Well, actually…there is such a scale! It’s called the C Major Scale. So, the real task here is learning the C major scale.

Here are the notes of the C major scale:

notes of the C major scale

OK, if you know your theory, you may know that the C major scale shares the same notes as the A natural minor scale…but the major scale is more useful for learning theory!

If you click here you can download a booklet to work through, with exercises and strategies to get you learning the notes of the guitar fretboard quickly.

Notes of the Fretboard Diagram

You could also learn these notes from scratch, which is why I’ve created this .pdf file and made it available on my website.

the notes of the guitar fretboard

There is a link to the file in the right sidebar. The idea is that you can use it as a guide when trying to figure out the notes on guitar for sight reading. I don’t recommend using it all the time, however, as you really want to be learning where the notes are for yourself.

Finding Your Way Around

The diagram is basically a picture of the fretboard, with the nut at the top and the 12th fret at the bottom. This should be all you need to work out all the notes, as the pattern repeats after the 12th fret.

So, if, for example, you wanted to find a note on the 15th fret, all you need to do is take away 12 (15 minus 12 is 3) and that fret (in this case, the third fret) on the diagram will give you the note name you’re looking for.

I’ve also colour-coded the notes, so each note of the same name is the same colour, because I find this helps with remembering.

To get the file, you can click this link and save it to your computer. You can then print it out.

However, you are really just learning the notes of the C major scale– which instantly puts these notes in a musical context.

If you click here you can download a booklet to work through, with exercises and strategies to get you learning the notes of the guitar fretboard quickly.

Taking Things Further

If you want to really understand the notes, I recommend learning a bit about how to read music. You see, in sheet music, you’re told the note itself, but not which fret to play it on.

Picking out some really simple tunes and trying to find the notes on your guitar can really help you to memorize where those notes are.

A good example to practise is the tune ‘Frère Jacques’, because it uses most of the notes of the C major scale (only missing out ‘B’, which we know is the fret below ‘C’).

In note names, the tune goes like this: C D E C, C D E C; E F G, E F G; G A G F E C, G A G F E C; C G C, C G C.

Pick a starting note- any note will do, as long as it’s a ‘C’- and play this tune in different places. For example, here is the tune starting from the ‘C’ on the third fret; A string.

frere jacques in C, along the A string of the guitar

Practise that one first to get your ears used to the tune. Then, the idea is to play it in as many different places as possible. As this tune only uses natural notes (when you start on a ‘C’), you’re actually practising these notes on the fretboard.

So, we’ve started with the ‘C’ on the 3rd fret; A string, and then played up the string. You could also start from the 5th fret of the G string- which is also a ‘C’ note. You’ll get the same tune, as long as you keep the pattern of intervals (i.e. the distance between the notes) the same.

Once you get good at this, you can also try playing it on more than one string. For example, if you know certain interval shapes, you can jump to that note on the next string, instead of just going up and done the one string.

learn to play lead guitar now!

Then, once you’ve learnt the positions of the natural notes (or the C major scale), you can just go one fret towards the body for a sharp, and one towards the neck for a flat. So, A# (A sharp) is the note one fret higher in pitch than A, and Ab (A flat) is one note lower in pitch than A.

If you click here you can download a booklet to work through, with exercises and strategies to get you learning the notes of the guitar fretboard quickly.

However, If you really want to get into playing lead guitar, my new book ‘Awesome Lead Guitar’ is out now. In it you’ll learn the most common scales and techniques that lead guitarists use with full scale diagrams and tabs!

Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.

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