When I first learn the guitar at the age of 13, at the time there was a close friend of mine who was playing our favorite song over a chord progressions. I was immediately in love with the sounds of the guitar. I was quick to ask for my first guitar lesson from him. I learned the open chord shapes of C F and G with much difficulty and pain in my four fingers. In three weeks I was able to play the chord progressions for our favorite songs. Perhaps, it was such an accomplishment. Remembering it and seeing young or beginner learning guitar today is of no different to how I started to learn the guitar. We were missing the most important lesson the Fret board.
Understanding and getting familiarized with, and being able to visualize the fret board as a whole is very important as a beginner. If I were the guitar teacher, this will be the first topic that I will incorporate into the learning process. Getting to know the instrument above all, is crucial because learning chords and scales requires understanding of the fret board and all the notes on it.
1. Open Strings’ Musical Alphabet.
The seven musical alphabets are A, B, C, D, E, F, G. The musical alphabet only contains seven letters. After G we return to an A, but this A will be higher in pitch that the A upon which we started.
The six open strings notes are E, A, D, G, B, E. (Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie). – Fret no: 0
This is the standard tuning for a six strings guitar. Some people are very good with tuning it “by ear”. But don’t worry, if you are not good with it, there are tools to help you with tuning the strings, and it is very easy. The tool is called “guitar tuner” which you can purchase at almost every music stores. I have mine and its brand is Korg Tuner. You can also get a free download of the app from your smartphone. Just type in “guitar tuner” and you will get a list of free guitar tuner apps. Awesome right! Thanks to the advent of technology. As a rule of thumb, you need to get your guitar in tune first before you begin playing every time!
2. Knowing the notes up and down of your guitar neck.
The open strings are my first reference point. These reference points will be areas of the fret board where you can be extremely confident of the note names in order to find notes around them whilst you’re developing your fret board memorization.
Knowing the musical alphabet up and down a string
We are now going to lay out the musical alphabet horizontally up one of the guitar strings. As the alphabet starts with the letter A, we shall do this on string 5(A). See how we are going higher in pitch as we move the fretting hand towards the guitar body.
You will see that the notes are not evenly spaced. There is a fret-sized gap between the letters except between B to C and E to F which are immediately next to one another. The distance of two frets (e.g. A to B or C to D) is called a tone or whole step (W) (depending on where in the world you live). I learn it as a ‘tone’ so I shall adopt that name going forward. The distance of one fret (e.g. B to C or E to F) is called a semitone or half step. (H)
3. The Sharps and Flats.
We’re starting to see the musical alphabet now, but how do we name the frets that fall between the musical alphabet?
Raising a note one fret towards the guitar body makes the note sharp (♯) meaning higher in pitch by one semitone. For example, we have a C at the 3rd fret on string 5(A). The note C♯ (“C sharp”) will therefore one fret higher in the 4th fret
Lowering a note one fret towards the nut makes the note flat (♭) meaning lower in pitch by one semitone. For example, we have an D at the 5th fret on string 5(A). The note D♭ (“D flat”) will therefore one fret lower in the 4th fret.3.
4. The Enharmonics.
Two notes which have the same pitch (for example C♯ and D♭) are called enharmonic. Exactly how they are named depends on the key and scale you are using. You will find that you see one name for a note more often that the other (for example we see B♭ more often that A♯, or F♯ is seen more often that G♭). That being said, you should be familiar with both possible names for these notes.
When you play every single fret up and down to the 12th fret, you are playing a chromatic scale.
I have been learning guitar for many years now and have progressed from beginner to a confident intermediate player. Learning the fret board in such detail has helped me with many of the other courses I am studying, especially modes, triads, chord progressions, arpeggios and soloing.
So there you are! I hope that this article has provided some invaluable insight into the layout of the fret board to help you in your mission to learning all the notes and becoming a more confident guitar player.
Put in the time and I guarantee you will see results. Good luck!