For a video explaining this lesson, click here or scroll to the end
Many guitarists aren’t too sure about the notes on the higher parts of the fretboard, especially on the 4th and 5th strings. But it’s a simple matter to put that right if you just focus on the natural notes – i.e. ignore flats and sharps for now. Then you’re left with just seven notes to think about:
Here’s the secret that makes finding notes a breeze: with only two exceptions each note is two frets higher than the one before it. So… if you’re on A and you want to go to the next note, B, just go up two frets.
You’ve got to agree, that’s easy!
How about those exceptions? First B to C. Those notes are just one fret apart. Second E to F. Same thing, they’re one fret apart.
You now have enough knowledge to see where all the natural notes are on the fretboard. For example let’s look at the natural notes going up the second string for an octave, starting at the first fret.
You probably already know that our starting note is a C. The note after C is D. That’s not one of our exceptions, so it’s two frets higher:
We now go from D to E. Again, it’s not one of our two exceptions, so we go up two frets:
Next move is from E to F. Now, that is one of our exceptions, so we go up just one fret this time:
Next we go from F to G, then from G to A, then from A to B. These are all moves of two frets, Finally we go B to C – as one of our exceptions that’s just one fret:
As you can see, all the gaps are two frets, except B to C and E to F.
Now pick up your guitar and work out the natural notes on each string in the same way. Or print off this workbook and pencil them in (the second sheet gives you the correct answers to compare with your version.)
Make it easy on yourself
There are a couple of shortcuts that can speed up the process once you’ve got the basic process sorted out.
1. Work up from the fifth fret
Most guitarist are aware of the “fifth fret tuning method”. The fifth fret of the sixth (E) string gives the note A, so you can tune the A string to it. You can then tune the fourth (D) string to the fifth fret of the A string, because that gives you the note D. And so on. The only exception is when you tune the second (B) string, which requires you to play the fourth fret of the G string.
Are you already very familiar with this? If so these notes can act as your starting point – you don’t have to work everything out starting at the opening string.
For example, to find the notes B and C on the sixth string start at the fifth fret – that’s A, so B will be two frets higher at the seventh fret and C will be one fret higher again at the eighth fret.
Or, what’s the note at the sixth fret of the second (B) string? Well we know the note at the fifth fret is E. After E would come F, which would be one fret higher, which would be the sixth fret, which is what we want – so ‘F’ is the answer!
2. Work down from the twelfth fret
Once you’re really cooking with this you can even work backwards, especially when you know that the note at the twelfth fret of any string has the same name as the open string.
Example: what notes are at the tenth and ninth frets of the third (G) string?
We know the twelfth fret gives the note G. Working down, the note below G would be F, and the notes should be two frets apart – that takes care of the tenth fret. Before F would be E, at one fret’s distance, so that’s the ninth fret identified as well.
Check out the video
Once you’re familiar with the basic idea this is easier than you might have thought. Of course there are still a lot of frets we haven’t yet named and identified – the ones with sharp or flat in their names. That’s the subject of the next session.
Enjoy finding your way around the guitar!
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