One of the many necessary challenges with learning guitar is memorising every note on the fretboard. Even if you decide not to delve too far into the world of music theory, I would argue that learning the notes on the neck will significantly improve your playing and general understanding of the instrument. When I decided to memorise the fingerboard, I noticed that I was able to execute musical ideas quicker when soloing or ad-libbing fills, and I was able to find more interesting chord voicings easier. There are a lot more benefits to learning the notes on the neck than those previously mentioned, and so in today’s online guitar lesson, I will present my practical approach to accomplishing this task.
Guitar Fretboard Diagram – Notes On The Neck
Before I divulge my strategy on how to learn and memorise the notes on the guitar fretboard, I thought it would be useful to provide you with two colour coded fretboard diagrams for reference. Each of the 12 different notes has been assigned its own colour in order to make locating notes easier. I have also produced one diagram for sharp notes, and a separate diagram for flat notes. As you will see from the diagram, these sharp and flat notes, known as “accidentals”, are the same note, they are just referred to by two different names, hence why they are the same colour on both diagrams. This concept is known in music as “enharmonic equivalents” and I have included a table below to demonstrate this:
At some point, I will write a post explaining why these notes have 2 different names, and why there is no B#, Cb, E# or Fb. However, for now, all you need to focus on is memorising the position of each note on the fretboard. Here are the complete 22 fret diagrams:
Memorise All Fretboard Notes – Strategies
The above diagrams can appear daunting at first. However, I have devised a method to learn the entire neck in chunks, and it involves learning all of the notes on only two strings of the guitar. I often tell my students that you only need to learn the low E and A strings on the fretboard, and use my handy tricks, or “hacks” to automatically learn the other 4 strings. Follow these guidelines and you will soon have the whole fingerboard memorised:
- By learning the notes on the low E string, you automatically learn the notes on the high E string.
- Use the octave pattern (outlined below) to easily learn the notes on the D string.
- Once you have learned the D string, a separate octave pattern (outlined below) can be applied to learn the B string.
- Learn the A string, and then use the octave pattern (outlined below) to easily learn the notes on the G string.
How To Learn The E & A String Notes
When I think back to how I learned all the notes on the guitar neck, it was definitely achieved in small steps at a time. I started out by just learning all of the notes on the markers, which on most guitars are the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st frets respectively. Here are some tips for memorising the E string notes at the fret markers:
- The first 3 markers on the E string spell GAB (fret 3 is G, 5 is A and 7 is B)
- The 9th fret is C# (or Db)
- The 12th fret is E, the same as the open string.
- The 15th, 17th and 19th frets also spell GAB (the same as the first 3 fret markers)
- The 21st fret is C#, or Db, the same as the 9th fret.
Once you have learned the markers, the other notes you can figure out as you go along. So, for example, if you know that the 3rd fret is G, and the 5th fret is A, then by process of elimination the 4th fret must be G#, or Ab. Repeat this process for the length of the string and you will eventually have it committed to memory.
Let’s have a look at the notes on the fret markers for the A string:
- The first 3 fret markers are C, D & E. For some reason I just remember this, however you may prefer to use an acronym to help you remember it.
- The 9th fret is F#, or Gb.
- The 12th fret is A, same as the open string.
- The 15th, 17th and 19th frets are C, D & E (the same as the first 3 fret markers)
- The 21st fret is F#, or Gb, the same as the 9th fret.
Similarly to the notes on E string, the rest of the notes on the A string can be figured out at first by the same process of elimination. If you know, for example, that the 7th fret is E and the 9th fret is F#, then you can work out that the 8th fret is F until you completely memorise it.
Once you have memorised the E and A strings, it’s now time to look at octave patterns to learn the D, G & B strings.
If you are en experienced guitarist, you may have come across octave shapes on the guitar before. I personally found these shapes to be the most effective way to memorise all the notes on the neck. This means that, by learning all of the notes on the E and A strings, you have automatically learned the notes on the D, G and B strings using the system below:
E & D Strings
If you know your notes on the low E string, then the exact same notes can be found 2 frets higher on the D string. So, if you know that fret 3 on the low E string is G, then you will find another G on fret 5 of the D string. I have tabbed examples of this below:
A & G Strings
The exact same pattern can be applied to the A & G strings on the guitar. So, if we take our earlier example of F# on the 9th fret of the A string, then by going up 2 frets on the G string to fret number 11, you have easily found another F#. Here is a tab of the octave pattern on the A and G strings:
D & B Strings
When dealing with the D & B strings, we have to modify our pattern slightly. Instead of a 2 fret distance, we now have a 3 fret distance to find the octave on the B string because of the guitar’s tuning. Here is a tab of the octave pattern on the D & B strings. I have also included a few examples of the E, D & B strings together.
If you really want to practice your fretboard knowledge, then an alternative method to learning all of the notes on the neck involves using a metronome. Pick any note at random from the colour coded diagrams above, set your metronome to whatever tempo you’re comfortable with, and find that note on all 6 strings in all possible places everytime the metronome clicks a new beat. I have chosen the note D, and have tabbed an example of it across all 6 strings using the aforementioned method.
Eventually, you want to practice this with all 12 notes, and without the aid of any diagrams or help, just your memory. It may be a slow process at first, but the results will be worth it. Again, it is essential that you practice the above method with a metronome as this will speed up your learning process.
I hope you find the above methods useful for memorising the entire fretboard. I personally have used a combination of both methods to fully learn the entire neck, and it has helped me no end on my path to becoming a better guitar player. I have no doubts that, if you practice the above methods regularly, that you too will attain this knowledge and be a better guitarist for it.
Until next time,