Are you starting out with guitar hoping you can learn your way around the instrument and jam with other players? Great! playing guitar can be a fulfilling outlet for creative expression. Even if you are starting with absolutely no prior knowledge of the instrument, you can jump right in to a complete course that will take you from beginner level to advanced.
Regardless of which style you want to learn to play, memorizing the notes on the fretboard is one of the best things you can do for yourself. While learning scales is more or less a universal part of guitar instruction, the importance of training your brain to also recognize the notes by name unfortunately gets less emphasis than it needs in some learning plans. So make sure you don’t overlook this skill, and get started on learning the note names as soon as you feel you are comfortable holding the guitar and making some sound with it. There is an online course dedicated to learning the note names, and this would be well worth your time. But you can also read on to learn some practices for getting to know the fretboard.
How should you learn the notes on the fretboard?
You will most likely be able to learn the note names quite quickly. Memorizing where they are and using them as second nature, however, will take some dedicated practice. That said, it can be done simply with the commitment of a few minutes per day. And once you have the routine down, it will be a very straightforward exercise. A quick note before beginning: if you are picking up a guitar for the very first time, you might bookmark this page and come back to it after a brief introductory course that will cover the absolute essentials of guitar.
Start by learning the names of the open-string notes
Starting with the sixth (lowest) string, play each string without putting your finger down on a fret. As you play them, say the names of each one. From lowest to highest, they are E-A-D-G-B-E.
While you are starting out, you will want to run through that simple exercise a few times a day, both from highest to lowest and vice versa. It is very useful to have the open strings memorized so you have them as a point of reference as you learn chords and melodies.
And once you have done that basic exercise, you can move on and take on memorizing the fretboard.
Preparing to master the notes and unlock the fretboard
Now, before diving in to the second exercise, there are a few items of preparation:
First, as you start on this exercise, you may want to have a chart handy that shows you all of the notes on the guitar. This way you can check your correctness as you go.
Also, you will notice some specialized notation you might not know. The symbol “#” indicates a sharp note (eg. F#), and “b” indicates a flat note (eg. Gb). If you think about the notes as they are laid out on a piano or keyboard, these notes would be the black keys. And each of the black keys has both a flat (b) and sharp (#) name corresponding to it.
There is a method to this double-naming madness, but it is best left for another time. A basic guitar course will cover it. Or, if you really want to understand the logic behind musical notation, you might take a course on basic concepts in music theory.
For the purpose of simplifying your practice, these notes are written as sharp notes, with the corresponding flat note following in parentheses. For now, you can use both names as you learn them.
An exercise for learning the notes on the fretboard
Starting right in to the exercise, then, your first step is to get to know the first twelve notes on the guitar. You will play the first five of them on the sixth string (Low E). Starting with the open-string note and moving up one fret at a time, the note names are E, F, F# (Gb), G, and G#(Ab).
After you play G#(Ab) on the fourth fret, switch to the fifth string (A). Moving up one fret at a time, the next five notes are A, A# (Bb), B, C, and C#(Db).
Switch again, and you finish with two notes on the fourth (D) string. The open string note is D, and the first fret is D#(Eb). Play these notes a few times up and down and say their names as you go.
After you have got these notes down, your next step is to get to know the octave patterns on the guitar. Starting at the fret after the first 12 notes you played, the note names repeat, starting again with E on the second fret of the fourth string. The interval between the first E note and this second is called an “octave.”
Your goal is to play each of the twelve notes in all the places where they repeat. And the trick to this is recognizing the patterns for how octaves are placed on the guitar. Look through this chart, which shows you the basic shapes for octaves on the guitar. This will help you find and play each instance of a note.
Start very slowly at first and take your time to correctly place each note. It’s all right if you need to start out using your full chart of the neck to start. But try to see how you can easily find each instance of a note with the octave patterns.
When you have the basic concept down, start to move up and down the original notes you learned, but instead of playing the note in just one place, play each instance of it on the fretboard. When you can do this three times in a practice session, you will be well on your way to mastering the fretboard!