The guitar fretboard can look really daunting at first. You know there are a variety of places you can find a note, but it’s not like it’s labeled or anything. How are you supposed to know where the notes are? There are tons of tips out there on how to find notes on the guitar neck. I’m not saying my tips are the best, but this is what works for me.
Reference Points On The Fret Board
As I mentioned, there’s minimal memorisation here, but there still is a bit to remember. You can’t just find every note on the fretboard without having any knowledge of how a guitar is tuned and generally memorise where some notes are.
Standard Guitar Tuning
The standard guitar tuning is (from low to high) E, A, D, G, B, E. So, if you play the strings from thickest to thinnest in the standard tuning, those are the notes you’re going to play. This article doesn’t go into why the guitar is tuned liked that (but it makes sense, trust me). It just says that’s how it’s tuned. If you want to understand why the guitar is tuned the way it is, I have a great article on why the guitar is tuned that way.
This is the first thing you need to memorise. Remember is backwards and forwards.
Remembering The Location Of Three More Notes
Now that you know the note for each string, it’s time to find the easy reference points along the fretboard. These are handy notes that are easy to remember that are a jumping off point to find the rest of the notes.
If you can remember the notes in the diagram here, you’re never more than 2 frets away from either an open string or a reference note, so it’s not hard to quickly figure out where you are.
The diagram here is in the standard orientation of guitar tablature. That is, the lower notes are on the bottom and the higher notes are on the top. So, when making sense of the diagram, the 6th/thickest string is the bottom string of the diagram and the 1st/thinnest string is the top of the diagram.
Why? It makes sense is you learn how to read guitar tablature.
As you can see on the diagram, the 5th fret (mostly) the same note as the next string (when going from string 6 to 1). When going from string 1 to 6, the 7th fret is (mostly) the same some as note as the next one. This is because the guitar is tuned in perfect fourths (except for the 2nd/B string).
So, all you need to remember from here is that, when playing from 6th string to 1st string, the 5th fret is the same note as the next string. When playing from the 1st string to the 6th string, the 7th fret is the same note as the next string. Just compensate for the B string.
Then of course there’s the octave on the 12th fret of each string. That note will be the same (albeit an octave higher) than the string.
Finally, you’ll also notice that (on most guitars) there are dots on at least the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets; so these frets are easy to find quickly.
Finding All The Notes On The Guitar Fretboard
So now you can quickly find the reference notes on the guitar neck. Great. As I said, memorise the guitar strings and then just remember the trick with the 5th and 7th frets.
But what about all the other notes? Here’s a diagram with all the notes on the guitar fretboard for the first 12 frets.
Here you’ll need to know a very small amount of music theory: the order of notes on a chromatic scale. A chromatic scale is just a fancy way of saying “play the notes in order.”
Each fret on the guitar corresponds to one semitone or “step.” Starting at C, the notes go C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, B, C. A few things on that:
- The # means “sharp”
- If you ever see a b instead of a #, that means flat. For example Ab. All in all, a sharp is the same as a flat for the next note. So a D# is the same as an Eb.
- Notice how there are no flats or sharps between E and F, and B and C. This is because of reasons.
So here’s the next thing to do: memorise the chromatic scale. All you need to remember is:
- The alphabet.
- The fact that there are no sharps or flats between E and F and B and C.
Combining This Knowledge
So you know your reference notes and you know your chromatic scale. From there, here’s a quick pop quiz:
- What note is 1 fret higher than A?
- What note is 2 frets lower than D?
- What note is 1 fret lower than F?
- What note is 2 frets higher than B?
It’s not hard to think in terms of 1 or 2 frets higher or lower, is it? Well, you’re never more than 2 frets away from a reference note.
And now you can put this knowledge into action by quickly finding notes on the guitar!
In later lessons, we’ll go through finding difference intervals like octaves and fifths across the fretboard.