Learning The Fretboard

A very easy pattern for learning your way around the neck of the guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
If you have ever known anyone who has or does play the piano... ask them what the first thing that they learned was. I bet they will tell you that they learned where "middle C" is... followed by where the rest of the C notes are... they learned how to find "octaves" by learning a very simple pattern. There is an easy pattern for finding octaves on a guitar too. But if you ask alot of guitarists how to quickly find all of the octaves of any given note on the guitar, they can't do it. Though learning the pattern will enable you to move freely around the neck. Let's get started. Start at any fret on the 6th string. For the example we will start on the 3rd fret or the G note...to find the next octave you simply skip a string and move up 2 frets. Looks like this in tab form.
Now to go from a note on the 4th string to it's next octave, simply skip a string and go up 3 frets. Like this:
Very easy right? How about if the root note is on the 5th string? Here's the easy part. The pattern is exactly the same. For this example I will show you C notes:
Ok that was part 1. Here's part 2. Starting with a root on the 6th string again, we will stay with the "G" note at the 3rd fret. This time skip 2 strings and go back 3 frets.
Pattern for the 5th and 4th string roots are same. Skip 2 strings and go back 2 frets.
Obviously, the 1st and 6th strings are the same note, 2 octaves apart. Let's look at all of the "E" notes across the neck
Now...how does this help? you may ask. Let's look at scales... Instead of mindlessly learning positions across all 6 strings, lets look at scales from root note to root note. Let's start with a 6th string root scale, you have 2 ways to play the scale. "A" Major scale
e--------------------------      e--------------------------  
b--------------------------      b--------------------------  
g--------------------------      g--------------------1--2--
d-----------------4--6--7--  or  d--------------2--4-(6)----
a--------4--5--7-----------      a-----2--4--5--------------
E--5--7--------------------      E--5-----------------------
Note in example 2. You have the option of playing the 7th note of the scale at either the 6th fret 4th string or the 1st fret 3rd string. 5th string root "D" Major scale
e--------------------------      e--------------------------
b--------------------------      b--------------------2--3--
g-----------------4--6--7--      g--------------2--4--------
d--------4--5--7-----------  or  d-----2--4--5--------------
a--5--7--------------------      a--5-----------------------
E--------------------------      E--------------------------
Note, the first example of the 6th string root scale is exactly the same pattern as the first example of the 5th string root scale. 4th string root "G" Major scale
e--------------------------       e--------------------2--3--
b-----------------5--7--8--       b--------------3--5--------
g--------4--5--7-----------       g-----2--4--5--------------
d--5--7--------------------  or   d--5-----------------------
a--------------------------       a--------------------------
E--------------------------       E--------------------------
3rd string root "C" Major scale
This should be all you need to know about the major scale positions, without alot of memorization. Please let me know if this lesson was helpful.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    hey chelangel...there are some good lessons on here already on reading tab if you would like to check those out, but here's a quick overview...each line represents a string...the numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play....like this e--2--3--2--- 1st string(smallest..highest pitched) b--3----- 2nd string g--2----- 3rd string d--0----- 4th string a----- 5th string E----- 6th string(fattest, lowest pitch) so in this example, you start by playing a Dmaj chord..see how all of the numbers are lined up on top of each other..that means play all of those notes at the same time...then play the 3rd fret on the first string followed by the second fret, first string. there are symbols for different techniques, such as / means slide...so if you see 3/5 on a line, play the 3rd fret on whatever string it's on and slide that to the 5th fret. h means hammer-on p means pull-off there are more symbols, but that's enough to get you started. hope that helps
    e--0-----12-----24----- b-----5-----17----- g-----9-----21 ----- d-----2-----14----- a-----7-----19----- E--0-----12 ----- So open E to D string fret 2 is a 1 octave difference. 6th String and 1st string are always two octave difference. D2 to B5 doesn't follow any of the rules of skipping strings and frets. E12 to D14 does. A7 to G9 does. Basically some follow your skip a string and two frets rule and the majority don't follow your rules. I'm trying to connect them all with your rules to see how many octaves up/down each note is from each other.
    This is the way ive learned major scale. Absolutely easier than remembering it by patterns One helpful thing i think is worth of point out is that root is in bottom right corner of a "box", like this in key of G. G |--|A-|--|B-|C-|--| D |--|E-|--|F#|G-|--|A-|--|B-|C-| A |--|B-|C-|--|D-|--|E-|--|F#|G-| E |--|F#|G-|--|A-|--| Makes easy to remember those three notes around root and rest notes are between those "boxes".
    ya first thing i learned was middle c on the piano but it was wierd going from reading "normal" music to tabs so i never learned what fret was what note thnx for the help
    Come on, reading tabs is elementary. Try reading music without tabs, unless your musically trained, its very hard to do compared to reading tabs.
    swain033, I don't know that sitting down and memorizing the entire fretboard is completely necessary as long as you know the open notes, and the 6th and 5th string notes, you can find your way around the neck well enough using the octave patterns above. That being said, memorizing all of the notes can't hurt either. The main thing is, don't burn yourself out trying to learn something that will come in time anyway. It is much more productive to work on something for 5 minutes a day than it is to try and cram it all in at once. Cramming tends to make you not want to practice. There is a little trick that bass players use to help them learn the notes on the fretboard that may help, the notes on the 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd strings at the 7th fret spell BEAD. Learn little things like that to help serve as reference points and you will be fine.
    I'm trying to memorize the whole fretboard (well to the 12th fret) is this necessary? I feel like i need to. This lesson helped me out though thank you so much!
    Great lesson. Believe it or not, there are ALOT of people who come here lookin for help. Again, great lesson. Been playing for 5 months now and this is all starting to make sense.
    This lesson was a great help to me very clear and easy to understand, thanks for posting it.
    This was good. Coming from the piano, I never learned what notes were what on a guitar. It's been over a year, and although I've gotten better, I need to actually LEARN where the notes are. The reference to the piano was a good example, because that's exactly how I am. Or should I say WAS now that you've helped.
    hey angus, your scale pattern is a 2 octave scale over all 6 strings, it is the same thing as the 2nd example of the 6th string root scale...minus the "d" note...combined with the 3rd string root scale
    awesome! finding the octaves will be uber-easy now!! but I didn't recognize those A major scales.....the only A major I've used is the e-----2--4--5----- b-----2--3--5----- g-----1--2--4 ----- d-----2--4----- a----2--4----- E--5----- am I just retarded?
    Gr8...y didnt i think of that?...neway.gr8 lesson hounddog...quite a help...
    thanks for the positive comments...i forgot to mention one important thing in the lesson...you really only have 2 scale shapes to learn....look at both examples of the 6th string root postions...all you need to know is when you move those positions down to a 5th, 4th, or 3rd string root, when you play on the 2nd or 1st string, simply shift up 1 fret and play the same pattern....that rule for me at least makes learning scales super easy...you just have those 2 shapes...that's all..nothing else to memorize
    Samantha - the 2nd fret on the D string and the 5th fret on the B string are both E notes. Look a little closer, the rule works everywhere across the neck