Fretboard Basics: Fretboard 101

author: ancientson date: 08/16/2011 category: for beginners
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Hello everyone and welcome to my new series Fretboard Basics. I am really excited about this series as we are going to explore the fretboard and learn how to navigate this beast. Don't worry! It is not as hard as you would think. If you know your alphabet and can count then you are half way there. Before we begin there are some definitions I would like to throw out there so that we are both clear as to what the heck I am talking about. First, we all know what a fretboard is right? Awesome! Now let's break it down from there. The strips of metal dividing your neck into blocks on your fretboard are called frets. However, we refer to the blocks as frets too! Make sense? Next are the fret markers. Those are the little inlays on your fretboard and on the top of the neck. They come in various shapes and sizes. Most common are the dot inlays. If you notice, they mark certain spots on the fretboard. We will go into their purpose a little deeper in a moment. Intervals. Simply put, the distance between two notes. This is also going to be your favorite word, so get used to it =-) Sigh Now that we got that out of the way, let's hold the questions until the end and find out how this works. I) Fretboard 101 If you look at a piano you notice two things; white keys and black keys. For those of you who do not know what those keys are, the black keys are accidentals (sharps and flats) and white keys are natural notes. You know, A, B, C, D, E, F, G. On the guitar however, we do not have the luxury of this simplicity. I am not saying piano is an easy instrument to master, I am just saying the lay out is much easier. Let's look at the fretboard. (I know that this is a crude diagram, but we will get through it.)
i) Example one
e |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
B |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
G |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
D |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
A |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
E |---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
    ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^
    1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  ←-- Fret numbers
Ready to count? Notice how the fretboard is laid out in a series of blocks. These blocks are called frets and are measured by steps. The numbers at the bottom of the diagram are your fret numbers. If you know how to read tab, then this should be easy stuff so far. Let's talk about the distance between frets, shall we. A step is not an interval, it is a measurement. Remember that an interval is the distance between two notes, not frets. Each fret is measured in half steps. So, if you move from one fret to the next fret then you have moved a half step. This is up or down the neck. What if you move two frets???? That is called a whole step. It is simple math really; + = 1. So, two half steps is a whole step. Easy stuff so far, right? II) The musical alphabet Remember the piano reference? The white keys are natural notes and the black keys are your accidentals (sharps or flats). Well, obviously the guitar does not have keys at all. We move around the fretboard with a series of steps and intervals. Let me start with a simple example, but first I want you to keep in mind one important thing: 1) We are not talking about key signature, so please do not be confused by sharps and flats. i) Example One Say it out loud! A, B, C, D, E, F, G How easy was that? Now let's add steps. In between each of those notes are sharps or flats. However, we are going to talk about the distance between each of those notes. I am going to start on the A string, just because it is the start of the alphabet. Remember your steps and this should be easy.
ii) Example Two
A |---|-B-|-C-|---|-D-|---|-E-|-F-|---|-G-|
    ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^
0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10
Ok, let's dissect this monster! We are looking at the A string and the first ten frets. Here is where we will really get into steps and intervals. What is the first thing you notice when looking at this example? See how B and C are only a half step apart? The same goes with E and F. All other notes are a whole step. Say this out loud: B and C are a half step apart E and F are a half step apart Let's look at another example.
iii) Example Three
E |-F-|---|-G-|---|-A-|---|-B-|-C-|---|-D-|
    ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^   ^
0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10
Here is the E string. Notice anything? How about the intervals between E/F and B/C? Half steps right? Remember: There are half steps between B/C and E/F! I know I am repeating this over and over, but you will never forget it and then you can find any of the natural notes. Sharps and flats are a little more complex. Complex enough to where they deserve their own lesson. I think today I have given you plenty to think about and digest. III) Conclusion Navigating the fretboard is a very large concept. It is not strictly a lead playing road map. It has many levels and advantages from song writing to improvisation to figuring out your favorite song. Today, you have taken your first step into a larger world. By the end of this lesson you should know: How intervals and steps work and their relationship How to find the natural notes on your guitar B/C and E/F are only a half step apart If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me. Peace -ancientson
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