Fretboard Basics: Fretboard 101

This is my new series Fretboard Basics. Through this series we will learn how to navigate the fretboard, chord construction, learn the major and minor scales and basic song writing techniques. This series is a follow up to my Beginner Basics lessons and is intended for the beginner audience. Enjoy!

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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

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    ancientson
    Sorry there has been a delay in the next lessons. I will have 2 submitted this week!
    eddking2003
    These are by far the best and most easy to follow lessons on the web that I can find. And trust me - I have done some looking!! Ancientson really has a knack for this and like _flea_ said above it really leaves you hanging for the next one!! Awesome man, bring 'em on!
    jay2xra
    i don't get this whole "step" thing.... example #2 for example shows 10 frets, some of which were assigned different letters, say fret 2 and 3 correspond to B and C.. What does that suppose to mean? Like if I'm holding my guitar, I would form the B chord starting on the 2nd fret and if I do the same on the C cord on 3rd fret, it would mean I am forming two different chords which are half a step appart? What's the whole point? I'm confused here.
    1newcomer
    Thanks for the lesson ... so far I am getting most of it but I have a question on the natural notes and their intervals on each string ... perhaps you will explain this on another lesson or I am just downright dumb when it comes to music and notes in general but, would you please explain why the notes are in different order on the A string than on the E string despite of the intervals staying consistent? Thank you!
    ancientson
    I would like to thank everyone for their comments and questions. Part 2 and 3 are uploaded and awaiting approval. Some of the questions posted, I will try and respond personally. Thanks again! -ancientson
    PRW
    I like the way lesson is interacting with me.Can't wait for the next article as i am getting very hungry.
    ancientson
    _flea_ wrote: Good lesson for beginners dude, altough I feel you could have gone into intervals a little more indepth as you focussed more in steps which could cofuse a entry level beginner if they're not entirely switched on to the difference as a whole. Other than that great article Get the next one up soon...this kinda leaves you wanting to know what happens next. Like a story. A cool guitar journeying story
    Thanks! I really do appreciate everyone's opinion. I am going to discuss intervals in depth soon. The first article was really just laying down a foundation.
    xXxA7X~Fan07xXx
    Cool. Except for the next one actually start showing some riff examples in all tunings if possible. Atleast down to drop d and drop c. I'm into metal so yeah.
    Zach Eapen
    Good lesson for beginners, when you explained the string A you could have easily taught "A" Natural Minor Scale and C Major Scale. Just my suggestion. BTW when will you explain the inlays?
    ancientson
    Zach Eapen wrote: Good lesson for beginners, when you explained the string A you could have easily taught "A" Natural Minor Scale and C Major Scale. Just my suggestion. BTW when will you explain the inlays?
    True, however I this is such a broad audience that I am never sure who I am writing to.
    henram36
    I think you're doing a fantastic job with the written lesson. You don't have the luxury of video here, so the simple illustrations work well.
    _flea_
    Good lesson for beginners dude, altough I feel you could have gone into intervals a little more indepth as you focussed more in steps which could cofuse a entry level beginner if they're not entirely switched on to the difference as a whole. Other than that great article Get the next one up soon...this kinda leaves you wanting to know what happens next. Like a story. A cool guitar journeying story