Notes Have Names So Respect Them

You know how to name the notes? If your answer is no, read that article. Hope it will help you to name them.

Ultimate Guitar
Notes Have Names So Respect Them
Every musician has to know something about music theory. If you play guitar for more than a year and still don't know anything about how the music is organized it's a great time to start learning it. It doesn't mean that you have to play Bach's toccatas and any other classical stuff. Music theory will help you to understand what are you playing. It is not something that is mandatory to play, but it's very, very helpful. There is a simple example: you live in a foreign country (Romania, let's say) for a year and you can communicate with every person there without any problems. But when it comes to write a letter in Romanian or read a newspaper, you have a lot of problems to know what's it all about. This is why you have to learn that language. And I'm here to help.


First, I predict that you're a complete dummy and don't know anything about music theory, or your knowledge is very little, so I'll start from basics. You have to look at the piano keyboard to follow my lesson. As you see there are white and black keys. The white ones are the C,D,E,F,G,A,B notes which are happy because they have their own names, and the black ones are the ones with no own names, so they're not so happy as the white ones, but there is a way to make them smile. Firstly, we will talk about the white ones. They go from A to G. Look at them in a particular way: there are organized in groups of 11 keys, and that pattern goes from left to right and doesn't change. Notice that between B and C, and between E and F there is no black key. Don't worry that you don't know where are the B, C, E, F notes on a keyboard, we're playing guitar. Just remember that B likes C and E likes F very much. They stick to each other close.

Now look at my diagram

diagram #1

|   A   |   -   |   B   |   C   |   -   |   D   |   -   |   E   |   F   |   -   
| G | - | A |

This is some kind of pattern you have to remember, and understand. Now, think about notes as frets. Every fret gets one note. B note is on the 7th fret of 6th string. Play it now. Then, play the next note - C (same string, one fret higher).

Diagram #2
(you know how to read tablature, don't you?)

You have played B and C notes that are next to one another on the fretboard, so they are is only one semitone between them.

Oooops. But what is a semitone?

It's the smallest distance between two notes that you can play on guitar, without bending strings.

After C is D note, but, look at the diagram #1, between C and D is a mysterious "-". It means that there is an additional semitone between them (the black no- name key), so they're 2 frets apart. Try it now. If you have a piano to use, try playing it on the piano, and compare - where are and where are no black keys.

Diagram #3
We played the B, C, D notes, but we have a little distress. There was B, C and D. What about the no name fret? The fret no 9 can be named by the name of its neighbour. Either C or D. As you wish. It can be C# or Db. If we raise the note one half step we add # to its name, so C raised half step is C#. The name of the note between C and D is C#, but... If we add the b to the note name, we lower it for a half step. So D lowered by a half step is Db. You probably figured out, that it's the same note. There we go. We have now 2 names for the note that's between C and D. You can use them as you wish, later on when you will learn about scales, intervals, modes and chords, ponytails and unicorns and it will be an important thing to use either # or b, but now you can name it as you want to.

Diagram #4
B C C#/Db D
So now you know how it works. It's time for a little revision.

* Distance between notes is measured in semitones. Between one note after another, it can be either a half step or a full step only.
* the "no name notes" are named by their neighbour notes. Raised, or lowered.
* Between every note is a full step. Excepting B-C and E-F lovebirds.

After you remembered the rules, it's time to use it. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a 6x13 table.
|E|F| |G| |A| |B|C| |D| |E|
|B|C| |D| |E|F| |G| |A| |B|
|G| |A| |B|C| |D| |E|F| |G|
|D| |E|F| |G| |A| |B|C| |D|
|A| |B|C| |D| |E|F| |G| |A|
|E|F| |G| |A| |B|C| |D| |E|
0 1 3 5 7 9 12
This is a representation of your fretboard. You have to learn how to make it by yourself, and it's easy if you know the names of the empty strings and how to find distances between the notes. As you know 12th fret is a 0 fret note, but one octave higher, so first thing after drawing your fretboard with the notes is to check if the 12th fret notes are EADGBE. Then, just check if B,c and E,F are next to each other, and viola! After 3 to 5 tries, you will be able to know how it works. It's time to use it more practically, but that's not the lesson about it. Knowing your fretboard better you can start trying to understand scales, intervals, and chords. I prefer to learn music theory and know what I'm doing and I really recommend you that way of learning how to play the guitar. No more problems with writing letters in Romanian. :)

Post comments about my article and let me know your opinion. If that lesson helped anyone and was kinda "good", I will write next ones. Take also a look at my language. If I messed up something in making the sentences, it's also a valuable comment for me.

Peace, Love, and Rock&Roll.

Daniel Kaczmarczyk

63 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thanks, I love it,I could complete the table on my own before even finishing the article, very good guide 5*
    I have been playing since the 80s i wish i had buckled down and learned this then i would've learned much faster thanks.
    I liked when you said "viola" - instrument, instead of "voila" - the word you were looking for. I understand the English problem though, you really aren't to blame for that. Either way, I feel like this is a good start to a good series of lessons in the future.
    Nice to know that you appreciate my lesson. Look out for more in the future!
    nice ...din't knew its kinda round robin..A to G .. hmm..i guess I am learning ..woww Thanks
    yup, that's nice to hear that you are learning comment and rate everyone !
    Hey Man, I really appreciate this. I've played around several times attempting to learn to play. I have never really tried to understand what & where everything is; and when I've tried to ask people they make me feel like I should just "see it". This really has put some questions into perspective. Thanks.
    I had theories about theory, but this just slept it out for me. Good job I also liked the humour (You can read tab, right?)
    Very informative. I enjoyed this. It's really helping me to understand the relativity between notes all over the fretboard, not to mention helping me put together chords much better. Thank you very much.
    I've been confused for awhile now. Music theory mess' me up. But thanks to you i understand. P.S. loved the jokes, keep it up
    I already knew some music theory from playing Sax in High School but I have never played guitar before so it was nice having it explained like that. Great Job thank you!
    so many good comments, thank you all ! I can't wait to write some more articles for you, but I'm in the middle of my exams and I cant find the time to study/play guitar/live socially/give guitar lessons/write articles and sleep So stay tuned and wait patiently
    I bought an acoustic guitar 2 months ago with several booklets and dvds,needless to say,I learned zilch from it!only now I can start connecting the dots!Great work keep it up!
    EPICphoneLP , nice to help, but mind my advice, and dont think in patterns, understand the notes relationship
    Wow, I've just noticed that I was not using names "sharp" and "flat". And thats important... Whooops!
    I enjoyed your lesson, it made me join Ultimate Guitar. Since you helped me, I will help you. Your English is better than many of my seventh and eight grade students here in the Sates! You said - But when it comes to write a letter - it should read - when it comes to writing a letter - further on you forgot to capitalize Romania and you would be "reading the paper". You wrote First, "I predict that" it would have been better to say "I will presume", or "assume" rather than predict. You wrote, "Look at them in a particular way: there are organised..." It would have been more "American" to say, "Look at it this way: they are organized..." I also corrected they for there and organized for organised. There are a few more minor mistakes. Work on your verb tenses. For example, past tense "he wrote a note" , present tense, "he is writing the note" and future tense, "he will write a note". English is probably as hard to learn as music theory, probably harder because there are so many exceptions to rules and it is made up of many languages patched together. I believe music is more logically organized than English. I learned a lot from your lesson and I thank you. I look forward to more lessons in the future.
    Thanks Bruce for the language advices. I have a friend that is studying English here in Poland, so she'll help me next time when I'll be posting more articles. Im really glad to help, that's lifting me up!
    I'm new here and eager to learn the guitar at age 52 lol but ... how about calling 'up(raised)-direction' a "sharp:#" and 'down(lower)-direction' "flat:b". That will fill the fret-diagram even quicker I think I've enjoyed your lesson, bring it on !
    This cleared up confusion on the 5th (B) string... i thought only high and low E's were counted: 0,1,3,5,7,8,10,12 and the rest were 0,2,3,5,7,8,10,12... good to know the 5th (B) string has its own separate pattern. Thnx 4 this!
    Great lesson, thanks. I knew the notes on a piano from music class in school, so this was very easy to understand
    HI Daniel, I don't really understand that last diagram. Can you explain that diagram in a little more detail please? thanks, m
    marceeh: The last diagram represents yours fretboard. Fret=note, so the table shows notes on the fretboard. Every horizontal line of squares is a string, vertical line is a fret. I've included names only of the notes of c major scale on it. Hope that helped!
    One way I think to remember that there are no sharps or flats between B,C and E,F is the term Big Cats Eat Fish. It just helps one to remember that those are the notes without sharps or flats. Good Lesson. Thanks.
    so cool. nice and easy. like your the way you explain things. colorful and joyful. its easier to understand from a friendly voice. thanks, man. keep up the good work
    I am probably being Mr. obvious but you write this out with the one string at the top, but when I hold my guitar I have the 6 string on top. Being an absolute newbie I would like to know why.
    daniel.kPL wrote: Hmmm, I don't see a point where I say that it's a first string, but it's a place where I make a lot of mistakes, even after 6years of playing guitar I say 1st string instead of 6th and in reverse
    The feeling's neutral
    I agree with you Locohol, but when I've written 11, i ment notes from C to B, not having the octave
    nice ...din't knew its kinda round robin..A to G .. hmm..i guess I am learning ..woww Thanks
    Great article...since you asked I thought I'd point out a typo..."Music theory will help you to understand what are you playing." Thanks for the info!
    First time, after a long time of tries that I finally get this straight... Thanks man!
    viola/voila is not a problem with english, but a typo, but that's true it's a funny one I'm learning english all the time, so hope that my next lessons will be more "understandable" for you all
    Really good lesson, especially if English isn't your first language. The lesson was a bit patronising in some ways, but I think it was clever to teach it so simply for those who don't understand this stuff. One other correction - piano notes are grouped in sets of 12, not 11 as one might think!
    I already know the names of the notes...but i have to say that this is the best Explanation..i recommend this for beginners