The Magic Bullet Way To Read Your Guitar Fretboard

Your guitar fretboard isn't the jumbled mass of notes you think it is. There's an easy, logical pattern to it. And this is the magic bullet system to being able to read your whole fretboard easily.

The Magic Bullet Way To Read Your Guitar Fretboard
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When I bought my first guitar lo those many years ago, the store also had a giant poster for sale that labeled every fret with its note name. Within seconds I went from "I'm gonna be a rockstar!" to "Holy crap that's a lot to remember! Maybe I'll study physics instead." Those stupid posters will do nothing but give you a migraine. But you still need to know where all those notes are. Lucky for you (and your head), there's a magic bullet. There are three simple steps to being able to locate every note on your fretboard, and just a couple little things to memorize. Let's get to it.

Step 1: Half Steps and Whole Steps.

A half step in a movement of a single note, one fret on your guitar. A whole step is, as you've probably already guessed, a movement of two frets. In this step we're going to find out where the half and whole steps are in a C major scale. The only reason we're using C major is because it has all natural notes (no sharps or flats). The scale itself doesn't matter all the much right now. Here's a C major scale: C D E F G A B C Memorization Point #1: The only half steps are between E and F, and B and C. Everything else is whole steps.

Step 2: Learn the bottom two strings.

First learn the natural notes on the bottom two strings. Do this by starting from the open string note (E for string 6 and A for string 5) and use your system of half and whole steps you learned to find out where the rest of the notes are. You can check out the figure below to help you. But you'll find it sticks better in your brain if you figure it out on your own. Use the figure just to check your work. Fig. 1:
Practice this in two ways. First go in alphabetical order forwards and backwards on each of the two strings. (Just the 5th and 6th strings! No need to do this on the rest. We'll get to those later.) Once you're comfortable with that, give yourself random notes to pick out on each of the two strings. Now we can get to the sharps and flats. A sharp note goes up a half step (one fret) from the natural. A flat note goes down a half step. Go back through strings 5 and 6 giving yourself random sharp and flat notes to learn those.

Step 3: Read the rest of the fretboard with three simple patterns.

At this point, you've learned the 5th and 6th strings. You also know the 1st string because it's the same exact notes as the 6th, just two octaves higher. But all the letters are in the same place. Here's where the magic is. Instead of busting your tail working out the half steps and whole steps on each string, you can use a couple simple patterns to figure out everything else. Start from a G (just as an example) on your 6th string. Now go up two strings and up two frets. That takes you to a G on your 4th string. That patterns works up and down the whole neck. Simple! See the figure below for the shape I'm talking about. Fig. 2:
Now grab the D on your 5th string. Same pattern. Go up two strings, up two frets. That will take you to a D on your 3rd string. Splendiferous! Again, it works up and down the fretboard. The figure below gives you the pattern. Fig. 3:
The last pattern changes just a little bit. Grab the G on your 4th string. You can find that based on G on your 6th string like in the first pattern. Now to get to the 2nd string you'll go up two strings and up THREE frets. That will take you to the G on your 2nd string. Stringalicious! (Ok, going too far now...) Check the figure below if you have trouble. Fig. 4:
You can actually use that same up two/up three pattern to get from the 3rd string to the 1st. But as I mentioned earlier, your 1st string is the same as your 6th. So you don't really need to memorize that extra bit of info. Memorization Point #2: The three patterns in these examples. Now you've got the whole neck! Practice this in two ways. Give yourself random notes (don't forget the sharps and flats!) and find the note on every string using your patterns. So do, 6-4, 5-3, 4-2, 1. When you're comfortable with that, do the notes again but on adjacents strings. This forces your brain to switch patterns for each string which is slightly harder. But it's also a more real-world way you'll be looking for notes. There's another magic bullet you need to be aware of for guitar. Especially if you're just starting out, but even if you've logged some string time already. And this magic bullet is more important than anything you've read so far. Click here to see what it is.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    steven seagull
    obvious spam is obvious there are no magic bullets, no secrets. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise just wants to sell you something.
    My Last Words
    There are no shortcuts to guitar. Quit looking, start practicing! edit; well this wasn't supposed to be a reply..
    tommaso.zillio
    Oh no, there is PLENTY of shortcuts - even if the lesson at hand is not one of these. Of course this does not mean one does not have to practice. You should work smart AND hard. But I do agree with Steven here. There may be shortcuts, but magic bullets there ain't no one.
    davidax440
    Totally disagree that there is no short cut. Just because u don't see one it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. For I'm the creator of one that is quick and addicting to learn. Trust me if you can see the fretboard with any chosen key in your minds eye. It is very hard not to want to think about it all day long. Sometimes it empowers ,sometimes its depleting. you have stopped looking for an easy quick way to learn this stuff. I know ur wrong because I'm holding it in my hands right now
    Cavalcade
    I figured as much from the title, and seeing the rating all but confirmed it.
    rockerwannabe
    Geez, I am not a beginner player but I didn't think this article was that bad. Everyone gets so pretentious on this site when it comes to practice and theory. If something works for you, then great. If not, move on to the next thing.
    mop10893
    If you are an advanced player, than this article isn't really helpful. But everyone here isn't understanding the point of the article. It's supposed to be an easier way of MEMORIZING the fretboard. Once you do that, than the playing comes easier. You would never use this live, but not because it doesn't work. It's because you can't play that well if you still don't know the fretboard anyway. This is meant to be a quicker way to learn the fretboard, and it could be quite useful. I don't understand why everyone is trashing this article.
    BogWraith
    It goes without saying that advanced players are well beyond memorizing the notes on the fretboard. Also, I think that more people need to realize that this site isn't here just to cater to the advanced players. But also to help the beginners get a foot in the door and help the intermediate players progress as well. So I agree, people should really stop running this article into the ground.
    Miyagi84
    this is the best way to learn the fretboard... not saying its necessarily easy, and it will take some time to get them down, but it's worth it. Trust me this works way more than the octave method as he says in the video. that method is worthless and it gets confusing.
    eminence_front
    I think you guys (yes, even you so called "Mods") are being a little harsh on the guy. Someone voluntarily posted this info in the beginner's section. Now, I'm not what you would call a beginner, but I'm a strong Novice, and this is how I learned the note names years ago. Some students will find that this method is confusing because of the odd 4th, on the 2nd string. But they easily learn all the notes on the fret markers, and then move onto the octave method. This is enough info, and enough of a shortcut to getting most newbies playing the movable e-shaped Barre chords at least on the bottom 2 strings. And that itself, is enough to make use of most of the tab on this site. I think the poster did a good job.
    unicornicopia
    This is what I do to figure out notes, I just use octaves to figure out anything on any of the top 4 strings. That being said, I wish I had the whole fretboard memorized. You can't get much better than completely knowing your instrument.
    beginnerguitarn
    Hey All... This is the first chance I've had to come look at these comments. Of course this is for beginners. My job as a teacher is to help everyone where I can and beginners need more help than most. This is, of course, not the only system. But over my 20 years of teaching, I've been able to teach people how to read a fretboard with this system in 10-20 minutes. To those that have had trouble figuring it out, this will be a magic bullet. By the way, good effective copywriting is just a big a part of writing an article as anything else. The theory behind this is the use of a system rather than memorization. Our brains work much better on systems. As your brain goes through these systems and patterns multiple times, you'll get faster until it appears to be memorized. When I look for notes on the fretboard, my brain still goes to these shapes. But I've done it so many thousands of times that it only takes a split second. And I've worked with hundreds of students that have seen exponential increases in their speed of finding notes because of it. So for those, that didn't like the article, my apologies. It probably wasn't for you in the first place. For those that learned something from it (like the nearly 1000 people who visited my site from here in the last few days) please feel free to let know what other subjects or techniques I can help you with.
    davidax440
    So in less than 20 min your students learn the fallowing information (I presumed): the musical alphabet,open string names,fret numbers,half step and whole step concepts,c major scale,octaves. That covers it, oh wait I forgot: 1st and 6th string having the same pattern and note names, and how to find the octave using the the 5th and 6th string which notes u have to memorize first, don't you? you can get this done in 20 minutes?cool!really?
    beginnerguitarn
    Oh, one more note to Tomasso up above about finding notes on the first string. You would not have to go through that entire process because the pitch classes on the first string are exactly the same as the sixth string. So it's already learned.
    The9
    Fantastic i have struggled with theory for a while and this has blown it open for me. Thank you very much
    SpaceJunkie
    If you know the chromatic scale its not that hard to navigate the fretboard
    davidax440
    Chromatic scale will not prepare you for the 15 major keys. Each key creates a pattern specific to it's name. that pattern must be studied and learn to be able to play its notes.
    tommaso.zillio
    This method simply does not work: to find a note on the first string following what is written in the article I would have to: 1) find the note on the 5th string 2) find the same note on the 3rd string using the octave pattern 3) find the same note on the 1st string using again the octave pattern from the 3rd string In any real life playing situation this is simply too slow, and there is too much "brain" involved. Just few days ago there was an article posted on UG that shows a set of better methods to recall the fretboard automatically (if you train it): http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/t...
    Panasonic3
    this method actually worked for me. this is how i have come to understand notes expanding into the upper register of the fretboard. of course methods are slow at first. like anything else you have to take baby steps, and same note association through understanding octaves is a great start in my opinion.
    tommaso.zillio
    One thing is doing baby steps, another is to get an habit that will slow you down needlessly later (i.e. search for the octave, rather than just KNOW where the notes are). For instance, the method in the Doug Marks video below works much better than the one in the article.
    mickmarz
    here it is:
    davidax440
    I've seen this video before. This is why student pick up their guitar throw it against the wall and walk away and never come back. The lesson create nueron havoc in the brain. The fastest way to a point is a straight shot. And this guy winds the living crap out of it. I know the notes on the fretboard and I didn't learn them the way Doug spells it out. I know for a fact that way is the long/wrong way to do it. it will take months or never to get throw it!
    davidax440
    There is a magic bullet , I have it . That's why I know it exist. There is a long way,like the one presented here. Or short way. I can teach a non guitar player in less than two hours how to learn the natural notes on the first 12 frets. That is the pattern it creates and the names of the notes. But is must be taught my way:away from the guitar,no muisc theory. At least not in a traditional way.lv only done it with family members and they got it. Don't stop believing it can't be done easily and quickly. Those who say otherwise don't understand the fretboard's simple side. By the way, this type of lessons are a waste of time. They concentrate in a very weak way on the c major scale. And don't prepare you for the other 14 major keys. The tools I use to learn the c major scale are also the ones to learn the other keys. So everything is progressive and reuse the tools to learn the next keys. Trust me,if you master the lesson presented here you will not be able to just jump in learn the next key. I see the notes On the fretboard easily in my minds eye. but I did not use anything presented online. I had to created!
    rbtc98
    ya just another online lesson coarse,i have been playing for about a year,i have been to all the online guitar lessons I belong to about 4 of them.i think they are a good supplement.but not to take place of a good guitar teacher
    mickmarz
    the best method ive seen for fretboard memorization is one that doug marks does- check it out on youtube. he uses a very interesting method that makes good use of a few repeating patterns/shapes.
    theaetetus7
    It's helpful to have some patterns to go by. Thanks for pointing them out. I used to make flashcards for stuff like this, but now I make computer programs to help myself learn stuff. The one I made for fretboards is online: fretboardpractice.themusicofthespheres.com. It lets you choose which notes to work on so you can start in small batches and work up. It lets you use note names or musical notation on a treble clef. You can even answer questions by plucking the note on your real guitar.