Basics Nobody Tells You

The common sense basics of theory that make all the difference.

Ultimate Guitar
Through my journey of learning guitar, I've found that although sites such as this one can be great, a lot of basic things are left out. Although most of it is purely common sense, some of us (like me) just can't seem to figure it out. I don't claim to be a theory guru, and I've only just started taking (official) lessons today. Other than that, I'm self-taught. I'm going to delve into topics that will help you get the basics down -- most of this is necessary if you want to even look at a theory tutorial without getting totally confused.

Notes On The Fretboard In Standard Tuning (EADGBE)

I'm sure many of you (if your new) have no idea what notes your playing. Well I have a simple method for you to memorize the entire fretboard (As long as you know your ABCs at least...)! The secret is, there really is no cryptic code language for the notes on the frettboard, they are in alphabetical order (ABCDEFG, then repeat with whatever letter you started with...), and they repeat after the 12th fret. The notes are (starting with the open string, ending at the 12th fret)
E string: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E B String: B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B G String: G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G D String: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D A String: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A E String: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E
notice how all the notes are the same at the twelfth fret? Well, they all repeat after that. We'll delve into the sharps in the next section.

Half-Steps, Whole Steps

You've probably heard of these, that they are the same increment as the black keys on a piano, or something similar. Well what does that mean? A common question that I find confuses most of us who are just learning about music for the first time. Well Same as the notes on the fretboard, I have a simple answer. Think of half steps and whole steps as a measurement of distance (such as miles or Kilometers) Each half step (on the guitar)is one fret, and a whole step is two frets. Look at the notes on the fretboard listed above. An F is a half step away from E on the E string (high or low) and and F# is a whole step away from that same E note. Simple enough eh? Well thats pretty much all there is to half and whole steps (bear in mind, I'm only explaining the basics here, how to apply this stuff will be in more complex theory lessons) Now you might have noticed a pattern that works on most of the fretboard.
- E string: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E - B String: B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B G String: G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G D String: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D A String: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A - E String: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E
These notes switch from flats to sharps at the same frets! And there is a reason for it. Actually, on most instruments, the B String would be the same as the GD and A strings, and that is what takes us to our next topic


As simply as I can explain them, intervals are the difference in the number of steps between two pitches(notes). Its not the number of frets you go down, but rather the ones in between. E to A is an interval of a fourth because there are 4 half steps in between them. The guitar is tuned in 4th, 4th, 4th, 3rd, 4th intervals. This explains the distance between the notes of the open-faced tuning. It is also totally unique in design to the (standard) tuning of any other instrument. For Example, 5 frets (a 4th) down from the E string, you get an A (the tuning for the next string), Then 5 frets (a 4th) down from the A you get a D (next string), 5 down (4th) from the D and you get a G, but the interval goes down one for B, so you only go 4 frets (3rd) down from G to get it. Another 4th (5 frets) from B however, you get an E. So an interval is merely the amount of half-steps in between two notes. E to A Sandwiches 4 half-steps in between each other, making a fourth. E to G sandwiches 2 half-steps together, which would make a 2nd... and so on so forth.

Reading Music And Using A Metronome

It is not essential to read music, and I can't even read a lot of it myself. Thats what tabs were created for. However there is a great deal tabs cannot do, and I'll explain how to get the basics of note reading down, as well as how to effectively use a metronome to practice. Quite simply, Tabs can't tell you how long to hold a beat for. This is fine with modern programs like power tab, or even for songs you know. But what do you do if you are presented with music you've never heard before? A Tab tells you what to play, but not how fast, or how long in between notes. This will also help you write tabs with programs like power tab or guitar pro, as they follow musical theory principles to work... There are 5 types of notes, and each represents a certain number of beats. A Sixteenth note - .25 (1/10) of a beat An Eighth Note - .5 (1/2) of a beat A Quarter note - 1 beat A Half note - 2 beats A Whole note - 4 beats most music is in 4/4 format (4 beats in a bar). So under that format, one bar would fit one whole note, two half-notes, four quarter notes, 8 eighth notes or 16 sixteenth notes per bar. Now how long is a beat? Well, thats not something I can give a physical answer to. I'm not sure exactly how many milliseconds between beats there are for every tempo. Thats where our metronome comes in. A metronome is a device (more likely a computer program in our age) that indicates how long a beat is at a specific tempo. Most produce a noise of some sort on each beat. Hold the note for one beat for a quarter note, 2 for a half, 4 for a whole, 1/2 of a beat for an Eighth, or 1/10 for a Sixteenth.

Ending Note

I hope this was useful to you in some way. I know it doesn't seem like I taught you anything useful now, but I guarantee you'll realize otherwise if you take on the task of learning musical theory. Throughout this article I have tried to explain the basics of music that are seldom taught if you haven't been studying music since grade school. Some of us are just starting to play now, at age 17, like me, or maybe even older, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have the same opportunity. Hell, Even starting late I still say it is possible to get up there with the best of the virtuosos. Who knows, maybe I'm just an idiot who couldn't figure all this stuff out on his own for a long time. But maybe, just maybe there are others like me out there, and hopefully this guide will make all the difference in their musical advancement.

105 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Awesome! If only i'd had this guide 2 1/2 years ago! And for the record, you've just explained intervals to me in language i can finally understand nice one =]
    some say that this article, being made up of things people never tell you... well, no1really has lol i know whenever i looked on UG for something such as this or newhere else i never could come across a simplistic article such as this one, and if i did, they would incorporate so much other shit in it that it would just confuse the hell out of me, and i ended up no better than i did b4...9/10 for this article, overlooking the miscalculations of course
    wow this is some great stuff for newcomers! now if they could make articles for advanced peoples with this same quality..
    gr8 article, ive been self-teaching myself guitar for almost 3 years, n i stick to tabs and stay away from ANY theory, basicsd like these are enevr explained simply anywhere, theyre just wraped up in a a lot of crap. now that i undersatdnt eh way notes are set on the board i can finaly understand scales and the like, cheers!
    hey great article, most of the stuff i'd learned but its good for basics. just a note about types of notes (ie. 16fh, 8th, quarter), I know that some guys are trying to nail you for saying that there are only 5 kinds of notes, and they say that there are more, to be precise 7 (not including dots and stuff), with 32nds and 64ths. they are wrong. there are an infinite number of possibilties to divide the beat, going up from 64ths to 128ths and beyond, although these are extremely rare, but do exist. and you did make one mistake that they did point out correctly, and thats that a sixteenth isnt 1/10, its 1/4. good article tho.
    your interval article is completly wrong. E to A is 5 halfsteps. E -> F -> F# -> G -> G# -> A 5 halfsteps. 5th fret. Intervals are not the number of how many halfsteps they are, they are the name of its place in the major scale. Everything else was fine. I'm requesting this article be taken down because the interval part is COMPLETLY wrong.
    i've only played guitar for about a year, and have only taken 1 guitar class. other than that im self-taught too. this is very helpful in understanding theory which is something i can't really learn on my own. thanks. i know you've spent alot of time doing this.
    pEdAl2 wrote: Good article on the basics - a sixteenth note is a 1/4 of a beat not 1/10 though.
    i think i must have the highest math average in UG, lol 1/10, wtf
    I think you have intervals wrong (might be me though). I thought intervals were a way to count notes in the major scale. For example with the C major scale which contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C, the C note would be the 1st inteval, D the second, E the third, F the fourth etcetera.
    This is a great article. I could have used this when I switched over from piano to guitar years ago. A little too late for me, but hopefully this will help out some beginners. 9/10, great article.
    Vanilla Custard wrote: brush200400 wrote: im afraid i knew all this within my first 3 months of playing Same
    Wow thats amazing guys, do you want "Mr Fantastic" medals?...douchebags!! good article for people just starting out though.
    yea um if any of you passed math class you would realize that a 1/16 note is exactly as it states. 1/16= .0625 (1 divided by 16) which = one sixteenth of a note. it does not equal 1/4 or a 1/10. where would you even get .25 out of 1/16. fyi .25 =1/4.
    You didn't say how to use a metronome effectively, that's like, the one thing I don't know , but good article, wish i could have read this when I started my first stringed instrument (violin/viola) in 4th grade :/
    hey dude very cool although i already know all this and who cares about all the mistakes anybody who said anything bad about this other than just trying to be helpful towards typos or simple misundestandings are all jack***es and i hope they fall dead on the floor
    well thanks for that thing abut the fretboard... finially and its so simple.
    yh gr8 lesson but only 1 problem other than those already pointed out: u only explained chromatic intervals! there is also major, minor, blues, etc intervals! its all bout placing within scales
    hey, here's another simple theory bit for all u lead players out there. u can play a solo on the same fret as the first finger of a power chord or 1 1/2 steps down. for example, if yur playin in g(or if u have a buddy yur jammin with and hes playin power chords on the third fret of his guitar)u can solo with a minor pentatonic on the 3rd or open. or if its the same thing, except on the 5th fret, then u can solo on the 5th or 2nd fret
    Nhex (PT) : - E string: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E - B String: B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B G String: G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G D String: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D A String: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A - E String: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E i play guitar for 8 months i know some chords and im in a band but how the hell i learn this thing by myself i have no economic power to afford lessons i just donte understand this kind of stuff if somebody would like to help me with that i would very thankful xD
    Its just a octive higher on the fret board, so top e string open would be E, then placing your finger on the first fret would become F, then one fret up would be f# here is a link
    rizo299 wrote: Awesome! If only i'd had this guide 2 1/2 years ago! And for the record, you've just explained intervals to me in language i can finally understand nice one =]
    stumbled upon this one. i agree full heartedly with rizo. i was thinking about giving up on intervals, cause i was getting crazy confused, with other stuff. i'm a year older, so i'm in the same boat. thanks a lot brah.
    hengler wrote: Can people please stop pointing out that 'omg it's 1/4 not 1/10'? WE'VE ESTABLISHED THAT NOW Good article. Nothing that should confuse beginners.
    omg its 1/10
    I really wish I would have found this about 2 years ago. Could have really set me straight. Thanks anyway. Good Column.
    Great guide for people who are just starting to learn some music theory. Except that sixteenth notes are 1/4 a beat. You got the decimal right, just not the fraction.
    Although for the most part the part about beats is correct, there is a flaw. Once you get out of any music with common time (4/4) or any other time signature with a four on the bottom, that's incorrect. But for basics, a pretty good job. p.s.-you might not want to limit types of notes at five-there's still dotted patterns and triplets, etc.
    I myself am a self taught and just started to learn music theory. Its amazing how these basics have changed my songs i've already written which i thought were good in the first place now are even better. I give you a 10 because its rare to find someone who has the answers in a simple form that everybody can understand sometimes. LOL thanks man great effort.
    Lil Munsta
    Great basics here, I'm currently trying to teach a beginner the theory of the music and that tabs don't give you everything, I may show him this to help him... Thanks
    Sweet! I just wouldn't get what intervals were before i read this. Very helpful. Thanks!
    It's a decent article, but your intervals section is wrong. Yes, it does work that in a fourth, four half-steps are sandwiched between the root and fourth, but in a fifth, there are six half-steps. An interval really refers to the degree of the note on the major scale of the root. For example, on a C root, the major scale goes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. So, for this scenario, the fifth would be the G, the fifth degree of the scale. An augmented (or sharp) fourth would be F#, or up a half-step from the fourth of the C major scale. The second would be D, the sixth would be A, etc. I hope this helped clear it up a little for anyone who might have been confused by the interval section.
    Nice explanations but one thing you ommited in eplaining the intervals between the strings is that if you were to go backwards its a 5th eg. G-D rather than D-G (4th). The fundamentals of powerchording
    SuMwuTTouCHeD : yea um if any of you passed math class you would realize that a 1/16 note is exactly as it states. 1/16= .0625 (1 divided by 16) which = one sixteenth of a note. it does not equal 1/4 or a 1/10. where would you even get .25 out of 1/16. fyi .25 =1/4.
    ya know I bet they reduced the fraction... which would get you 1/4 if I remember right.
    I learnt this when I was in youngschool, well some things after during my 3 months of lessos. I left cause I needed to do my own rhytm and didn't have much time. Thanks I needed one of these things anyway.
    nice article well done on it. the intervals thing is a bit confusing though, perhaps some revision on it? one thing i've found really helps me is looking at the maths within the guitar. simple things like octaves, their chords, working out how to play the same intervals differently etc. has really helped me improve my techniqe. also, do take the time to study how scales and modulation work. this is extremely useful for songwriters or composers and might help you to find that chord in the middle of a song you just can't seem to figure out.
    good idea for an article there were probably a lot of people too embarrassed to ask about this stuff. ignore the part about intervals though, i think that just confused everyone.
    "These notes switch from flats to sharps..." umm... what?? There are no flats marked and, last time I checked, non-natural notes are called either sharp or flat based on the key. Many other problems with this article have already been mentioned. I'm glad nobody told me your basics.
    Dude you are so lost in the interval part, please man you are just confusing everyone that didn't know them. Really dude check that out before you post an article. Other than that its fine.
    Already Knew some f it but its still very helpful..other people should know this!