Do You Need to Learn the Notes on the Guitar Fretboard?

Very often I hear the question from new students like: “Is it necessary to learn the notes on the guitar fretboard?”

logo
Ultimate Guitar
Do You Need to Learn the Notes on the Guitar Fretboard?
28

Very often I hear the question from new students: “Is it necessary to learn the notes on the guitar fretboard?”

And actually, the answer is... “It depends”.

For example, if you just started to play, it’s absolutely not necessary to learn all the notes. You will find yourself struggling because it’s hard, boring and not applicable to anything. Well obviously it’s not applicable - you can’t play anything yet.

For people with experience, it’s different. If you already formed some basic skills you can benefit A LOT from knowing notes on the guitar. Here are some benefits:

  • You will understand chords much better and how to construct them by yourself without chord book.
  • You will be able to see how to make the sound of the chords you already know much interesting, like add some notes or remove some notes.
  • You could use it improvising over the chord progression or just improvising on your own.
  • You could write your own songs faster.

As you see all the benefits are not applicable for beginners. So start from here. If you are beginner then, learn to play some simple stuff first and build basic skills. This is a priority for you. If you can play some songs and have learned some basic techniques, then yeah, put some time for learning basic theory, so that you could do everything else much easier.

So how to do it?

First of all, you need to understand how the notes are placed - the principle. Once you understand the principle, the process of memorization becomes much easy.

Here is the guitar fretboard, like when you look at the guitar when you play it (from above):

This is the thing you need to write down for yourself and remember so that you could identify any note on the guitar you want. Notes of open strings:

e - is the 1st string

B - is the 2nd

G - 3rd

D - 4th

A - 5th

E - 6th

Let’s look at the notes on the 5th string because it looks like an alphabet and it’s easy to remember:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G - 7 basic notes with original names. As you can see the distance between any couple of notes is two frets except B, C and E, F (the distance between them is one fret). This is the second thing you should write down for yourself.

 

Why is the distance between notes like this? That is complicated questions that you definitely not ready for, so don’t rush, or you will find yourself lost :)

 

As you can see after 12 frets we have the same note A as A string open, it will be just higher sound, but the not will be the same. This is true for every string. For example, G string will have G note on the 12th fret. If your guitar has 24th fret, then it also will have the same not as an open string:

Practice this first, play this notes and call out the names: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A...

 

Okay, when you understand that the rest is easy. For example, 4th D string. The notes will go with the same distance as for 5th string but just from D note:

The same principle is for G string:

And for B string:

And for both e and E strings:

So as you can see the pattern on the 5th string just repeats itself. So when you practice playing and calling out notes on the 5th string, the rest process is basically the same you just use the different note as a beginning point.

What is between F and G? Do you have a note there? Yes. It called F# or Gb. (F sharp or G flat). It doesn’t have the original name. The same principle about every neighbor notes like G, A and A, B and C, D and D, E.

Using these principles you just need to remember two things to identify any note on the fretboard:

  1. Names of open strings notes (you can use Eddy Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddy)
  2. The distance between any couple of notes is two frets except B, C and E, F

    Just put your finger randomly at the fretboard, and try to figure out what note is it. You will not remember all of this in a day, obviously. But find 10-15 minutes a day to practice it and you will find in a couple of weeks that you become much quickly at this. And after a while you will just remember all of this and it will be automatic.

    You can even practice it without guitar if you draw a fretboard on a list of paper. You can practice this way everywhere when you have a minute. Have fun! :)

    About the author:

    Pasha Bocharov is a professional guitarist and guitar instructor. If you live in Moscow and want to improve your guitar skills - you definitely want to visit his guitar lessons in Moscow.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TheBlisterer
    I've been playing for 10 years as a mostly bedroom guitarist, my enthusiasm has gone up and down over the years but now on what's hopefully a permanent up as my playing has never been this good before. I never did take the time to learn to notes of the fretboard by heart but I never really felt like I needed to until just recently now that I have my own house to dabble as much as I want without disturbing anybody. Many bedroom sessions ahead for me it seems at this stage in my guitar journey. That said, for you beginners out there, don't go thinking that learning the fretboard notes is something you must do sooner rather than later. You can become a very accomplished guitarist without doing so. Although it does build bridges to a whole other level of skills. The more you discover about the guitar the more you realise you must learn in order to master this beautiful instrument...a never ending stairway it would seem, but a good one. Happy strumming.
    gstrung
    All you need to do is learn the notes on the two bottom strings, E and A 1....because if you know the notes on bottom E, you know the notes on top E. 2 Once you find a note on the bottom E or A string, there's an easy pattern to find all the other notes, across the neck. 3. Eg;  find G, ( 3rd fret on bottom E ).. now go along 2 frets and down 2 strings. There's your next octave G. .... now go along 3 frets from that G, and down 2 strings. There's your next octave G. ..repeat that same pattern from any note on the A string.  4. Along 2, down 2, and then along 3, down 2 is all you have to remember. ...you're welcome :
    bocharovpasha
    Good tip! It's one way The more ways you know the easier it becomes to memorize all this stuff
    King_Kenroy
    Where were you when i first started playing guitar lol. That would have been some seriously helpful info,
    bonekrusha27
    It seems like a lot of people in the comments don't understand that not everybody who plays guitar cares to be a virtuoso or even in a band.  My old man just likes to strum easy chords and sing rotten songs about his friends.  He's boycotted learning since the 90's. Couldn't tell you a single chord or note but will always play. 
    ReplicantSix
    The answer is "yes", not "it depends" If you want to be an even vaguely competent musician who is even remotely serious about playing the instrument you'll know the location of the notes on the instrument. There is no excuse for not learning it, at any stage — it also requires very little in the way of brain power to learn.
    bocharovpasha
    It is useful, but the order is important as I said in the article. If you want to be serious competent musician, that yes, learning the fretboard is necessary. I agree with that. But don't compare the other people to yourself. Most beginners who struggle with simple chords don't care about "be an even vaguely competent musician". Lots of beginners have doubts that they will be even able to play anything. And for some people it takes a lot of time to develop simple skills that experienced players take for granted. If you can't play anything yet, you can not apply the knowledge of fretboard yet.
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    No. I AM a "vaguely competent musician who is even remotely serious about playing the instrument", and though I DO know how to find the notes on my fretboard, I don't know them the way Joe Satriani would like me to know them. And actually, there IS an excuse to not learn them in the first stage : being able to play basic chords you learned by rote (like E, Em, A, Am, D, C, G) and switch between them to play songs is a much better way to introduce someone to how the instrument works in the field of music. Strumming some chords with a good rhythm IS what 99% of guitar playing is about. Please, read what I wrote as I wrote it : I'm not saying "never learn the notes on your fretboard, cause that shit is useless". It can be useful, obviously.
    ReplicantSix
    If you learn chords without actually learning the notes that make up the chords and simply the shapes, you're setting yourself up for trouble down the road.  Secondly, strumming chords with reckless abandon may be what 99% of playing hipster acoustic music is, but it is not the case in much of Rock, Classical, Blues and Country music, which all but the most basic of songs will have just as much respect, perhaps moreso, for the horizontal aspect of music as much as the vertical. I'd hate to be a mix engineer for a lot of acoustic-guitar-driven bands who just strum chords with no regard to where the vocal melody is sitting amidst those huge block chords. Lastly, I'm largely self taught on the instrument and I think I had the notes on the fretboard, their corresponding tab and notation memorized in less than a week — you can do it too.
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    Talking about Rock music, I'm pretty sure 99% of Guns n' Roses music IS strumming chords. As well as 100% of British and American pop-rock music for more than 50 years. Classical music, well, last time I checked, classical guitar entails reading score, not tabs, so yeah, if you're into that, learning notes from day one is compulsory. Blues and country, same thing : strumming. There is no way you're going to teach a beginner to solo blues before you teach him the underlying progression of chords. I think you have a preconceived idea of what "strumming on a guitar" is, that is not the reality. The reality of guitar is that even John Petrucci spends most of his songs playing chords and not solo. Chords hitting is called strumming.
    ReplicantSix
    I'm glad you bring up Guns N Roses because they are exactly what I am talking about.
    That's not much in the way of simply "strumming chords", there are some dyads in there, but most of the accompaniment is a linear succession of tones that interact harmonically (create chords) with Axl's vocal melody; I.e., countermelody. Here is one of the most popular beginner rock riffs of all time; same concept as above.
    Just learn the notes on your fretboard.
    ReplicantSix
    Long story short, the article even shows you the trick for memorizing note locations. It's not relevant for a beginner to be able to reach for X note on X string at light speed on demand, but it's absolutely an essential for them to know what note they are playing at any given time.
    xJamesDean
    People like you think that you know it all, when really you know nothing. *facepalm* 
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    People like you think they know what they're talking about, but they don't. See how it works ? We could go at it for hours. Be more explicit next time.
    xJamesDean
    I'm not the one sitting here with penis of the mouth thinking that I know it all about music and theory. The guy is simply trying to help people out. I could sit here and say I know theory out the wazoo, amongst other things, but I don't because I respect those who try, means of being humble and genuine, not a twat. 
    lespaulmaster
    Very useful information. I'll share with students.  I remember as a kid I use to keep a hand written neck written in fluorescent, taped on the ceiling above my bed. My black lites were always on, I spent hours memorizing the neck.  
    bocharovpasha
    The good thing that you can practice that kind of stuff when you don't have access to play guitar
    bonekrusha27
    Good lesson! And some good tips in the comments as well.  My teacher taught me how to be able to name every note on the fretboard in 5 seconds.  You go by fret.  Name every note in the first fret starting with string 6.  Every week for a few weeks I had to know a few more frets all in 5 seconds until I could do them all (up to 12th fret).  I was surprised how easy it was and how useful it was.
    drhaley1
    Thank you for this lesson.  I've always been curious about the relationship from notes on the one end of the fret board to the other.  I'm a super beginner.  I've been playing for 3 years and I'm still terrible, but I enjoy the heck out of it.  I started trying to learn notes and reading music which I think is important in the long run, but not necessarily essential for every player.  Depends on your goals.  I would like to eventually pick up a piece of music and play it, as well as improvise and modify songs to my liking as noted in the article.  I have no background in music so it's been slow going. Although I learned some things early on, trying to learn notes is really boring and the infantile songs in the lesson books makes you want to put a bullet thru your head.  Thank God for Utube....I got to learn some songs that I like or at least parts of the songs and/or some riffs.  This helped keep me motivated and helped A LOT with strumming and chord shapes.  Now, I'm back to picking and more curious about notes.  I have difficulty reading tab, so I think it's easier to learn the notes (for me).  I have no idea what most of you are talking about it, but as someone stated it is a journey and each person's path is different.  
    pangetbri
    This is Nice...So lets say i got this,,,what's next to learn so i can do improvisation or my own solo  ? thanks.... or can you post another article for the next step..thanks again
    bocharovpasha
    Find some baking track with chord progression in C major. This one would be perfect - it shows what chords are played:
    All the notes on the last picture in the article is from C major scale. So you can improvise using them. At the beginning you could just find the tonic notes of the chords in progression. So you hear the F chord and you find the F note on 1-st string etc.
    pangetbri
    Hi thanks for the nice video backing track,, i also subscribed to it.. i have another question so i can have further idea,,,the first 2 chords here are C and Am, besides the note C and Am, what are the other note on the fretboard that i can use in between that C chord and Am chord to do an improvisation on that ? i think if you can answer this, i will have a better understanding and maybe i can learn to make improvisation little by little....   hoping to finally learn this.... 
    bocharovpasha
    Use any notes from last picture of this article They all will sound good for this track
    ColonelRimfire
    Well of course you need to learn the notes on the fingerboard. That would be like saying "Does a painter need to know which colors he is using to paint!?" It seems pretty straight forward to me...
    bocharovpasha
    Not sure what you mean here, I don't think it's the best analogy. You don't need to be a painter to know names of basic colors like red, green... And it depends if you professional painter there are probably a lot of theory behind mixing colors and their variations. I'm not a painter but I think it's endless development. Just like in music. Scales, keys, cadences... But do you really need all this knowledge if you can't draw some simple shapes like circles on the pice of paper or can't play ANYTHING on the guitar. This is the point of article It's like teaching a 1 years old kid the theory how to relax you muscles while running marathon, when the kid just start learning how to walk. He can't use it in any way! Just like beginner guitar student can't use knowledge of fretboard.