PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- April 3, 2017
- Guitar 101
Guitar fretboard notes are the same musically as any other western instrument. The piano offers 12 semitones and so does the guitar. The only exception and real advantage on guitar is the bending of strings to produce the between tones which are also possible on a keyboard with a joystick or wheel. Musically speaking, these notes are difficult to describe and are used in blues and rock music mostly. Basically, you can bend a guitar string a 1/4 bend and it sounds real soulful and bluesy in the context of the following note. All other tones are just one of the 12 semitones. The guitar fretboard are sometimes hard to understand because, unlike piano, they’re not laid out in front of you so clearly. Guitar has patterns and once you see them, it makes much more sense. Let’s unpack the fretboard a bit and see if you can see the patterns better.
The Semitones - Guitar Fretboard Notes
The notes that we have available are half steps apart. Let’s look at a C octave to get a view of them:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B
From middle C to the octave note above it, if you play and count every note, you will have the 12 semitones and all the musical notes you have available to you. You might say, “I thought there were flats?” Yes, of course! For the sake of argument, let’s put up the same 12 semitones but using flats this time. When you understand the sharps and flats, you’ll realize they’re the same notes only called sharp or flat to accommodate the key you’re actually playing in.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B
C# and Db are the same tone, F# and Gb are the same tone, G# and Ab are the same tone, and A# and Bb are the same tone.
The Key Signatures - Guitar Fretboard Notes
Now, we can identify the 15 key signatures and D# and A# are not included in them. Don’t let this confuse you. Here are the 15 key signatures and these will be the notes we’ll help you relate to the guitar fretboard.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
C C# or (Db) D Eb E F F# or (Gb) G Ab A Bb B or (Cb)
As you can see, C# and Db are the same tone but count as 2 different keys. F# and Gb are the same tone and B and Cb are the same, but each of these has its own key signature. There are a total of 15 keys. From these notes, all chords and melodies are made up and music happens.
The Open String Notes
If the guitar is tuned to standard tuning, starting with the little string it will be E open, B open, G open, D open, A open, and Big E open. From now on, for the sake of naming the note, it'll just be “E0.” O meaning “Open.” These are the first six notes you need to know on the guitar fretboard. Make sure you use a good tuner and, starting with the little E0, tune up your guitar. Every tuner is different, but they will all identify these six notes. When your tuner needle or light is centered, you’ll find the correct pitch for each string and be ready to move on to the next level.
The First or Little E String Notes
Starting with your first finger, place it on the first little E string and fret the first fret note. This note is a half step from your E0 and is an F1. Now place your 2nd finger on the first string, 2nd fret note. This note is an F# or Gb. Place your 3rd finger on the 1st string, 3rd fret note and you have a G. Now, the little finger on the 4th fret and you have a G# or Ab. Great, now slide your hand forward placing your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the little E string. Fret 5 is an A, 2nd finger please on the 6th fret and now you have an A# or Bb. 3rd finger on the 7th fret is a B. The pinky on the 8th fret is a C.
Now slide your hand again. Move the 1st finger to the 9th fret on the E string. Fret 9 is a C# or Db, fret 10 is a D, fret 11 is a D# or Eb and finally fret 12 is an E, which is an octave from your little E0 string where your started. At fret 13, it all repeats till you run out of room on the fretboard. F13 is an octave from F1.
The Second or B String Notes
Following the same procedure as above, let’s do the B string notes. Starting with your first finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string, this is a half step from B0 and is called C1. Move to the 2nd fret with the 2nd finger and this is a C# or Db. The 3rd fret note using the 3rd finger is a D. The 4th fret note using the pinky is a D# or Eb.
Now slide your hand down the neck and put your first finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string. Keep the pattern going. The 5th fret note is an E, 6th fret is an F, 7th fret is an F# or Gb and the 8th fret note is a G note. Slide your hand again. The 1st finger now on the 9th fret and this note is a G# or Ab. 2nd finger on the 10th fret and you have an A note. 3rd finger on the 11th for an A# or Bb and finally, the pinky on the 12th fret for a B. Then they repeat at the 13th fret. A helpful chart for all of these can be found here.
The Third or G String Notes
Let’s streamline this a bit. You should have a running go at the pattern of fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4, then slide and do it again. The G string notes are as follows.
Starting with fret 1. Fret 1 is G2, fret 2 is an A, fret 3 is an A# or Bb, and fret 4 is a B. Slide and fret 5 is a C, fret 6 a C# or Db, fret 7 a D, fret 8 an Eb. Slide again and fret 9 is an E, fret 10 is an F, fret 11 is an F# or Gb and finally, fret 12 is a G. Not too difficult, right? Guitar fretboard notes aren't bad once you know what you're doing.
The Fourth or D String Notes
Moving more quickly now. You should be starting to get the swing of moving down the fretboard on each string. The 1st fret note on the D string is an Eb. The 2nd fret is E, the 3rd fret is an F and the pinky on the 4th fret is an F#. Slide and the 5th fret note is a G, fret 6 is a G# or Ab, fret 7 is an A and fret 8 is an A# or Bb. Slide and fret 9 is a B, fret 10 is a C, fret 11 is a C# or Db and finally fret 12 on the D string is a D.
The Fifth or A String Notes
The fun continues on the A string. The first fret note on the A string is an A# or Bb. The 2nd fret note is a B, the 3rd fret is a C and the 4th fret is a C# or Db. Slide and the 5th fret note is a D, 6th fret is a D# or Eb, 7th fret is an E, and 8th fret is an F. Slide and the 9th fret note is an F#, 10th fret note is a G, 11th fret note is a G# or Ab and, finally, the 12th fret note is an A. One more string and you’ll have all the guitar fretboard notes down.
The Sixth or Big E String Notes
This one's super easy because it’s exactly the same as the little E string. First finger on the 1st fret is an F, 2nd fret is an F#, 3rd fret is a G and 4th fret is a G# or Ab. Slide and the 5th fret is an A, 6th fret is a A# or Bb, 7th fret is a B and 8th fret is a C. Slide and the 9th fret is a C#, 10th fret is a D, 11th fret is D# or Eb and finally the12th fret note is an E. That does it for the guitar fretboard notes.
Take your time and learn each string correctly. Memorize the guitar fretboard notes from the open string to the 12th fret and remember that the fretboard repeats after that at fret 13. Understanding the guitar fretboard notes is the secret to becoming a great guitarist. Go for it!
Once you know the guitar fretboard notes, you’ll be one step closer to unlocking your creativity and songwriting abilities. Another resource to add to your learning is online guitar lessons. The guitar instructors at Pro Lessons would love to be your go-to source for guitar knowledge. Find out how you can take advantage of our affordable plans by clicking below.