It is not uncommon for guitarists to find themselves a year or two into playing the guitar before they realize they don't know most of the notes on the fretboard. New players tend to start learning chords and simple songs without putting too much effort into music theory.
This is ok. The guitar can be played just fine without having to memorize all of the note names on the fretboard. However, it certainly helps you to become a better player if you can quickly identify what note you are playing. So whether you are a complete beginner looking to get ahead or an advanced player looking to finally fill the gaps in your knowledge, this guide will help you learn the notes on the guitar.
Why learn the notes on the guitar?
Knowing where all of the notes are will help you to learn the scales and modes faster. It adds a mental clarity to the instrument that gives you more confidence when learning new concepts. Think of it like building a solid foundation which the rest of your guitar theory knowledge will build upon. When you get into learning scales you will be able to understand why those particular notes make up that particular scale. It will also help your lead guitar skills, as if you know what key the song is in you will know what notes to hit or avoid based on the key signature.
The Strings on the Guitar
The open strings in standard tuning are EADGBE. The thickest string is the low E string, then you have the a string, d string, g string, b string, and finally the thinnest string, the high e string. The guitar is tuned mostly in 4ths with exception of the G to B string which is a major 3rd. If you are wondering what a 4th is, it just means that the notes are 4 notes apart. For example, if you follow along the musical alphabet you see E -> F -> G -> A. E is the first note and A is the 4th note.
Here is a complete shot of all of the notes on the fretboard. As you can see, it looks a little overwhelming. For this reason, I break it up by string further down on the page.
Take a look at the notes and see if you can pick out any patterns that you see. The most obvious one is that the notes on the 1st string and 6th string are the same. The next one that jumps out to me is the octaves. Octaves are the same note but at higher or lower tones. The high E and low E are octaves. The 3rd fret on the e string (G) and the 6th fret on the D string are octaves.
Sharps and Flats
You'll notice there are no flat notes on these charts. This is due to simplification, but just know that a sharp is one half step above a natural note and a flat is one half step below. There are exceptions to this rule though. B to C and E to F have no sharp/flat in between.
Notes Beyond the 12th Fret
These charts stop at the 12th fret because that is where the notes start over and begin repeating. The notes at the 12th fret are the same as the open strings. The 13th fret will have the same notes as the first fret.
Single String Notes
Below I have created diagrams to show the single notes on each guitar string by themselves. This is useful in studying as it allows you to focus in on just one string at a time.
Notes on the E Strings
Notes on the A String
Notes on the D String
Notes on the G String
Notes on the B String
Blank Guitar Fretboard Chart
Here is a blank fretboard that you can print out and use to fill in as practice. It's also useful to write out guitar scales and chords as a reference.
Practice the Notes
Some good practice exercises to do that will help you learn the notes quickly are:
- Learn every spot you can play a given note (For example, all of the G notes.)
- Master the finger patterns for playing octaves.
- Memorize where all the notes are in a given key. (for example the key of C, there are no sharps or flats. The key of D has all the of the F's and C's sharp, so avoid F and C natural)
- Create scales to practice. Look up what keys have what notes, and create scales using the blank fretboard on this page.
- Look at what notes make up the guitar chords you already know.
Doing all of the above will build a solid foundation for your guitar playing. If you are taking guitar lessons already, your teacher will be impressed!
All of the charts on this page are for standard tuning. If you are a beginner, I recommend you stick to standard tuning until you are comfortable with it. The next tuning to explore would be drop D. Drop D is where you tune the sixth string from an E down to a D. Beyond drop D, you have open tunings like open G and DADGAD which are fun, especially for acoustic guitar, but are for another day.