Intervals Series Pt. 1: Learning the Notes of the Fretboard

The easiest tips for learning the notes on the fretboard is:

1. Learn the open string names, from low to high: E A D G B E
2. Learn two basic intervals: Half-step = H = one fret, Whole step = W = two frets. So one Whole-step = 2 Half-steps.
3. Learn the cycle of notes: A B C D E F G A, repeat. The notes run A-G then start over again at A and repeat. This will never change. (there is no H, I, etc...note name)
4. Learn that each note in the "Cycle of Notes" is a Whole-step from its neighboring note, except E and F, and B and C. These notes are Half-steps from each other.

This is the 'Cycle of Notes" using the information above:

A      B      C       D       E       F       G      A
\    /   \   /    \    /   \     /   \    /   \     /   \    /         ....repeat
W     H      W      W      H      W      W

Once you hit A again the next note would be B, and so on. The Cycle just keeps repeating itself. The Cycle is static. And, the Intervals NEVER change, they are also static. B will ALWAYS be a Whole-step higher than A, C will ALWAYS be a Half-step above B, etc...again, this is static, it will always be the same.

Now by knowing the names of the open strings you can use the Cycle above to find these notes on each of the strings, just by moving up or down the Cycle of Notes.

Regardless of what note you start on in the Cycle, the Interval Structure always stays the same.

If you start on A, B will always be a Whole-step higher than A, and A will always be a Whole-step higher than G, or G will always be a Whole-step lower than A.

If you start on D, E will always be a Whole-step higher than D, and D will always be a Whole-step higher than C, or C will always be a Whole-step lower than D.

If you start on F, G will always be a Whole-step higher than F, and F will always be a Half-step higher than E, or E will always be a Half-step lower than F.

If you start on G, G UP to C will always be "2 Whole-steps and a Half-step" above G, and the same distance going DOWN from C to G.

If you start on C, C UP to E will always be "2 Whole-steps" above C, and the same distance going DOWN from E to C. And, D will always be a Whole-step away from both E and C.

Hopefully that makes sense, it's important to know to fully utilize the Cycle and know the note relationships.

Start at one of the open strings (preferably the A string to start) and work your way up using the cycle moving in Whole-steps or Half-steps stated in the Cycle of Notes. Also start at the 12th fret and work your way down the cycle, and start at the 12 fret and work your way up the cycle.

Now let's apply this to the guitar:

The dashes below represent the A String, The vertical bars represent the frets.

So, using the Cycle of Notes on the A string moving up according to the Cycle of Notes above, these are the notes you get (you may need to stretch the width of the browser to see this as one ling line)...

Open A string |---------|----B----|----C----|---------|----D----|---------|----E----|----F----|---------|----G----|----------|----A----|----------|----B----|----C----| ...and on and on if you continue up the fretboard.

You'll notice that the 12th fret note name is the same name as the open string note name. When you complete one Cycle (as in A to A, B to B, etc...) you've reached an 'Octave". Octave meaning, the same note name just higher or lower in pitch.

Also, you can practice the Cycle by starting at any fret and working your way through the Cycle.

One of the best forms of practice is to write out a fretboard on paper. Label the open strings. Now, write in the names of the notes given in the Cycle of Notes on your fretboard. You should be able to fill them in as high as the fretboard goes.

What about the other notes between the Whole-steps? What are they all about, or named???

This Cycle of Notes so far accounts for all the "Natural  Note Names" (plain old A, B, C, etc...) but it does not account for the notes in between the Whole Steps. This is where #'s and b's come into play.

On the guitar, to # (sharp) a note means to move a Natural Note Name one Half-step higher or one fret higher. So, moving the A note one fret higher = A#, and then continuing one more fret higher is B, etc...

On the guitar, to b (flat) a note means to move a Natural Note Name one Half-step lower or one fret lower. So, moving the A note one fret lower = Ab, and then continuing one more fret lower is G, etc...

There's a term used in music named Enharmonic. The meaning of the name is harmless in comparison to the word itself. What it means is this:

If you move one fret high than the A note you have A#, right? But, if you move one fret lower than B you have Bb, right? But in reality, aren't A# and Bb really the same note? Sound wise yes, musically yes, they are the same fret on the same string, so they are called Enharmonic (or no harmonic difference) of each other...they are essentially the same note.

Easy, huh?

With all the Enharmonic notes added to the Cycle of Notes we end up with a pretty complete picture including all the notes of the fretboard, essentially the Chromatic scale (a sequence of every note moving in Half-steps):

A     A#/Bb     B      C    C#/Db       D       D#/Eb       E       F        F#/Gb      G     G#/Ab      A
\   /          \   /   \    /  \   /          \     /   \    /           \    /   \     /  \      /           \   /   \  /           \   /          repeat...
H            H      H     H             H       H              H       H       H              H     H             H

Now let's apply this to the guitar:

The dashes below represent the A String, The vertical bars represent the frets.

So, using the Cycle of Notes on the A string moving up a Half-step at a time, these are the notes you get (you may need to stretch the width of the browser to see this as one long line)...

Open A string |--A#/Bb--|----B----|----C----|--C#/Db--|---D---|--D#/Eb--|---E---|---F---|--F#/Gb--|---G---|--G#/Ab--|---A---|--A#/Bb--|---B---|---C---| ...and on and on if you continue up the fretboard.

Using the Cycle, you can continue all the way up the A string until you run out of frets, and you can account for every note.

Now apply this to all the remaining strings to create a full fretboard of notes. It's best to do this on paper to start. And, repeat it on paper a few times before applying it to the guitar. This is very important.

Just remember to use your Open Strings as the starting point in the the Cycle, and progress form there.

How to practice using all of this, based on what you may already know:

Most guitarist first revelation to learning notes is the root notes of certain barre chords. Most guitarist will learn the names of the notes on the low E string and the A string so they can find common ways to play most chords using nothing but barre chords.

Then the next revelation is that the notes on the low E and high E strings run in parallel. IOW, they're the same note name at the same fret (but in different octaves)

Example of this, a note played on the 3rd fret on both the low and high E string is G. Move both up a whole-step and they'll be A, and so on.

So, if you know the names of the notes on the Low E string, you know the high E string. And you probably know the notes on the A string also. So, this means that you know the notes of three strings already, now you just need to learn the other three strings. Using the Cycle of Notes, this is not to hard of a task...

memorizing them is the hard part.

Here's some tips:

Next thing I suggest is to find the octaves of the notes that you do know. The octaves will help you get back to something familiar, but in an unfamiliar area. Making things relate to things you already know will make it easier to learn them. Like this...

If you know the 5th fret of the low E string is an A note and you know the 7th fret of the D string is the octave of that A note...now you can reference the 7th fret of the D string as a starting point for the Cycles of Notes. On the D string the 7th fret is A, the 9th fret (a Whole-step higher) is B, another Half-step to the 10th fret is C, and so on...

so, by knowing the octaves between the low E and the D string you can know start learning the notes on the D string as well as you know them on the low E string.

Another tip is REPETITION.

I can't stress this to you enough, write the fretboard on paper filling in the Cycle of Notes a good 10 times or so until you're just flying through it. Then sit down with the guitar and use what you've written down to help you find notes.

You'll start to see patterns evolve that will help you visually memorize different aspects of the notes on all the strings. Combinations will start to form. But, you need to do it on paper to get the full and fastest effect.

You may find you know where some notes are pretty easy and where some are not so easy...

Well, take a break on the ones you know and "block train", or focus, on the ones you don't know. If you have a handle on knowing where some notes are, time spent focusing on the ones you don't know will help you fill in the gaps.

Once you get familiar with were the notes are on the fretboard, you can quiz yourself using this tool called Fretboard Warrior. Just follow that link, it's free also. But it's a valuable tools to visually lock this stuff in.