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Learning The Guitar Fretboard

Learning the guitar fretboard is not hard.

If you want to be more than just a casual player, you need to know how the notes on the fretboard are arranged. The video explains this lesson in about 4 minutes, but read on if you prefer a written version.


The first thing to understand is that the notes in music are named as per the first seven letters of the alphabet i.e. A B C D E F & G, (lets call this the music alphabet). For a six string guitar in “standard tuning”, the strings are tuned :-

  • string one – E
  • string two – B
  • string three – G
  • string four – D
  • string five  – A
  • string six – E

where string one is the smallest gauge.

Guitars can have more than six strings, and can have other tunings. I am not going to detail these as the principles you will learn now can be applied to any guitar and tuning.


The relationship between the notes of the music alphabet is :-

  • if you are playing an ‘A’, a ‘B’ is two frets higher (in the direction from the nut to the bridge).
  • if you are playing a ‘B’, a ‘C’ is one fret higher,
  • if you are playing a ‘C’, a ‘D’ is two frets higher,
  • if you are playing a ‘D’, an ‘E’ is two frets higher,
  • if you are playing an ‘E’, an ‘F’ is one fret higher,
  • if you are playing an ‘F’, a ‘G’ is two frets higher,
  • if you are playing a ‘G’, an ‘A’ is two frets higher,

Taking the ‘A’ string as an example, ‘A’ is an open string(not fretted), so ‘B’ is on the second fret, ‘C’ is on the third, ‘D’ on the fifth, ‘E’ on the seventh, ‘F’ on the eighth, ‘G’ on the tenth, and ‘A’ on the twelfth. We have moved up the fretboard 12 frets from an ‘A’ to the next ‘A’ an “octave ” higher. Moving up the fretboard 12 frets on the same string, from any note results in an octave.

More detail on this in “OCTAVES” after STEP SIX.


Draw a diagram of a guitar fretboard, (make it have 24 frets) and write in the open string names for standard tuning as detailed above. Write these at the start of the fretboard at the nut ( the head stock end of the guitar).

Then on each string, fill in the note names according to the relationships, ‘A’ to ‘B’ is two frets etc as previously explained till the whole fretboard is filled. Don’t worry about the in between notes for now, these will be explained in STEP FIVE.


Examine your diagram and highlight all the ‘E’s. Can you see any patterns that might help you memorize all the ‘E’ notes ? Try following this sequence of ‘E’s and draw some connecting lines between them:-

  • first string – open
  • sixth string – open
  • fourth string – fret 2
  • second string – fret 5
  • fifth string – fret 7
  • third string – fret 9
  • first string – fret 12

This pattern repeats for frets 12 to 24.


Memorize this pattern of ‘E’s and play through it up and down on your guitar as many times as you need to be confident with it. Don’t have 24 frets? Thats okay, just play the pattern till you run out of fretboard. This pattern will work for ANY note you choose to start from. Try all the ‘F’s, then ‘G’s etc. Make sure you play the pattern up, and down the fretboard.

What about the names of the in between notes?

We name these using the terms “sharp” and “flat”. The symbol for a sharp is “#” and for a flat is “b”. If a note is made sharp, it is played one fret higher, and if made flat, it is played one fret lower. So by knowing where the “natural” notes are (A, B, C, D, E, F, & G) as you now do, name the in between notes accordingly. For example, the notes on the ‘A’ string from the open to the twelfth fret ascending one fret at a time are :-

A A#or Bb B C C# or Db D D# or Eb E F F# or Gb G# or Ab A. As ‘B’ and ‘C’ are only one fret apart, (as are ‘E’ and ‘F’), we do not usually call ‘C’ a ‘B#’, or ‘B’ a ‘Cb’. And like wise we do not usually call ‘F’ an “E#’, or ‘E’ an ‘Fb’. This can occur in music but discussing that now is beyond the scope of this lesson.


Play the pattern you have memorized and now include the in between notes. You are now on your way to being a more complete guitar player, and have a great foundation to build your knowledge of other musical concepts such as Scales, Keys, Chords, Arpeggios etc.


Look at your fretboard diagram, and focus on the ‘E’s again. I mentioned earlier about an “octave” being when you play any note on a string, and then play the note twelve frets higher on the same string. Octaves can also occur when the second note is played on an other string. To help understand octaves on the fretboard, connect the following ‘E’s on your diagram :-

  • Set One
  • first string – open
  • second string – fret 5
  • third string – fret 9
  • fourth string – fret 14
  • fifth string – fret 19
  • sixth string – fret 24

These are all the same ‘E’ and are called “unisons”. Play to hear they are the same pitch.

Now connect the following ‘E’s :-

  • Set Two
  • fourth string – fret 2
  • fifth string – fret 7
  • sixth string – fret 12

These are also all the same ‘E’ and are called “unisons ” but are an octave lower than those in Set One. Play to hear the unisons and try some octaves; there are more than one.

Now connect these ‘E’s :-

  • Set Three
  • first string – fret 12
  • second string – fret 17
  • third string – fret 21

These are also all the same ‘E’ and are called “unisons ” but are an octave higher than those in Set One. The open ‘E’ sixth string is a one off, and an octave lower than Set Two. The ‘E’ first string at fret 24 is also a one off, and an octave higher than those in Set Three. The SAME relationship applies for ALL OTHER notes on the guitar !

Now just practice playing and naming the notes. Practice octaves in different positions. Listen how unisons sound and also octaves. How many octaves does your guitar have?

I hope this has been helpful.


Article by Barry Bickel. You can read more from Barry on his web site:

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