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Learning the notes on the Guitar Neck

Continuing along the lines of my last blog post, Should I Learn How to Read Music, a problem I see with many students is they don't know the location of the notes on their instrument. Again, the guitar is such a pop(ular) instrument that it's easy to pick it up and sound pretty good just by following Youtube videos or reading Tab.


I've asked many students what they are thinking about when they are hunting for notes on the neck and they often say it's like a fog. Some spots they know (like where the A note is to play their A Blues Scale) and E because that's the double fret marker. Beyond that, just a big old fog to get lost in.


Compare that to a horn player or a pianist. You think they don't know where the notes are on their instrument? Sure they do. The difference is, most other instruments you can take classes in school like band and orchestra, where reading and note location is drilled through the method books, practice, rehearsals, and performances.


I'm here to tell you that learning the notes on the Guitar neck is simple. You just have to make it a priority and spend a few minutes every practice doing a few things.


Step 1 - There are only seven natural notes


If you can say your ABC's like this ... A B C D E F G ... congratulations! You know all the natural notes we play on our instrument. There are no Z notes, Q notes or silly LMNOP notes. Just A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Take a breath, you're off to a great start!


Step 2 - Know the Difference between a Half Step and Whole Step


On the guitar, the distance between one fret to the next fret is a Half Step. For example, if you play the 1st fret on the E string and then play the 2nd fret, that is an interval of a half step.


A Whole Step is two frets. Using the same example, if you play the 1st fret and then the 3rd fret, you've played an interval of a Whole Step.


Step 3 - Memorize this rule!


Two pairs of natural notes, B & C and E & F are always a half step apart, or, one fret apart. ALWAYS!


Those two pairs are kind of like neighbors. Whenever you play a B note, if you go one fret higher, it will be a C note. Same with E. One fret higher and you have F.


If you have a keyboard or piano at home, look at the keys. Or look at the keys below.



See the white keys without a black key in-between?

You'll notice there are places where the white keys do not have a black key in between. Those are the notes B & C and E & F.


Staying with the piano example, all other notes have a black key between them. Those are the sharps and flats. But don't worry about that now, we'll get back to that later.


Almost done!


Step 4 - Pick a String and Play & Say the Natural Notes


We're going to use the B string as an example as you may already know some of the notes on the E string and rush through this part. Also, if you have a clip on tuner, turn it on to check your answers.


Play the open B string - That's B

(Remember the rule, B and C are always a half step apart like neighbors. To play C....)


1st fret - C

(C and D are a whole step apart - they're not neighbors - or think of the black key on the piano separating the notes)


3rd fret - D

(D and E are a whole step apart - they're not neighbors - or think of the black key on the piano separating the notes)


5th fret - E

(E and F! Remember your rule! They are neighbors, a half step apart. To play F...)


6th fret - F

(F and G are a whole step apart - they're not neighbors - or think of the black key on the piano separating the notes)


8th fret - G

(G and A are a whole step apart - they're not neighbors - or think of the black key on the piano separating the notes)


10th fret - A

(A and B are a whole step apart - they're not neighbors - or think of the black key on the piano separating the notes)


12th fret - B

Woot! When you reach the 12th fret, or the double dots on your neck, the note there will always be the same as the open string note. It's a great way to mentally check your work. For example, if you are doing this exercise on the D string, if you reach the 12th fret and say G, something is amiss!


Wrap Up


While this is very important to your development as a guitarist and a musician, it can be a dry, boring exercise. So rather than doing this for long periods of time, simply take one string every practice and find the notes up and back down for a couple of minutes.


I will guarantee that if you do this diligently for just a few weeks, you'll soon know the Natural Notes up and down the neck on every string.


Next post, I'll talk about enharmonic notes and more advanced note exercises to help you become a Note GrandMaster!



Blue Heron Music Studio is located in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Offering Music Lessons, Guitar Lessons, Bass Lessons, and Ukulele lessons.

Call or Email to schedule a free trial lesson.

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