Category Archives: Music Theory
Lesson 3- Finding The Notes
Now that we have an understanding of the note names we need to put that into practice on the guitar fretboard. It is important for a guitarist to be able to name the notes on the fretboard.
This is the method that I use and teach.
The Fifth & Sixth Strings
First of all we need to be able to name the notes on the 6th and 5th strings and then we can use patterns of octaves to name other the notes on the guitar. The sixth string is the lowest sounding and usually thickest string closest to the top of the fretboard and the fifth is the next string down.
I use the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 10th, frets as reference points. The 3rd, 5th, and 7th, because they are natural notes and the frets have dots on them usually and the 10th as it is a natural note. Remember, the 12th fret is the same note as the open string but one octave higher.
Here are the notes. You will have to learn these. There are no shortcuts.
You may find it helps to work in pairs to learn these notes. For example the notes on the third fret are G on the 6th string and C on the 5th string. So 3rd fret = G and C. 5th fret = A and D etc.
Fill in the Gaps
Once you have these notes learned we can fill in the gaps between the whole notes. For example if we need to know the note for the third fret on the E string we know from the diagram above that this is a G. If we need to know the note on the fourth fret on the E String we can start at the nearest natural note which is either G or A and work up or down to the note.
Working up from G using the knowledge from the previous lesson you can see that we have sharpened the note so the note on the fourth fret is a G#. Working down from the A at the fifth fret will give us the answer Ab. We already know that G# and Ab are the same note. We will find out when to use sharp or flat notes in a later lesson.
Be careful to remember that the notes E and F, and B and C have no sharp or flat notes in between them. Therefore the 8th fret on the E(6th) string is the note C and the 8th fret on the A(5th) string is the note F.
Three Down Three To Go
We should know be able to name the notes on three strings on the guitar with a little bit of thought. Why three? Both the 1st and the 6th strings are tuned to E, so if we know the 6th we know the 1st. Cool eh.
To find the notes on the remaining strings we will use octave shapes to work back to the the 5th and 6th strings as we now know the notes on these two strings.
Naming Notes on the D (4th) String
Move this note down two frets towards the nut arriving at the fifth fret
Move down two strings, down on the guitar means down in pitch, arriving on the thickest E string
We should now be on the fifth fret on the E String.
Using the fretboard diagram at the top of this page we know this note is an A
The note we are now on is one octave lower than the note we started on, so we know the original note was also an A.
Naming Notes on The G (3rd) String
If we pick any note on the G string, for example the 7th fret,
Move this note down two frets towards the nut arriving at the fifth fret
Move down two strings, down on the guitar means down in pitch, arriving on the A string
We should now be on the fifth fret on the A String.
Using the fretboard diagram at the top of this page we know this note is a D
Again, the note we are on is one octave lower than the original note so we know the original note is also a D.
Naming Notes on the B (2nd) String
If we pick any note on the B string, for example the 5th fret,
Move this note down up frets towards the body arriving at the 7th fret
Move down three strings, down on the guitar means down in pitch, arriving on the A string
We should now be on the 7th fret on the A String.
Using the fretboard diagram at the top of this page we know this note is a E
Remember – The first string is tuned to E so is the same as the sixth string. Happy days.
You should now be able to name any note on the guitar. It takes time and you get quicker at it, trust me. Eventually you may find you don’t have to use this method as you get to know the notes. To practice this just pick any note on the guitar and name it. You could try naming every note on every string on individual frets as well for example name every note on the 5th fret. Have fun.
Musical notes are named using the letters of the alphabet.
A B C D E F G
The lowest sounding note would be the A on the left with the notes gradually getting higher towards the G. After the G the pattern would start again at A and continue getting higher, likewise it could continue getting lower before the A on the left like this.
A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G
These notes are known as natural notes. If you look at a piano keyboard the natural notes are the ones in white. If you pick any note from the list above and count along the line till you reach the same note again you should have hopefully counted to eight. If you got to seven make sure you counted every note including the one you started on. This distance is called an octave.
A to the next A is an octave
B to the next B is an octave
C to the next C is an octave
If you find the open E string on your guitar, this is the first or sixth string, then look for a double dot on the neck, this dot Indicates the 12th fret. If your guitar does not have a double dot count up to the 12th fret. Play the open E string and listen to the note produced, this is an E, then play the E string again but this time pressing down with your fretting hand on the 12th fret, this note is also an E and this is what an octave sounds like. The double dot is to indicate where the notes start again, or in other words is one octave higher than the open string.
Flats & Sharps
You have hopefully noticed that we have said that an octave is eight notes apart but to play an octave on the guitar we have had to climb up twelve frets. This is because in between the natural notes there are other notes. These notes are called sharp or flat notes. The symbol for a sharp is #, and the symbol for a flat is b. To avoid confusion I will always put the note names in capitals and the flat sign in lower case. For example Eb would be E flat. F# would be F sharp.
To flatten a note you need to go one fret lower down the fret board. For example, if we took the E at the 12th fret on the E string and moved it down one fret to the 11th fret this note is Eb.
To sharpen a note we need to go one fret higher. For Example if we took the D on the tenth fret of the E string and moved it up one fret to the 11th fret this note would be D#.
In the two examples above we ended up on the same fret but with two different note names. This is because D# and Eb are the same note. Every sharp note has an equivalant flat note.
There are sharps and flats in between every pair of natural notes except B and C, and E and F.
So if we put all the notes down now we end up with this.
A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A
If we transfer this to the guitar using the E string again we can play the notes using the following frets
Try counting up the frets on the E string and naming the notes as you go along. You should be at E again when you reach the 12th fret.
Tones & Semitones
A distance of one fret on the guitar can be called a semitone and a distance of two frets can be called a tone. For example if we play the fifth fret on any string then move it up it by one fret, to the sixth fret, we could say we have raised the note by a semitone. If we raise it by two frets we could say we have raised the note by a tone.
Try naming all the notes on one string by starting with the open string and then working your way up the string. You should end up on the note name you started with by the 12th fret. If you dont something has gone wrong. Dont worry. Try again.
Next up: Lesson 3 – Finding the notes.
Music theory is the language of music and the study of how music is put together. Having an understanding of music theory is helpful in many ways. For example, when teaching it is much easier & quicker to communicate ideas to a student if the student has a good knowledge of theory. If you play in a band ideas can be passed around and expressed clearly and concisely if the members have good theory knowledge. For lead guitarists theory helps you put the right scale with the right chords. For writers and composers it provides clear direction on chord progressions and melody.
Almost all of the top guitarists today have a good knowledge of theory as well as strong technique. If you want to join them you will need the same.
Music was around a long time before theory came along so it could be said that theory is just a way of writing down and remembering things that sound good. I have come across students who have no musical knowledge what so ever but have written some great music. When we have sat down and analysed what they have written we have found that their music conforms with accepted music theory. The reason for this, I believe, is that we grow up listening to music and are conditioned to hear music in a certain way. Therefore when we write music it conforms to the musical patterns we have grown up listening to. If somebody can write music with no theory knowledge what is the point of learning theory? By learning why your music sounds a certain way theory can help you recreate that sound or avoid it. It should also open up new musical avenues for you to explore.
Finally, music theory will help you gain an insight into how your guitar works. Attempting to jam with other musicians without theory is guesswork usually. Theory gets you straight in and playing something cool which surely is what playing an instrument is about.
Next up: Lesson 2 – Naming the notes