By: Graham Pett
For many guitarists, learning the guitar fretboard can seem like
a daunting challenge. Unlike instruments such as the piano, one
note can often be played in a number of positions and the
difference between natural notes and accidentals is not
obviously marked. Even allowing for the fact that the fretboard
repeats after the twelfth fret, there are still 72 note
positions to learn on a standard 6-string guitar! No wonder,
many guitarists quickly give up learning the fretboard out of
frustration, yet developing a thorough knowledge of the
fretboard will vastly improve music reading and improvisation
abilities and so it's well worth the time spent to learn both
the notes on the fretboard and the relationships between those
notes so that you can navigate the fretboard quickly and
So what's the best way to go about improving your fretboard
knowledge? I'd suggest breaking it down into chunks by learning
a subset of the notes on the fretboard, along with navigational
patterns to help you find other notes from those you already
know. I'd follow a programme along these lines:
1) If you don't know them already, ensure that you can
instinctively name the notes at the open strings: E, A, D, G, B,
E (low to high). Remember that these are repeated at the 12th
2) Learn the five root shapes. These are the patterns that allow
you to navigate from one note to other notes with the same note
name. They're based on the positions of the roots in the
standard open chords C, A, G, E and D. For example, the roots in
the C Major chord are on the 5th string 3rd Fret and 2nd string
1st fret. So for a note on the 5th string, you can find the
equivalent note on the 2nd string by going down two frets.
Similar patterns can be found in the other four chords.
3) Learn to spell out the natural notes on the fretboard. The
natural notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G. You can find them by
counting up from open strings, or by using the root patterns to
navigate from notes that you already know. When counting up, you
move up two frets to go up to the next natural note, except from
B to C and E to F where you only move up one fret. Focus on
learning the positions of the natural notes on the 5th and 6th
strings and using the root patterns to find the others. Also,
try to learn the notes at the 7th fret to give you another
baseline for navigating.
4) You get accidental notes by moving up one fret for a sharp or
down one fret for a flat.
5) To properly learn a scale, start with its formula. The
formula defines the spacing between each note of the scale in
terms of half-steps (1 fret), whole-steps (2-frets), etc. For
example, the formula for a major scale is "Whole, Whole, Half,
Whole, Whole, Whole, Half". Start by counting up the scale on a
6) Once you can play the scale on a single string, you need to
be able to play it across the fretboard, so you need to know how
to make whole step and half step jumps between strings. Usually,
to move up a whole step as you move up a string you move down
three frets, and for a half-step you move down four frets.
However, when moving from the 3rd to 2nd string you move down
two frets for a whole step and three for a half-step. Use this
knowledge with the scale formula in order to find scale patterns
across strings whilst moving your hand as little as possible.
7) Repeat this process for other scale formulas. For example,
the Natural Minor scale formula is " Whole, Half, Whole, Whole,
Half, Whole, Whole"
Hopefully this has given you some pointers for how to go about
learning the guitar fretboard. With anything like this
repetition is key so try and build in 5-10 minutes of your
practice time every day to practice finding fretboard notes and
working out scale patterns.
A useful tool that can help you with learning the fretboard is
urses.ws Fretboard Trainer. This software provides lessons
in learning fretboard patterns, but more powerfully includes a
practice section that allows you to easily practice the guitar
fretboard patterns on a virtual fretboard so you can practice
any time, even without your guitar.
About the author:
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help guitarists to learn
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