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Secrets To Learning The Guitar Fretboard

John Chamley (252) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

Secrets to Learning the Guitar Fretboard
(Rev 1.3)
John Chamley
(for a downloadable pdf file of this tutorial, visit www.guitar-lessons.us)

Here is a method to sharpen your knowledge of the guitar fretboard, that you can use while driving, or doing other activities that don't require too much brain processing power. Follow these steps to improve this aspect of your guitar knowledge. Remember, the more you repeat the process of finding notes on the fretboard in your mind, the more your sub-conscious will become programmed. With practice you will simply know where the notes are.

The Learning Method
This method is all about relationships. As the title suggests, there is a secret to learn the fretboard. The secret is relationships. If you can simply memorize all of the notes of every fret without understanding these relationships, then great. However, understanding these relationships not only helps learn the fretboard, but helps to plant our knowledge in firm ground.

Here is the process. Realize first, which frets you already know. Then take one note at a time and find its location on every string. Use relationships to locate the notes either in your mind or while playing. The key to success is to do these mental exercises regularly. Use the logic written in this article together with your desire & determination and you WILL master your fretboard. Think about these relationships regularly and you will find that what once seemed difficult will become so simple. Read on to learn more. Good luck.

The first five frets
You should know all of the notes of the first 5 frets on each string. This is the foundation to building upper fret knowledge. A good way to test and improve your lower fretboard knowledge, is to think of a note at random, or use flash cards with each of the notes, then locate that note on every string where it can be found. This is also good for the upper frets too. Use both flatted and sharpened notes so that you get to know notes and locations by both names. From here on it is assumed that you know the first five frets.

Key Frets
Let us summarize what we know and build upon it. Realize first, that we already know the names of the strings and already know the notes at the twelfth fret because it is an octave of the strings. We also know the fifth fret of each string because (with one exception) we use this fret to tune to the string above. For example, pressing the 5th fret of the bottom E-string produces an A like the string above it. So, perhaps even without realizing, we know the notes of the fifth fret. The exception just mentioned is the 3rd (G) string that we stop at the 4th fret to tune to the 2nd (B) string above it. Since the 4th fret of the 3rd string is B, then the fifth fret is C. This is useful to remember.

The DoG Cat FAD at the Tenth Fret
Along with the 5th and the 12th fret, the 10th fret has something in common with the other two key frets. Those three frets are the only ones (below the 12th) that have no sharps or flats on any string. This makes them good "stepping stones" to learn other notes.

Remember the notes of the tenth fret. They will serve you well.

D G C F A D It may help to make up your own acronym for these notes.

Or, think of pet owners who buy animals but later find out that they wish they had not. This is called the:

DoG Cat FAD.

Big Cats Eat Fat
This title is an acronym that I use to remind myself that there are half note intervals between the notes BC and EF. Remembering those intervals makes it easier to use the relationships to find notes at other frets. All of the other notes have a whole note, or two half note intervals.

Get to know that E string
I have commuted by car for a number of years between New Jersey and Long Island, New York. When I first started to do this I took one route all the time and sat for 2 or even 3 hours in traffic until I started looking for alternative routes. Now my commute is usually between 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Thats because I have taken the time to find alternative routes. I can now quickly change route if I see that traffic is looking bad on a certain route. Applying this approach to guitar playing, if we first get to know a certain route, we can then find other routes relative to the first one. I suggest that if you dont already know the notes of the E-string up to the 12th fret, get to know it right away. By doing this, you will already know two strings. That leaves only four more.

Many guitars, even some classical guitars, have markers at the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets. On the E string, those frets produce the notes G, A, and B. Then, right above the B, is C at the eighth fret. Since we already memorized DGCFAD at the 10th fret, we know that the tenth fret is D, leaving only E at the 12th fret. Thats all there is to it.

Finding E
E is the easiest note to find on the guitar. Two of the strings are called E and the 5th fret of the 2nd string is used to tune to the top E string. We also know that the 2nd fret of the 4th string D, is E. That takes care of four strings. E on the 5th string can be found by realizing that we tune the 4th string D with the 5th string fretted at the 5th fret. Move up two frets to the 7th fret and this is our E. Lastly, the 3rd string. Think backwards from our F that we learned at the 10th fret. From E to F is one fret interval. Fret 9 is E on the 3rd string.

Finding A
Again, four strings are easy. We press the 6th string (E) at the 5th fret to tune with the 5th string (A). Fretting the 1st string (E) at the 5th fret also gives an A. We should also know the 2nd fret of the 3rd string is A too. That leaves two strings, 4th and 2nd. Since we fret the 4th string at the 5th fret to tune with the G string, just move up two frets to the 7th fret on the 4th string for A. Since the second string is B, move back 2 frets from the 12th fret to find A at the 10th fret (that we already learned).

Finding D
The 4th string is D. Fretting the 5th string at the 5th fret gives us D. D is also found at the 3rd fret on the 2nd string. D is also the note before E. Therefore, move back two frets from fret 12 to fret 10 on either the 1st or 6th string to find D. On the 3rd string, we know that C is found at the 5th fret. Just move up two frets to the 7th fret to find our D.

Finding G
G is at the 3rd fret of both the 1st and 6th strings. Also, we use the 5th fret of the 4th string to tune the 3rd G string. That leaves two strings, 2nd and 5th. Since G is the note before A, move back 2 frets from fret 12 on the 5th string to fret 10 to find G. Also, the 10th fret is one that we already know with our DoGCatFAD acronym. On the 2nd string, G is somewhere between the 5th and 12th fret. Since the 5th fret is E, think E to F to G being one and two frets respectively. So, a total of three frets up from the 5th fret to the 8th fret gives us our G. Another way to think of this is from G to A to B at the 12th fret being two 2-fret intervals. So, moving back four frets from fret 12 to the 8th fret gives us our G.

More Relationships
From my experience it seems that the more ways we can analyze something and the more time we spend to think about it, the more our brain can memorize and recall information. The following are some mental exercises (some already mentioned) that we can think about to help us find any note on the fretboard.

String by string
Test your knowledge of the E string
Test your knowledge of the B string
Test your knowledge of the other strings

Note by note
Get to know where to find a note that you think of at random on any string.

The Root notes of Chords
When you play a chord using a full bar, realize that if you are playing an E shape, that the root note is on the first, forth and sixth string. If you are playing an A shape, the root is on the fifth and the third string. If you play a C shape, the root is on the fifth and the second string.

This article is a work in progress and may be refined as time permits. At some point I would like to add some graphics. Check www.guitar-lessons.us for the latest updated article.