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Finding notes on the fretboard

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In this course we will address an essential exercise for every guitarist: finding notes on the fretboard. Do not worry, it's not very difficult, and it is accessible to any beginner!

Basics required for this lesson : Harmony for Dummies : the notes,
Practice this lesson : None

We'll break it into three parts. In the first part we will see in practice how to find notes on the fretboard. We will take the opportunity to recall some basic notions about the notes. Then, in the second part, we will offer exercises to train yourself to find the notes on the fretboard. A few minutes a day will be enough for rapid progress. And finally in the last section we will discuss a few interesting facts that will enable us to better understand the layout of notes on the fretboard.

How to find the notes on the fretboard

THREE ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW AND CONTROL BEFORE YOU FIND THE NOTES ON THE NECK

  • Know the names of open strings: it is not too difficult. From the lowest to the highest notes you get E, A, D, G, B and e. Note that on a piece of paper and learn them by heart! These chords are called so because when scratched open, the E string produces the note E, the B string produces the note B etc.
     
  • Know the gaps between the notes: This is covered largely in the course "harmony for Dummies: Notes". A quick summary: There is a tone between each note, except between E-F and B-C, where there is only a half tone. Taking a note and adding a sharp raises the note one half tone. Taking a note and adding a flat makes the note go down of a half tone. If all this is not very clear to you, refer to the course mentioned above.
     
  • When you shift from one fret to the next one, you get an offset of one halftone. So a difference of two frets is one tone, three frets is a tone and a half, etc.

As a result, all you need to do is put it all together to find the notes on the fretboard.

PRACTICAL EXAMPLE

  • I take my low E string, open. The note played is E.
  • I shift to fret 1, ie a half tone above E. The note played is F.
  • I shift two frets further, I get to fret 3, one tone above the F. I therefore get a G.

It works both ways, of course, if I start from the G of fret 3 on the low E string and I return to fret 1, one tone lower, I am back again on F.

THE SHARPS AND FLATS

  • I am on the fret 5 on the low E string, I get the A note.
  • If I shift to fret 6, I have the A#, a half tone above.
  • If I shift to fret 7, a tone above the A and one semitone above the A#,  I get a B
  • I can also assume that fret 6 is located a half-tone below the B, therefore making the note Bb

So we end up with the A# AND Bb on the same fret. It is quite normal, there are good reasons for that but they will not be addressed in this course because it is not necessary to understand them. Just remember that some notes have different names.
Here you go, there is no more to learn about finding the notes on the fretboard. Read on to learn some exercises on the subject!

How to train to find the notes

We will now discuss some exercises that will give you a good training in finding the notes on the fretboard. At first it might be a little tedious, you could go wrong in a fret or a half tone, do not worry, with practice it will become natural.

I propose a quite simple first exercise to start with. We choose a note randomly (a G, a C # or any other note), and try to find this note on all the strings. Know that each note appears at least once on each string, and often twice on one same string

As a second exercise, we will do the reverse: take a fret randomly and try to find to what note it corresponds. Remember to note the duality of sharps / flats, if the fret you have selected is an F # it is also a G flat.

Of course you can combine the two exercises: choose a fret randomly, find what this note is, and then find the note at all locations on the neck.

Practice every day for a few minutes and you will notice some progress quickly. And what's more, you do not need to have a guitar in your hands to practice, so please do this little mental exercise when you are bored on the subway or at work!

Some interesting information

Gradually, as you explore your neck you can make interesting discoveries, as there is quite a lot of logical connexions and patterns that can be found to make your life easier. I advise you, before reading this part, to explore your neck a bit by yourself, to try to make these discoveries by yourself.

THE OPEN STRINGS

A small reminder, from the lowest to the highest: E, A, D, G, B, e.

Let’s forget the low E string for now, and let's look at the A string instead. If we scratch it open, we get the note A. But this same note can also be obtained on the E string, in fret 5. Therefore, we are left with the same note between the E string fret 5 and the A string open. It is this concept that we will use to tune our guitar with our ears.

If we apply the same principle on the other strings: the D string open gives the same note as the A string on fret 5, the G string open gives the same note as the D string fret 5, we find the same note with the B string open and the G string fret 4, and you get the note E when you play the high E string open and when you play the B string fret 5. But we can go further! Indeed, the E you get it on the high E string open, on the B string fret 5 and you also can find the same note on the G string in fret ... 9!

All this has no practical application in a musician’s real life (except to tune), but it helps to understand better that you can get the same notes on a string played open or on other strings played fretted.

CHORDS

Please note, chord diagrams you find on the Internet are sometimes wrong and violate the rule that I will discuss now.

Take the example of the E minor chord, played as 022000. This shows that the lowest note that is played, is the E string open, ie the note E. Consider the G major chord as another example. The G major is played 320033 (or 320003), the lowest note is now the E string in fret 3, ie …a G.

It means there is a direct link between the name of the chord and the lowest note that is played. You must then be careful when you learn a new chord not to play all the strings, in many cases you need to avoid playing one or two strings in order to get the right note as the low note.

There is one exception, the chords noted oe Em/G”. This rating indicates that we must play an E minor chord, but the bass is not the E. It is then necessary to replace the lowest note by the one indicated after the /, ie in this case G.

THE OCTAVE

This is fairly simple to understand, but brings a lot of possibilities that we can not all detail. The octave is in fact the interval between one note and the same note but higher. Basically, we start from C, then we have D, E, F, G, A, B and then again we have the C. Between these two C, the interval is called the octave. And if you calculate how many tones there are, regardless of the note you choose, the octave will be 6 tones, or 12 half tones.

If you think a few minutes about what we said earlier, you will recall that a half-tone corresponds to one fret on the neck. As a result, a difference of 12 semitones, is a difference of 12 frets. So let's take the E string open, and go 12 frets further, ie in fret 12, we will find again the E. And that's true for all strings, we find in fret 12 the same note as the one we get on the open string. So when you are looking for the notes, especially in fret 8 or more, you will go faster if you start from fret 12 than from the open string.

You can also apply the same principle of fretted notes: the note in the fret 1 is the same as  the one 12 frets further, ie in fret 13. Note in fret 2 is the same as in fret 14 etc ... so you will find the same notes between the fret 12 and fret 24 between the fret 0 and the fret 12.

With octaves we'll also be able to use a small tool to find notes on the neck more easily.
Take for example the fret 3 of the low E string, which is a G. This same G we will be able to find it again one octave higher, on the D string, in fret 5. Therefore we have a "gap" of two frets and two strings between the two G. And it will be valid for all the notes of the E string. If we take the fret 5 on the E string, you can find the same note one octave higher in fret 7 of the D string.

We will be able to transpose this little "scheme" to other strings, but not necessarily with the same gap. Starting from the A string, we will also get the octave if we shift two frets and two strings. But starting from the D string, to find the octave we will need to shift 3 frets and 2 strings. And starting from the G string we will also get the octave 3 frets and 2 strings further.
There are other "schemes" based on the same concept, but I would not make the full list here because it would be too long. However, you can have fun trying to find them to use them later!

THE ALTERNATE TUNINGS

Since the beginning of this course, we have based on the open strings to find the notes on the fretboard. But when you change your tuning, you change the notes of the open strings, so you have to completely re-learn the location of notes on our neck. If you regularly use alternate tunings I suggest you train yourself to find the notes on the fretboard with your favourite tunings.

Finally, I advise you in these exercises to write down on a piece of paper the location of notes on the fretboard. It will give you an excellent reminder, and it will allow you to correct yourself in your work sessions to come.

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