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Know Your Notes


The Basics

Notes are named after the first seven letters in the alphabet. In order, they are:

A - B - C - D - E - F - G

Between any two notes, except B - C and E - F, we also have a sharp and/or flat note.

These are the symbols that are used to denote sharp and flat:

= sharp
= flat

If we list the notes, again, and include the sharps and flats, we get:

A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A

One important thing to notice is that X#/Xb is one note that has two names (The term used to describe this is ENHARMONIC). For example, A# is the exact same note as Bb. Sometimes, one name will be used, and sometimes the other name will be used. We will cover this in much greater detail in a later lesson. For now, it's only important that you know the names of the notes.

Another thing to notice is that after G#/Ab We arrive at A again. This second A vibrates exactly twice as fast as the first A, and therefore, the ear tends to hear it as another version of the same note. The second A is called the OCTAVE of the first A. If we continue after the second A, we get A#/Bb an OCTAVE higher than the first, B an OCTAVE higher, C an OCTAVE higher etc., etc., until we get to A again. This A is two OCTAVES higher than the first A. If we keep going, the whole pattern just repeats over and over until we can't get any higher on the instrument. (If you didn't run out of notes, you could keep right on going until the notes were so high that only a dog could hear them!) The same is true if you travel in the opposite direction. The pattern repeats until you run out of notes, or the neighbors call the cops (whichever comes first).

Here's something to help you remember the sharps and flats. If you sharpen a pencil, you raise a point on it. Therefore, if you play A and then play the next higher note, you would call the second note A#. If you flatten a pop can, you mash it down. Likewise, if you play B and then play the next lower note, you would call the second note Bb. Remember that A# and Bb are the exact same note or ENHARMONIC.

This may be a bit confusing but, you'el get used to it.

All you have to remember is A through G of the alphabet and a #/b note in between every two notes except B - C and E - F (There's no such note as B# or Cb, likewise, E# or Fb. There is an exception to this but, that's way down the road!).


The Fingerboard

Here's what the notes look like covering the fingerboard:



I've left the sharps and flats off to make the chart easier to read, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore sharps and flats.


Now, let's take a closer look at how the notes are organized:

1. The open strings and the 12th fret are identical:




2. The low E-string and the high E-string are identical:




3. Octaves:




4. Adjacent notes:




The Practice

Go to this page, and print about 2 billion copies.

Now, every time that you think you don't have anything to do, grab one of the sheets you just printed out and fill in the names of the notes on each neck diagram. It really doesn't matter if you write in the notes one string at a time or across the strings or in any other manner you can come up with. Writing those notes out on the diagrams is gonna help you to start seeing them. That is the whole point of doing the exercise.

Another good practice is to pick a note per day, and for that day, you practice locating that note on your guitar neck. The next day, pick a different note. This exercise can be extended to include practicing chords, scales, modes, arpeggios (you name it) from your selected note.

A third exercise is for when you don't have your guitar near you (maybe you are waiting at the bus stop or riding the subway). Pick a chord or a scale or even a lead lick that you know and visualize exactly where you would play it on the guitar neck. Then try to figure out what notes you would be playing. The more clear you are in your mind about what frets and strings you would be playing, the greater the benefit you will receive from this exercise.

Lastly, anytime while playing the guitar that you can remember to do this, stop and ask yourself what notes you are playing. If you don't know what notes you are playing, figure it out.


There's no real short-cut to learning to see the notes up and down the fingerboard. It simply takes a desire and willingness to learn and practice. It also helps if you can see a potential value in acquiring the skill.


Best of luck!


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