How to Learn the Guitar Neck Notes

How to Learn Guitar Neck Notes

By Andy Aledort

When learning to play the guitar, all aspiring guitarists are faced with the same question: what are the notes on the guitar neck, and what’s the fastest and easiest way to memorize all of the guitar neck notes?

Many also wonder how important it is to memorize the guitar neck notes as a means of learning to play and becoming proficient on the instrument. This primer on learning the guitar neck notes will get you moving in the right direction and, in time, will enable you to recognize every note on every string on the guitar fretboard.

How to Learn the Guitar Neck Notes

Learning Notes on the Guitar Neck

The very first thing to memorize when learning the notes on the guitar neck is the note name of each of the six “open” (unfretted) strings.

A string is considered “open” when it is played without being fretted, which means it is simply picked without pressing a finger down on string anywhere along the fretboard. While simply holding the guitar in your lap, you can pick each of the six strings with your pick-hand (the right hand for the right-handed) while the fret-hand (the left hand for the right-handed) does not touch the guitar at all. The string closest to your chin is the lowest sounding string, and is known as the sixth string. The string closest to the floor is the highest sounding string, and is known as the first string. When one picks from the lowest-sounding string across to the highest-sounding string, the sequence is sixth, fifth, fourth, third, second and first strings.

In “standard” tuning (the way in which most guitars are tuned), picking from the lowest-sounding string to the highest-sounding string yields this note sequence: E A D G B E, as shown in the diagram below:

A good mnemonic device (a learning technique that aids memory retrieval) for remembering the order of the open strings is either of these phrases: “Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie,” or “Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.” These sayings are useful as the first letter of each word corresponds to the correct name of the open string (low to high: E A D G B E). Notice that both the open sixth string and the open first string are E notes.

Tips for Memorizing Where Each Neck Note is

Essential to learning the guitar neck notes is a broad understanding of the twelve-tone system of music, which lies at the heart of most of the music that exists. The note series (pitches) of western music can be looked at in relation to the first seven letters of the Latin or Roman alphabet: A B C D E F G. But how do these seven letters become a twelve-tone musical system?

Between an A note and a B note, for example, resides an in-between note, known as either A# (A sharp) or Bb (B flat). If one were to pick the open fifth string of the guitar, an A note would sound. If a fret-hand finger is placed at the second fret of the fifth string, a B note is sounded; moving the fretting finger back one fret, or half-step, will sound Bb (A#). If you look at the guitar neck notes diagram below, you will see this illustrated along the first two frets of the A string:

There is a half step between most of these “letters:” when ascending from C to D, a C# (Db) falls between the two notes. The same is true when moving from D to E (D#/Eb falls in between), and from F to G (F#/Gb falls in between). The only exceptions to this “half-step” rule are in regard to the notes E and F, and B and C, as these notes are “next to” one another (there is no E#/Fb or B#/Cb). As you can see in the above diagram, moving up the A string along guitar neck one fret at time yields this note sequence: A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab, which adds up to twelve tones. Another A note is found at the twelfth fret; this is known as the octave (12 tones above the original A note).

Benefits of Learning the Notes on a Guitar Neck

There are many benefits to learning the names of all of the guitar neck notes. First, it will aid in recognizing the proper names for specific chords. Second, it will be greatly helpful when learning and recognizing scales and licks. Finally, understanding the note names will make it easier to communicate musical concepts, such as chord progressions and melodies, to other musicians.

A simple way to begin to acclimate yourself to the note names on the strings is to start with some simple chords. Below you will see a standard E chord, illustrated in what is known as a chord frame:

If we state the names of each of the notes as we pick from the sixth to the first string, the notes sounded when fretting this standard E chord shape are E B E G# B E. Notice that, along with the open low and high E strings, is another E note, located at the second fret of the D string. There are also two B notes: the open second string along with the B note located at the second fret of the fifth string. The only other note in the chord is G#, so named because it is one fret, or half-step, above the open (unfretted) G string.

Hand Exercises that will Build Muscle Memory and Develop Neck Note Memory

An essential method for memorizing notes names while developing fret-hand strength and muscle memory is to play scale patterns. The diagram below illustrates a C major scale as played across all six strings, stationed primarily in first position (the index finger frets all notes at the first fret) but then ascends the length of the fretboard once reaching the high E string:

Sing What You Play

As you play each note of the above-referenced C major scale, sing the identical pitch while reciting the note name: when you pick very first note of the pattern, the open low E string, sing that pitch while saying the notes name, “E.” Then proceed to do the same with each subsequent note of the scale.

Final Thoughts: How to Learn the Guitar Neck Notes

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Andy Aledort has contributed to the international music scene for over 35 years as a journalist, instructor, performer and editor of Guitar World magazine. His 2019 book, “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” is a New York Times bestseller. He has sold over one million instructional DVDs, on top of teaching guitar privately and on online sites such as Truefire.

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