November 2


Fretboard Fluency – Learning the Notes on the Fretboard

By Craig

November 2, 2018

I'm not going to lie, I'm surprised at the number of guitarists that are quite good and have been playing for a considerable amount of time that don't know the names of all the notes on the fretboard fluently. Don't be tempted to skip past this post if you kind of know the notes and are able to figure them out if given enough time. The objective of this lesson is to know all the note names fluently. And by fluently, I mean able to play or name a note instantaneously, without thinking. If I told you to play every C on the guitar, you could play 12 of them, one after another, in less time than it takes you to read this sentence. Or, if someone points out the 15th fret of the second string you call out D without thinking twice.


The Musical Alphabet

Pitch is the description of the rate of vibration, or frequency, of sound waves. As the frequency increases, the pitch becomes higher, and as it slows, the pitch becomes lower. Music pitches are a standard series of frequencies named after the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, G - known as the musical alphabet. The eighth note, or octave, vibrates twice the frequency of the first note; therefore, it duplicates its sound (only higher in pitch) and is given the same letter name.

A          B          C          D          E          F          G          A
1          2           3          4           5         6           7         8/1

The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is constructed of all half steps. There is only one chromatic scale which can begin on any tone. Starting on a C, we get the following notes:

C (octave)

You might notice there a 17 different note names above, even though there are only 12 half steps in an octave. The reason for this is that some notes have two different names (e.g. C# and Db). When a pitch has two possible names, their relationship is described as enharmonic. Enharmonic tones sound the same but are spilled differently. Depending on the context, one of the two possible names usually emerges as the best choice in a given situation.

Notes on the Fretboard

The fretboard is divided into half steps. Look at the chart below to see how the notes fit on the fretboard between the first and 12th frets. Note that after the 12th fret, all the note names repeat, but the notes sound an octave higher.

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  • This is great! Ive been playing guitar for 15 years just learning songs by tabs. Im just now getting to know all the notes on the fretboard now. Thanks so much

  • Craig – Your lessons are a lot easier for me to learn from…….sometimes certain solo guitar parts are difficult but slowing them way down and the repetition really helps me.

    There’s a lot out there on the Allmans “One Way Out” Dickey solo but they’re too fast even at 60% for me to effectively learn the part…..!? I was hoping I might pay you directly for a DVD video on how to play this.

    One more suggestion is …..when you’re teaching the Allmans tunes, don’t use a dotted fretboard PRS……use a standard trapezoidal Les Paul….!!

    I bought some lessons from Grateful Dead guitar lessons but he uses some strange custom fretboard markings making it more challenging to learn from.

    If you’re teaching Clapton use a dang Strat, if you’re doing Duane Allman parts use a Les Paul, etc….!

    I can be reached at (832) 881-8315 or at

    Thanks so much…..for some reason your lessons allow me to really connect and learn crucial guitar parts…..!!!

  • Craig,

    I just started learning from you videos. I’ve wanted to be able to improvise with some Garcia ideas forever ( I’m 60). While sheltering in place I’m seeing what I can learn. Your instruciton and choice of songs is really great!!!

    Question. Is there an approach/system you use to help intuit the notes in a cord and if they are 3rds, 5ths and so on, or does it just require memorizaiton? I have a sense of the fretboard, but can’t quickly call out every note. I’m also trying to work though cords in my head while away from the guitar. Like “whats the 3rd of “e” or the sixth of “c”.

    The half steps make it confusing as heck.



    PS – I make chairs for a living.

  • Hi Craig, What’s the secret to learning the notes on a fretboard? How does it help to know the name of a note you are playing or might be looking for? Are you always conscious of the note names you are playing, for example while soloing, etc.?

    I can get the note names by counting whole and half steps from the open string or 12th fret. Are there some notable patterns that would help figure note names out quicker? I see the 5th and 10th frets look interesting with no flats or sharps, and the 12th fret is identical to the open strings. Thanks!

    • Bill, I’m in the process of putting together deeper dive into learning the notes on the fretboard.

      There are many reasons for knowing the note names inside/out, but it also depends on your end goal(s). If you want to be able to read sheet music, you have to know where all the notes on the neck are. However, even if you never plan on learning to read, you need to be able to quickly locate notes so that you can play chords or solo.

      The first step is to be able to locate the note names by counting whole and half steps as you described, but if you don’t get quicker, then everything you want to learn to play is going to take you a long time to figure out. Once you get more advanced and learn more chord voicings, scale patterns, etc., you’ll need to be able to quickly locate those things (i.e. play them without thinking) if you want to freely improvise and create music. As I said, I’m currently working on materials to help aid in this learning process.

      I don’t necessarily think in notes as I’m playing, per se. This is where it gets difficult to explain – I know what chord I’m playing or playing over at all times, and know all the notes I’m playing. But when I’m freely improvising, it’s a combination of thinking in notes, patterns (3rds, 6ths, ascending, etc.), arpeggios. I’ve gotten to the point where my hands, mind, and ears are all in sync and I know what I’m playing, but if I’m improvising a quick line (say in 16th note triplets), I’m not necessarily thinking individual note names at that moment in time (though if I were to stop on any note, I would be able to tell you exactly what note that is). Hope that makes sense. It’s a long, continuous learning process, but the quicker the basics become second nature, the better.

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