Fretboard Fluency – Learning the Notes on the Fretboard

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.

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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
                                                                                      (octave)

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