Welcome to part 2 of this series of “How to Master the Fretboard”.
In part 1 we discussed the twelve notes that exist in Western music. What are the notes on a guitar? In what order do they appear? And where are the sharps and flats placed?
We discussed some key positions on the guitar: the open strings, the E strings, and the notes on the fifth fret. We also found out there was a really cool relation between the open strings and the notes on the fifth fret.
Lesson 2 will be less about memorizing notes and more about actually picking up the guitar and discovering the little patterns all over the neck.
I suggest reading lesson 1 and 2 as pairs. I think they work better that way.
What are The Notes On A Guitar – Part two
This lesson will be divided into two parts.
- Circle of Fifths
That sounds theoretical, but we won’t be focusing on the actual theory of those subjects, but on how they can help us to master the fretboard.
Octaves share the same letter name (A, B, C…) but they’re not the same notes in frequency.
To get from E to its octave you’re jumping over twelve frets.
This is wonderful because we now know all the notes on the twelfth frets are octaves of the open strings, so they share the same names.
Still, there are many other octaves hidden all over the fretboard, a lot closer to the original note. Learning those will help us make sense of the middle part of the fretboard and not just the outsides.
We know both E strings share the same notes, so we can go ahead and fill in those notes already. Let’s take F as our example.
There’s one more F somewhere in between those two notes. We can find it on the third fret of the D string.
So when you’re on the low E string and you ascend two strings and go up two frets, you’re playing an octave. This is really important to remember.
When you connect the F’s, there’s a triangle shape.
This triangle shape is the same all over the neck. This is extremely useful to remember because it will give you a lot of insight where all the octaves are. By learning one note, you instantly know where two others are.
In conclusion, any note on the low E string has an octave:
-on the same fret of the high E string
-two strings up, two frets up
The “two strings up, two frets up” technique is the same here. Let’s pick C as our example.
This C can also be found on the first fret of the B string.
So starting with the original C, by ascending three strings and going back 2 notes, you’re playing the same note as you were earlier.
In conclusion, any note on the A string has an octave:
-two strings up, two frets up
-three strings up, two frets down
Remember this shape?
This shape once again is important. Instead of starting on the E string, we can now start on the D string. We have to think backward now.
Outside of the triangle, there’s one more F within reach we haven’t covered yet. We can find it by ascending two string and going up THREE frets.
So, on the D string, you can go in three directions.
In conclusion, any note on the D string has an octave:
-two strings down, two frets down (as long as you stay above the second fret)
-three strings up, two frets down
-two strings up, three frets up
The G, B and E strings are all variations of what we already discussed above. Sometimes you’ll have to think backward and reverse the motion as we did on the D string. I think the two most important shapes are the following two:
When you know the notes on the lowest two strings, learning the notes on the high strings will be a lot easier using these patterns.
The Circle Of Fifths
If you’re not familiar with the Circle of Fifths, this will be hard for you to understand. It won’t make it impossible to understand, but you’ll be missing a lot of information.
In short, the Circle of Fifths looks like this:
The twelve notes on the circle are the twelve notes we talked about in part 1 of “How To Memorize Notes On A Guitar”. They are not ordered in alphabetical order or in order of pitch. They are ordered in fifths.
Once you know the order of the Circle of Fifths, and you know what a fifth looks like on a guitar, it’s just a matter of putting the information together.
So what does a fifth look like?
Let’s take C as our root noot. We can see on the Circle of Fifths that G is the fifth of C.
As you can see there are two fifths really close to the root. One fifth is one string below the root, on the same fret. The other fifth is one string above the root, two frets higher. This is always the same on the first four strings.
This is really useful to know. Once you know where to find a C, you instantly know where to find two G’s. Once you know where to find a D, you know where to find two A’s. This is very valuable, and this is why I think it’s important to at least know the right half of the Circle of Fifths by heart.
Using the Circle of Fifths, this is another visual trick that I use:
I’m making a crisscross motion across two strings by alternating between taking the fifth above the root and taking the fifth below the note. You can do this all across the neck, all the way till you’re back at C again.
You can start anywhere you like. Let’s start at F this time:
I think this is very useful because it’s so visual. You stop thinking about fret 1, fret 2, fret 3, etc… You’re not randomly memorizing letters anymore. You’re building shapes in your head, and these shapes are based on actual musical intervals.
Let’s visualize what I mean:
I did nothing more than drawing a square around a few notes, but all those notes are important to each other. G is the fifth of C, D is the fifth of G and A is the fifth of D. Build shapes like that in your head when you’re learning these notes.
You’ll start thinking in pairs, in squares, sometimes in triangles. I think that’s really important. It’s one thing to memorize a bunch of letters, but it’s another thing to recognize intervals and actually understand the relationship between certain strings and frets.
These are all techniques that helped me a lot. I hope they were helpful to you.
I think it’s important to be patient. It takes time and effort to fully understand the neck of a guitar. So don’t rush it. Don’t forget to take breaks. Play that song you really like another time. Focus on something else for a while. There’s more to the acoustic guitar than notes and intervals.
Please let me know in the comments how your process is going. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.