Knowing how to navigate the guitar neck is probably the single most important skill to develop, in terms of the results it will bring. You don’t have to learn to read music or any theory concepts to get the hang of fretboard mapping and navigation (though those things certainly don’t hurt, and you should look into those areas eventually).
The next PTG Kindle book, to be released later this spring, will be called Maximum Fretboard Control (in Just 5 Minutes a Day), and it will have plenty of tips, tricks, and exercises to help you in that area. Players of virtually all levels, but definitely beginning and intermediate guitarists, will benefit from these ideas. As the title implies, the idea is to make it quick, easy, and painless to get this vital skill under your belt and into your playing regimen.
You may want to use the Scales and Intervals series to provide some context here, but for the purposes of this post, we’re going to cut right to the chase. There are just a few fundamental things to know up front:
- There are 12 notes in an octave: A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A’ (next octave)
- The octave sequence repeats in both directions, up and down, but can start from any point in the sequence. A 6-string, 24-fret guitar in standard tuning (EADGBE) will have 4 full octaves (open low E string to 24th fret on high E string).
- Notes without sharps or flats are called naturals. There are 7 natural notes: A B C D E F G
- Notes with sharps or flats are called accidentals. There are 5 accidentals: A#/Bb C#/Db D#/Eb F#/Gb G#/Ab
- The reason accidentals are doubled up as shown above is because they are enharmonic; that is, A# is the same note as Bb, C# is the same note as Db, and so on. The note name will change depending on the key signature.
- There are no accidentals between B and C, or between E and F.
Because of the guitar’s tuning, there are multiple locations for most notes. This is part of the reason why standard notation is more difficult to read than guitar tab; where most other instruments have just one location for each note in the instrument’s range, a given note may have as many as six locations on a guitar neck.
Many times, the context of the music will give you a pretty good idea of the most practical location to play a note. But it’s still important to get familiar with all the possible locations for every note.
That’s where mapping the fretboard, and learning it a piece at a time, come into play. Use the Fretboard Maps PDF on the Resource Page to see charts for an entire 24-fret neck. For this post, we’re going to simply use the lower half of the neck, from the nut to the 12th fret.
This will help reinforce the concept that any given note repeats an octave higher, 12 frets up the neck on the same string. So for example, the C note located at the 5th fret on the 3rd (G) string is replicated an octave higher, at the 17th fret on the same string. (This same C note, located 5th fret 3rd string, is multiply located at the 1st fret 2nd string, 10th fret 4th string, 15th fret 5th string, and 20th fret 6th string.)
In reviewing the chart above, notice that all the accidentals are listed using sharps. You could also list them using just flats:
Use these maps as references as we move on. Let’s look at the map with just natural notes:
If you’re a regular reader here, or have some knowledge of theory, you already know that these natural notes also form the C major (or A minor) scale. If not, don’t worry about scales or intervals or any of that stuff just yet, just concentrate on learning the names and locations of these notes first. Again, pay attention to the multiply located notes contained here.
Since the natural notes are 7 out of the 12 notes total in an octave, that means that if you learn the naturals, you’re already over halfway there. Then it’s just a matter of plugging in the accidentals, understanding the enharmonic capabilities of those notes, and putting it all together.
Here are the accidentals, shown as sharps:
Now shown as flats:
To touch back briefly on the subtitle of the upcoming book, you really can learn all this with just a few minutes a day. The key here, as with learning or practicing any other idea, is consistency, just doing a little every day. Within just a few weeks of consistent practice, you should have most of these note names and locations committed to memory.
Another key is to take multiple approaches to this, and to take it a piece at a time. You don’t have to memorize the above diagrams right from the start. The best way is to go one string at a time.
Let’s take a look at the first string (high E), first just the natural notes, then every note located from the open string up to the 12th fret (E to E’):
This is yet another instance where there’s a built-in advantage to learning quickly and easily — since there are two E strings, the notes are the same, it’s just that the low E is two octaves lower than the high E. But as all you are concentrating on right now is names and locations, learning one E string gives you the other E string, which means you’re already one-third the way there.
We’ll cover the other five strings in the next post. Stay tuned!