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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 5: Finding Notes On The Fretboard

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 29 **

How well do you know your fretboard? You may well know a fair few guitar scale and chord shapes dotted around, but could you play all the C# notes on the guitar neck straight away without much thought? If the answer is no/not without a lot of thought or what's a C#? then read on! In my experience a lot of contemporary guitarists are bad at knowing the names of the notes on their instrument, and I think there are several reasons for this.

Rock guitarists tend to learn from TABs rather than notation from a young age

Players learn shapes for scales etc. rather than the notes that make up that scale

Reading traditional music and translating it to the fretboard is hard

A lot of players don’t see the need for it.

You may get a long way into your playing without knowing the notes on the fretboard particularly well, or just enough to get by, root notes for example, but if you are truly keen to develop as a musician, open a whole new world of music and playing opportunities, then time spent really learning your fretboard is a great idea. How will learning notes help you as a guitarist?

Combined with the ability to read music, it will open up a whole world of music that you will be able to play. Jazz real books/musicals/classical pieces etc. all use standard notation rather than TABs

If you can find a root note you will be able to play a chord or scale in any key, anywhere on the fretboard.

Understanding what notes you are playing over any given chord will make you a more proficient improviser.

Knowledge is power!

In the video I demonstrate ways of learning the notes on the fretboard with exercises and octave shapes, you will also find the Tab for these examples. In this write up I want to recap the notes in music and how they relate to your guitar fretboard. Some of you may not have done this since your school music lesson days, so it's definitely worth a recap!

The notes in music, regardless of instrument are:  A    B    C    D    E    F    G     You then go back to A. These notes make up all the white keys on a piano. However, we also have black keys and these are your sharps and flats, if we add sharps, we now get the following order of notes; A  A#  B  C  C#  D  D#  E  F  F#  G  G#  12 notes, these are all the notes in music (other than quartal tones, but this is neither the time or place to go into that). 99.9% of music you hear will use a selection of these notes. Notice that B and E don’t have a sharp (they do in some keys, but once again this is not the lesson to go into that). This is because if you look at a keyboard you will notice every so often a white key won't have a black key after it, these are your B and E notes. Sharps (#) can be thought of as one note up, or one note higher, the opposite of this are Flats (b). If we did the same notes but in reverse using Flats we would get the following order;

A  Ab  G  Gb  F  E  Eb  D  Db  C  B  Bb  We end up with the same notes being called two different things, A# and Bb for example are exactly the same note but called a different name, they are referred to differently depending on the key you are in, which is called Enharmonic spelling and we will cover this at a later date. Just as B and E don’t have a sharp, you will also notice that F and C don’t have a Flat. If you remember these rules and the order of notes along with your open string names; E  A  D  G  B  E  you will be able to find any note on any string.

Try the following exercise to test that you understand it. Take the 5th string open which is A, the note at the first fret will be A# the second fret B and so on. Continue up the fretboard and if you are getting it right, you should end up back at A by the time you get to the 12th fret (2 dots), the notes then repeat themselves an octave higher all the way up to the 21st, 22nd or 24th fret depending on what guitar you have. Rinse and repeat on another string, 3rd string G, first fret G# or Ab etc. etc. Also try it coming backwards but referring to everything in Flats.

Do this regularly along with the exercises I give on the video and Tab, and very shortly you will know your fretboard far better than you ever thought possible. If you have been playing for a long time then it can be very hard to go back to this state of starting all over again and feeling like a beginner. However, you should embrace the challenge and see the bigger picture, true practice is working on things that you can't do, not the things you already have down. I promise that a little time spent on this side of your playing will improve your knowledge, not just of your instrument, but of music in general. Next time we will be looking at bending and Vibrato. Good luck with your quest to find them notes!


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