How you can remember the notes on the guitar fretboard without rote memorization – Fretboard that Matters

It is possible for a human to easily remember the notes on the fretboard using 'landmarks' and 'relations' because that is something we already do in our day to day life, probably at a much larger scale.

  • you remember the stations on the train or bus routes you usually take.
  • if you are given a landmark, you find it as you go along the street.
  • you remember through which relative someone is a second cousin to you. the relation path.
  • if you play chess, you know how many squares to skip in two directions to make a move with the Knight.
  • when traveling you take the correct turns to reach places you want.
  • after you use a switchboard with four switches, a few times, you know which switch turns on what.
  • you can remember where the main shops in a shopping mall are, and then use them as reference to give directions about other nearby shops.

Each of the above mentioned day to day activities is similar in process to being able to find your way on the guitar fretboard. For the time being, as we start, just remember 2 notes on the fretboard. (see image of C major scale, below)

  1. 1st string 3rd fret – G note
  2. 5th string 3rd fret – C note

Fretboard independence by understanding the relationship between the strings and using our mind in ways it is already familiar with.

Have a look at the relation between frets on each string, how we can find the same notes an octave or two different on different strings in nearby frets. This is useful because it helps us find notes on a fretboard in different strings, by knowing just a few notes on a few strings.

Use these cards to remember note sequence and interval relations from each root. Knowing the note sequence lets you 'count' the intervals and notes through the fretboard starting from open string notes.

The note sequence

…A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D#…

Above shown is the notes sequence used in western music. The keys of the piano, one after the other follows this sequence – the white keys playing the alphabets and the black one playing sharps.

As mentioned before, on the guitar, starting from the Open string notes, using the note sequence, you can count and find the note on any fret on any string.

For example, the thinnest string open sound is E note. The first fret on the first string, when pressed and played will give you F, the immediate next note on the note sequence. The note after F is F#, which will be on the fret next to the fret for F.

The alphabets from A to G – the C major godfather scale

The C major scale is used as the beginning scale in most music learning methods. It is a good place to start, a standard reference set because of its nature of having all the alphabets used in music, without any sharps or flats.

The C major scale notes can be found by starting to count from each open string, by knowing which note each open string soundsC major scale notes as landmark to remember alphabets

As you play the C major scale,

  1. remember that the 5th string 3rd fret and 2nd string 1st fret are both C note.
  2. D, G and B are played on open strings.
  3. the second fret of 4th strings is E, 2nd string of 3rd string is note A.
  4. Other than the root C, only one note of the C major scale is played on the 3rd fret – the F note – 3rd fret, 4th string.

Flats and sharps on C major scale

If you are ready to use the sharp and flat relation of notes, you need to know just the positions of the notes of the C major scale – all the alphabets without any sharp or flat. Fourth fret first string is G# because 3rd fret is G.

Sharps and flats

# and ♭ are like 'left and right' 'before and after'.

Consider the note D. # of is the note next to D. ♭ of D is the note before D.

There are 7 alphabets from A to G used in music. Then there are the flats or sharps for 5 of them. Total of 12 different pitches; 12 notes.

You may want to remember from now on, that sharps and flats are considered only in relation to the alphabet. Next note to F is F#. D♭ is one note before D.

Knowing fretboard relations and doubling of chords

A triad has just three notes, played on 3 strings of the guitar. If we can extend the chord to the remaining 3 notes also, we get chord fingering patterns with no open strings. Such fingering patterns becomes a good basis for playing chords anywhere on the fretboard.

The trick is to find the chord notes on other strings, close enough for a normal sized human being to physically be able to hold without any modification to his hand, wrist, face.

Converting three note triads to chords with no string open, gives you chord fingering patterns that you can extend over the whole fretboard, anywhere you like to play chords starting from any root. That is freedom in chord playing, the starting point to which is knowing the fretboard note relations between strings well enough to find practical solutions for doubling.

Doubling example: Chord D major

Below is the image of D major chord on the 2nd and 3rd frets of the guitar. The root note D is on the 2nd string 3rd fret and the 4th string open.

The D major chord has the notes D F# A. Find these notes on the 6th 5th and 4th strings to play the D major chord using all the strings of the guitar, with no open strings.

Below is the D major chord with the same notes played on the 1st 2nd and 3rd strings, repeated on the remaining strings. Same notes are indicated by dots of the same color. We found the first string note again on the 4th string, the 2nd string note on the 5th string, the first or 4th string note on the 6th string. (3rd string note was not repeated, because all the strings are used by doubling the other notes.)

What is the use of doubled, no open string chords?

In the above fingering, the root of D major chord is on the 2nd and 5th strings.

The note to the right of D is D#. D# is on the 4th string 3rd fret or on the 6th string 5th fret.

Keep all the relative fingering positions the same and move the 2nd string finger from the 3rd fret to the 4th fret to get the D# major chord. This means moving all the fingers one fret to the right.

D# major chord will have the

  • 1st finger barre on the 3rd fret
  • 2nd finger on the 4th fret (root)
  • 3rd finger on the 5th fret
  • 4th finger on the 5th fret

It is as simple as that, using chord fingering patterns with no open strings. That is why it is good to know them. In fact there are only 3 such chord fingering positions, which when learnt, you can use to play a wide variety of chords, without having to learn each chord on the guitar separately. 

Posted in GTM, Guitar

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