Learn Guitar: Know the Guitar Fretboard Well

Learn Guitar: Know the Guitar Fretboard Well

Many people play the guitar with varying levels of skill, but they do not take time to know the guitar fretboard well. To really learn the guitar, you should know the notes on each string at each fret well. Many method books lack systematic instruction about this subject. You will be a better player by avoiding this common deficiency.

There are many approaches you can use to learn the guitar fretboard. By using the following approach, you will become proficient in knowing the notes at each fret and learn the guitar better.


To know the fretboard well, the first thing to note is that the first seven letters of the English alphabet are the only ones used to name notes (A B C D E F G). These seven letters make up the “musical alphabet.” The notes named with these letters always occur in the same alphabetical order on each string.

In this first step, you will not be playing anything on the guitar itself. Even so, to learn the guitar, you should prepare to learn the fretboard by saying the musical alphabet over and over again.

Practice saying these seven letters in order starting with each letter as the first letter: ABCDEFG; BCDEFG A; CDEFG AB; DEFG ABC; EFG ABCD; FG ABCDE; and G ABCDEF. Notice that you say the alphabet normally until you get to G; then you have to go back to A. Do this until you become really good at it.

Then learn to do it backwards: AG FED CB; BAG FED C; C BAG FED; DC BAG FE; EDC BAG F; FED C BAG; and G FED CBA. Notice that the words “bag” and “fed” occur frequently when saying the alphabet in reverse order. Taking time to practice saying these letters forwards and backwards will help you learn the guitar well.


After having learned to say the alphabet forwards and backwards well, it’s time to learn the notes up and down each string. To do so, you have to learn the silly saying that teaches you the name of the note for each string played open. In order from the sixth string to the first string, learn, “Elephants and donkeys grow big ears — E A D G B E.” Because it is both true and silly, it is easy to remember!

The next step as you learn the guitar is to keep in mind that you always skip a fret when going from one letter to the next on a string except for between either B and C or E and F. Think of each string on the guitar as a long string of cars in a train and that each letter car always has an empty car between it and the next letter except for between B and C and between E and F. For example, on the sixth string (E), you would play and say the following notes at these frets: E (0); F (1); skip; G (3); skip; A (5); skip; B (7); C (8); skip; D (10); skip; and E (12).

Check yourself as you say and play the notes up and down each string by making sure that you end up on the same note at the twelfth fret and for the string open.


Once you get good at saying the notes on any given string up and down the string, learn the notes across each fret to know the fretboard even better. Remember, you will only learn the guitar fully as you should by knowing the fretboard well. To do so, use silly sayings to remember the notes across the strings first at two key frets.

For the fifth fret, the saying is, “Any dog goes crazy eating ants — A D G C E A.” On the tenth fret, it is, “Don’t give cats fudge and doughnuts — D G C F A D.” Now, you know the notes across the frets open and at frets five, ten, and twelve.

To learn the remaining frets, you will have to remember that not all strings will have notes named with letters on them at a given fret. Such strings will be notated with “()” in place of a letter in this article. In order, the rest of the frets can be learned as follows:

On the first fret, the notes are F () () () C F. Learn, “First, frogs catch flies,” and think of a frog’s long tongue moving from the sixth string over strings five, four, and three to catch a fly on strings two and one.

On the second fret, the notes are () B E A () (). Think of Opie Griffith on the Andy Griffith Show and spelling his aunt’s name, “Bea,” on strings five, four, and three: “Second, Opie’s aunt Bea.”

For the third fret, the notes are G C F () D G. Learn, “Three green cows fight dumb giraffes.”

Frets four and six are easy because there is only one note on each. A lone “B” is on the third string at the fourth fret, so learn, “Fourth, B on third.”

At the sixth fret there is a lone “F” on the second string. Learn, “Sixth, F on second.”

On the seventh fret, the notes are B E A D () B. Learn, “Seven bears eat and devour bats.”

The eighth fret has the notes CF () () GC. Think, “Eight cool fish grow claws.”

The ninth fret has the notes () () B E () (). Learn, “Ninth, be in the middle.”

The eleventh fret has no letters on it.

Review these silly sayings frequently and practice going both up and down each string and across each fret until you learn the guitar as you should by knowing the fretboard well.

Copyright Rajesh Gandhi 2011. All rights reserved.