As guitarists, we tend to get stuck in a rut of playing the same thing over and over again. We tend to memorize shapes and patterns, rather than thinking about what we are actually playing. If you find yourself feeling like that sometimes, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you really know all of the notes on your guitar neck. When I began taking classical and jazz courses in college, I suddenly realized I didn’t actually know the notes on my guitar the way I knew them on a piano. I knew my chord shapes, and I knew my scale patterns, but I wasn’t thinking about each individual note. (For more foundations, head over to this post and come back here!) What helped me was thinking about the guitar strings as 6 sets of pianos. If you look at a piano you will notice a sequence of white and black keys, and if you look closer and you will see that every white key has a black key after it except for the notes “B” and “E”. To break it down, the sequence is:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, and then back to A
Notice every note has a sharp after it except B and E. This is the same sequence for the guitar except, the notes are not color coded like the piano. Let’s say you want to know what the 7th fret of the 5th string is. The open string is A. First fret would be A#. Second fret is B. Now the third fret would be C (because on a piano there is no black key after B). Fourth fret is C#. Fifth fret is D. Sixth fret is D# and the seventh fret is E.
When first starting out you will have to count up the neck, but within a few months you will start memorizing the notes. This is so helpful, because after you master the notes on the guitar neck you will open yourself up to way more options to play things. Say you are playing a solo and the first chord is C#m. The notes in a C#m triad are C#, E, G#. You think to yourself “I’d like to start on the note G#”. You can now look at the neck of your guitar, see all of the G#’s, and pick one that you wouldn’t normally start on.
After studying the neck you will also notice that after the 12th fret everything starts over so basically you only have to learn half of the neck. In my opinion, learning all of the notes on the neck of your guitar is the number one thing you can do to become a better guitarist. The best way I have found to learn the notes on your neck is to download a fretboard app on your phone such as Fret Surfer, Fretboard Warrior, or anything that quizzes you on the notes of the guitar. Try a few of them to find one you prefer and then test your note identifying speed a little every day. Use any spare time where you’d normally be perusing social media and instead use your fretboard training app. After you feel comfortable naming the sharps, start naming the notes as flats as well. You will find that after a few months you will really start mastering your guitar neck. Better yet, you might find yourself out of the rut you were in.
Here’s one of our videos to help: