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Why You Need To Learn The Notes On The Fretboard

By Paul Kleff

Have you ever been lost in an unfamiliar city or lost driving on country roads?  You may end up walking or driving in circles with no sense of direction or any idea how you are going to get where you want to go. 

Think of your guitar fretboard like a city.  There are some areas that you may be familiar with and others where you are completely lost.  Knowing your way around the fretboard is key to playing with freedom so that you can express yourself the way that you want.

The first two strings to master are your low E and A strings.  Why is this so?  These two strings can be though of as the “anchors” for your barre chords and scales.  The root notes (letter names) of the 5th and 6th string root barre chords come directly from the names of the notes on these strings.  Do you know which fret you need to play a 6th string root C major barre chord?  You should be able to play it immediately without having to “count up” the frets or think about it.  If it takes you longer than a split second to know that you need to barre the 8th fret to play this chord, then you have work to do.

How about playing a G# minor pentatonic scale?  Do you immediately know the correct fret for the first position of the scale?  If you are improvising, this is a must.  If it takes you a couple seconds to figure it out, it is already too late.

So your first order toward mastery of the fretboard is to learn the notes on the low E and A strings.  This is your chord and scale foundation.  It’s not hard—just work on it for a few minutes per day and you will have it in a short time.  It’s a must no matter what musical style you play.  You need to be able to find your around the guitar fretboard as easily as you can navigate your car through your hometown city streets with no map and no guesswork. 

Most guitar players stop once they know the bottom two strings.  Try this—do you know the name of the note at the 10th fret on the second string?  How long does it take you to figure it out?  If it takes more than a split second it is too long.  The note is A, by the way. 

Why do you need to learn the notes on the rest of the strings?  So that you can play anywhere on the fretboard and know exactly where you are.  If you are only basing your fretboard locations off the 5th and 6th strings you are severely limiting yourself.  You will be stuck improvising and soloing recycling the same old patterns you always use and your creativity will be very limited.  You need to know all the notes, everywhere on the neck and be able to name them instantly.

Make this a priority in your daily practice.  Just a few minutes each day.  The benefits are massive—you will see and hear a difference in your playing in a short time.  You will not get lost on the fretboard and you will be able to better communicate with other musicians.  Take the time, do the work, learn the notes and reap the benefits of your musical growth.

Learn to play the guitar with the best guitar lessons in Grand Rapids at The Rock Guitar and Music Studio.  If you have been frustrated by trying teach yourself or taking lessons from a bad teacher, Paul Kleff can show you how to play the music you love and get you sounding great on the guitar.