Notes on the Guitar
As we learned on the Introduction to notes page, music is comprised of a sequence of 12 notes that repeat as many times as your instrument can manage. Think about a standard piano keyboard with 88 keys. These aren’t all different notes, rather the 12 note sequence has been repeated 7 1/3 times. The guitar isn’t mapped out as visually as the piano (with its symmetric pattern of white and black keys), but we still follow the same sequence of twelve notes.
On a guitar, the more frets you have allow you to play more notes of the sequence. All guitars have at least 12 frets, so we know that they can hold at least one octave worth of music. A standard 22 fret neck goes 10 notes higher in the sequence.
Do you remember the string names from the Using a Digital Tuner page?
“Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye, Eddie!”
(6th) (5th)(4th) (3rd) (2nd)(1st)
(LOW/thick strings) (HIGH/thin strings)
Let’s try to figure out the notes up the Low E (6th) string. We start on that note and count through the next note in the chromatic sequence. You can use this chart as a reference:
Starting here and counting “up” >
*Remember- it doesn’t matter where you start in the sequence. Just keep counting from one note to the next. (When you get to G#/Ab, the sequence starts over again on A).
If we count up (going L to R in the sequence)from the letter E, we get:
E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E
Here is how it would look on the guitar:
*You can find the rest of the notes on the Low E string by simply continuing the sequence until you run out of frets. You can fill in this chart using the same method that we used for the Low E string. Simply find the open string letter and count up the sequence from there. You will know you did it right if the 12th fret (the double dot) reads EADGBE again. We know there are only twelve notes in music, so wherever you start on a string, you can count up 12 frets and be on the octave of the same note you started on. (We don’t count the number we start on-that’s why you don’t end up with 13).
Reading Chord and Scale Charts
There are several ways to notate musical examples for the guitar. Standard Notation, Tablature (TAB) and Chord/Scale charts are the most common.
Chord and Scale charts are actually pretty simple once you understand the orientation.
The 6 vertical lines represent each string. The horizontal lines represent each fret.
The example above shows five frets of the guitar neck,
but chord/scale charts can contain as many frets as needed.
***Always assume the 1st space is the 1st fret…
…unless you see a fret number indicating a specific fret.
*If a fret number is specified, use the pattern based on that fret!
Now that you understand the orientation of the neck graphic, we need to number our fretting fingers…
(*it’s not uncommon to use your fretting thumb (T) to produce chords.)
Make sure you understand that:
1st finger=index finger
2nd finger=middle finger
3rd finger=ring finger
*By putting finger numbers on the chord/scale charts, we can create pictorial diagrams of a given chord.
To play this example, you would simply put your index finger (1) on the 5th string/2nd fret and your middle finger (2) on the 4th string/2nd fret. This is a chord called E minor (Em).
But wait!!! We need to know what strings to strum…
Strings are often omitted from a chord. Chord charts use a combination of X’s & O’s to tell us which strings to play or not (you always play the notes that you are fretting).
O=include this open string
Play the shape and strum all of the strings. Are we making music yet? If you are confused, reread the earlier sections of this article.
Let’s try a chord that omits 2 strings:
This chord (Fmaj7) can be made by putting your index on the 2nd string/1st fret, your middle on the 3rd string/2nd fret and your ring on the 4th string/3rd fret. Strum the 1st 4 strings.
REMEMBER NOT TO STRUM THE 5th & 6th STRINGS-THEY HAVE BEEN X’D OUT OF THE CHORD!!!
The orientation for chords and scale charts is the same:
The main difference with scale charts is how they explain fingering. In scales, one finger plays several notes on different strings. You can usually find a logical pattern in a given shape to “assign” a given finger to a specific fret:
This diagram reminds us that the index plays ALL the notes on the 2nd fret,the ring plays ALL the notes on the 4th fret and the pinky is stuck with ALL the notes on the 5th fret. (Notice we don’t use our middle in this example. If we had notes to play on the 3rd fret, it would be logical to use our middle finger to play it.
*Get REALLY used to this four finger grouping-
we’ll refer back to it often!!!
Now all we have to learn is the direction to play the scale.
If we want to play the scale ascending (Low to High), we would start on our root/tonic indicated by the circled dot. Now we continue up that string until we are out of notes. Now we move to the lowest note on the next string playing from Low to High. Continue this process until you are out of notes and/or strings…
Here is what it looks like in tab:
*To play the scale descending (going from High to Low), we would just reverse the order.