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 Tunerpage?
“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).
Most beginners feel that their hands are completely uncoordinated and independent of each other. This is a common complaint, but luckily there are several exercises and techniques that can help you to synchronize your left & right hands. Concentrate on placing your fretting hand on the correct fret while striking that same string with your picking hand. Both hands should “hit” at the same time.
Here’s an easy exercise: Start with your index finger on the Low E/5th fret. Next place your middle finger Low E/6th fret. Move over to the A string and play index (5th fret) and middle (6th fret). Follow this pattern up and down-while keeping the same fingering for the same frets.
You should get in the habit of playing every musical example forwards and backwards. Not only will your technique improve, but your ear will improve as well. Here is the same example switching the finger order . You’ll still use your index for the 5th fret and your middle for the 6th.
Now let’s try adding a third finger to the mix. Your index plays 5th fret, middle plays 6th fret & your ring plays the 7th fret:
Here is the the same example backwards (remember to keep the same fingering):
We can’t forget about the pinky, so…Your index plays 5th fret, middle plays 6th fret, ring plays the 7th fret & pinky takes the 8th fret.
And backwards (remember to keep the same fingering):
Notice that when we use all four fingers, we cover four frets (using one finger per fret). This “four fret block” is very important because it allows you to span two octaves without shifting your arm up or down the neck.
You can see how we used the four fret block in the exercises above. Let’s move it to a different fret and try to mimic the same fingering. Start on the Low E/12th fret with your index finger, then play Low E/13th fret with your middle. Next move your index to the A string/12th fret followed by your middle on the A string/13th fret, and so on. You’ll notice that this is the same fingering we did in the first example.
Try adding additional fingers until you can repeat the original exercises in this new location. Remember- you can move this four finger block anywhere on the neck…and you should. JUST REMEMBER TO KEEP THE BLOCK’S SHAPE INTACT! The same fingers should remain on the same frets throughout these exercises.
Practice these shapes on the lower, middle and higher registers, and you’ll feel comfortable playing anywhere on the neck.
*In the next lesson we’ll learn our first scale (the Chromatic Scale). It also uses the four fret block…but with a twist…
**Newbs are free to move on to the next lesson, OR stick around for some advanced finger independence.
In all of the previous examples, we used consecutive fingers to play from low-high, or high-low. Kind of like how you might drum your fingers on your desktop. Start the four fret block any where you like and try to play these sequences from string to string using:
If you watched the Introduction to Notes and Notes on the Guitar videos, you’ll remember we only use 12 notes in Western Music. A Chromatic Scale uses all of these notes to produce an ascending or descending effect.
These scales are easy to visualize. We just need to play up or down from a given note making sure to hit EVERY fret on the way to the octave. Remember each fret is a Half Step, so we get a formula that looks like this:
* If you are still learning the note names on the neck, here is a great opportunity to practice. Say each note name as you play through the scale. Let’s start on the letter A. * Remember- when we count up or ascend, we use the sharps.
When we count down or descend, we use the flats.
But playing the chromatic scale up one string is usually impractical. We guitarists prefer to consolidate our fingerings. If we move the higher notes to other strings, we can come up with a more “compact” version of the Chromatic scale that lets us cover two octaves.
We now have the formula of a two octave Chromatic Scale reduced to a simple shape:
The letter you start on names the Chromatic scale. Since we just started the scale on A, we played an A Chromatic Scale. If you wanted to play a B Chromatic Scale, simply start the Chromatic Scale shape on the letter B.
Since there are 12 different notes that you can start this pattern on, theoretically there should be 12 different Chromatic scales. Try playing them all and practice saying the note names.
When you feel comfortable with the shape, try playing the examples on the Chromatic Scale Exercises video.