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.
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.