Memorize the notes on the fretboard


On a typical 22-fret electric guitar, there are 138 notes available to us. Memorizing the note names of all of 138 positions on the fretboard takes time and patience, but it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

On the outset, memorizing the fretboard’s notes may seem like an inescapable labyrinth of confusion. That’s only true until you’re handed a map. Consider this article your map through the guitar-note gauntlet.

First, some tips for general fretboard memorization:

  1. Memorization is important. Guitarists don’t realize how important note identification is. Guitarists often ignore the note names of the what we play because we didn’t need them when we started playing the guitar. Tabs, and patterns and grips were all we needed to begin playing. Since we didn’t need the notes early in the process of learning to play, we tend to avoid learning the notes later when we’re better. Only when we get good enough to play in a band do we realize that other musicians communicate using note names, not grips and patterns that are unique to the guitar. Once you understand that note memorization is important, you’ll be ready to follow the steps to memorize the notes.
  2. Know what you are playing. When you learn a scale or a chord, identify the notes within them. When you practice them, recite the names of the notes as you play them. Use a reference fretboard, like the one you find here in this article to help you
  3. Be patient. There are a lot of notes on the fretboard so be patient with yourself and remember that memorization for most of us is gradual and incremental. Keep at it and you’ll do great!

Now, lets look at the entire fretboard.

The very first set of notes that all guitarists should know are the notes for the six open, unfretted strings: E, A, D, G, B, E. If you tune up every time you practice, memorizing these six open-string notes should be easy. The next thing to realize is that the twelfth fret is an octave above the open-string notes. Therefore, the twelfth fret notes share the same note names as their open string counter-parts.

To make the memorization process less daunting, I encourage my students to memorize the notes on the dots, one string at a time. By dots, I mean memorize the notes found on the third, fifth, seventh and ninth frets, where the four, single-dot inlays are found on most guitars. To do this, I recommend simply repeating the four-note sequence of dot-notes on each string. Start with one string and add another after you memorize the first. Here are the dot-notes for each of the six strings:

String #1: G, A, B, C
String #2: D, E, F♯, G
String #3: A#/B♭, C, D, E
String #4: F, G, A, B
String #5: C, D, E, F
String #6: G, A, B, C#

Notice that the E strings (string #1 and #6) have the same notes on the dots, and everywhere else for that matter. Once you learn the note names on one of the E strings, you’ve learned them on the other. After you can remember the notes on the dots, it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks for the other notes. As long as you know the chromatic scale, finding notes that aren’t on the dots should be a snap.

Next we’ll learn some fretboard patterns to help you navigate through the maze of notes. You may look at the fretboard and think that it is just a jumbled mess of notes. In fact, there is an order to where the notes fall on each string. To help you navigate around the fretboard, here are some rules:

One up, five bridge; enharmonic notes. Each pair of strings shares enharmonic notes. That’s right, you can play the same exact note in different places on the guitar. To find these enharmonic notes, start on the A, D, G, or high E strings. Move up one string higher (towards the ceiling). On that string, move five frets towards the bridge. One up, five bridge. For example, let’s say we start with open G on the third string. To find the enharmonic G, we just move to the fourth string, five frets toward the bridge. We land on the fifth fret of the D string. Check the fretboard diagram to be sure. There is one exception to this rule. If the note you want to start from is on the B string, you should only move four frets towards the bridge on the next higher string. Say we start with D on the third fret of the B string. To find the enharmonic D, we move one string higher to the G string and four frets towards the bridge. Bingo! We land on D!

Two down, two bridge; the next octave. If we want to find the next octave higher in pitch from the note we’re on now, we move two  strings lower toward the floor and two frets toward the bridge. Check out the fret diagram for yourself. There is an exception here too and it involves the B string. If you skip over or land on the B string, you must go 3 frets towards the bridge. The diagram lays it out for you.

Another octave: same string, 12 frets away. Ever wonder why most guitars have two dot inlays at the 12th fret? That’s because the 12th fret is exactly one octave above the open string pitch. That means that all octaves appear on the same string 12 frets away. Take a look at the diagram. Find any note and move twelve frets toward the bridge on the same string you will land on the same note but one octave higher.


Combine these rules with the dot-name memorization and you’ll be able to find notes quickly and easily. Eventually, you’ll be able to simply look at the fretboard and find any note you want instantaneously. But remember to be patient with yourself. You’ll be free of the guitar gauntlet sooner than you think.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

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2 responses to “Memorize the notes on the fretboard

  1. What a great lesson Earle! Something to hang on to and practice for a long time to come . . .
    Thanks a lot for this.

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