Why is this important?
There are literally a hundred billion reasons why to learn the guitar fretboard notes, no without hyperbole! Ha! If I had a time machine and could go back and kick my 12 year old self in the rear, this would be on my list of things to plant into my thick child skull (with a list of winning lotto numbers, sports almanacs, etc…). I feel my playing would have taken off so much faster if I had someone to force me into it.
But in all seriousness if you’re serious about learning how to lead, it’s important. Here’s my unqualified take on it!
One: Learning this to the point of someone calling a random note and you finding it anywhere on the neck will require a lot of late night intimate sessions with your fretboard. This alone will help to not only impress your friends at parties (do not try this at home), but develop your ear as well.
Two: Once you start to hit music theory you’ll find it a little easier to take the theory into practice.
Three: If you’re starting out and still learning basic shapes like pentatonics (knowing the root notes) you will be able to find the right shape for the key you’re playing in anywhere on the neck. You won’t have to “search” for it.
Four: It’s not as hard as you think. If you can remember 10 phone numbers, its 60 notes you need to remember.
Five: Because a guy with no skill or qualifications on the internet said so.
Starting point: understanding the notes
We all have different ways to remember things. For me its repetition so I printed out cheat sheets and placed them everywhere, also my desktop wallpapers has my fretboard diagram. Kind of obsessive! Here’s a trick to help FIND the fretboard notes, don’t rely on this too much because you won’t have time to start counting. Remember this: E F G A B C D E, that’s easy right. Now add some sharps: E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E. Remember this.
Fun Fact: What you’re actually remembering here is called a “Chromatic Scale”. And the distance between G and G# is called a semitone and the distance between G and A is called a tone (two semitones). Notice there’s only one semitone between the notes E/F and also between B/C – important to remember this. Also note that a semitone is sometimes called a halfstep while a tone is sometimes called a wholestep. This will help you with music theory in the near future.
What do you do with the Chromatic Scale and how does this relate to your guitar? Take the low E string for example. Play it open, it will sound an “E” (if it’s tuned in standard). Now if you sound that string on the first fret, it will play the F note, 2nd fret it will be the F# note, 3rd fret will sound the G note. See where this is going? Right up to the 12th fret which we go back to E again and repeats itself all over again… Same with the A string, open A, 1st fret will be A# (next on the list). It’s a pattern, easy to remember and find.
What to do with this information?
Well, this is where your personal learning style comes into play. What worked for me was repeating the notes open E, F, F#, etc.. over and over again on the low-E string, and moving onto the others. You only have 5 to work out, yay, two E strings.
Train your ear at the same time, sound out the note. Sing it with the guitar… E E E E Eeeeeeeeeee! It may annoy your cat to no end but, over time, will make you a much better musician. It took me about a month or so with 10 minutes a day doing this. With a friend you can have him/her press any note on the fretboard and you should be able to identify it (eventually by sound alone) or have the friend call out any random note and you should find it in multiple areas. Repetition is key here (in my opinion, I’m no teacher – just what worked for me in the past).
Try different ways, whatever works for you. If going from string to string doesn’t work, try fret by fret starting with the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th.
There’s no substitute for practicing and doing. You could have learnt the E string by heart in the time it took you to read my post (sorry). So instead of watching a 30 minute television show each day, pick up the guitar and practice, practice my friend!
Below is a friendly 12 fret image to show you how easy this is!