Every beginner guitarist should know how to memorize the fretboard of their guitar. Sure, you can get by without knowing the notes you’re playing. You can learn chords and simply play along to your favorite songs.
If you want to develop you guitar skills, Knowing the note positions along the fretboard is one of the fundamental skills every progressing guitarist must know. It might seem daunting at first, but there are a few tricks that make learning the notes on the fretboard easy and quick.
Seriously, I taught beginner guitar lessons for years, and even students under the age of 10 would be able to have the fretboard memorized within their first few weeks of lessons.
If you’re serious about learning how to play guitar, this is the first and most basic part of playing. If you’re already familiar with the musical alphabet, you already halfway there. If you aren’t, you’re literally about 20 minutes away from knowing how to find any note on any string of the guitar.
Is it important to memorize the fretboard?
Yes, memorizing the fretboard is important for any guitarist that wants to learn basic music theory, playing by ear, improvisation, or how to play with other musicians.
Without knowing where the notes are on the fretboard you’re going to get lost in the weeds quickly, should you start collaborating with another musician.
Knowing the notes on the fretboard will help you better understand scales and eventually modes.
Even learning the top two strings, E and A strings, from open to the 12th fret, instantly allows you to play along to any song with basic barre chords.
It means that the scales you practice have more meaning and you’ll be glad you memorized the notes on the fretboard later on when you need it most.
I don’t want you to memorize every single note, by its individual position. I want you to learn a couple, simple methods to find notes using landmarks and the basics of the musical alphabet.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to memorize all the frets for all 6 strings. You only need to understand the musical alphabet and remember the names of the open strings. That’s all you need.
I want to show you a few tricks that speed up how you’ll learn to find notes at lightning pace.
I don’t want you to have those little silly stickers on your guitar to remind you where each note is, I want you to rack your brain for the answers! And it is far simpler than you’d think.
Let’s get to it.
Fastest way to memorize fretboard of the guitar
The first thing we need to learn is the notes of each open string. Or when you play an individual string with no frets being used. I’m going to break it down so that everyone can understand, regardless of their level.
If you already have basic music theory, or have played another instrument, please feel free to skip ahead to the sections that fit your skill level. But I’m going to start off with the basics here, today.
“Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie” the first letter of each word here, represents the note of its respective string. So, E,A,D,G,B,e. The top string, or the biggest string that is closest to your face when you are sitting with your guitar is E (eddie), then A (ate) ect.
I want to note that there can be some confusion at first, as we often refer to the larger top E string as “low E” and the thinnest string as “high e”. This is in reference to the pitch of the strings, and not their physical location on the guitars’ fretboard.
So to repeat, the “Low E” refers to the E string that is the thickest string on your guitar, and closest to your face.
“High e” refers to the thinnest string and the bottom string on the guitar when you are sitting, playing.
So, with that out of the way, just remember the saying “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie“. That covers the open strings, and you now have a starting point for each string on the guitar.
This is just one of many memory techniques that will help you learn the fretboard.
The Musical Alphabet
Learning the musical alphabet can be a little confusing at first, but there are a few tricks that simplify it. Don’t lose hope now, once you’ve gotten this figured out you’re essentially done, you need only apply your knowledge to the fretboard.
The musical alphabet basically goes from A through G, and then starts over again. Sounds easy right, we all know our ABCs! The complex part is understanding where the sharps and flats go.
Ok, complex is an over exaggeration, it isn’t tough at all.
Basically, between every note in the alphabet, there is a sharp and a flat, with a couple exceptions.
So, we go from A to B, but between the two are a half step known as a sharp or flat. Between A and B there is A#/Bb.
Every sharp is also a flat of the next closest note. So it goes, “A, A#/Bb, B“. On the fretboard, this would be three frets along the same string.
There is no “B#/Cb”, or “E#/Fb”. Sure, in advanced music theory there is space for those, but we’re just going to ignore that for now, we’re here for the basics, today.
So the musical alphabet goes: A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab
So again, The alphabet goes from A through G, with sharps/flats between each note, except between B/C and E/F.
Still with me? if you are you’ve pretty much got it in the bag at this point, all we need to do is put it on the fretboard.
Learning the first two strings of the fretboard
Ok, so now that we know the open strings as a starting point, and how the musical alphabet progresses, let’s apply that to the fretboard on your guitar.
So let’s start with “Eddie Ate” the two thickest strings closest to your face. Starting with the E string, progress through the musical alphabet one fret, one note at a time. You’ll start at open E, and move through the alphabet, eventually also ending on E, on the 12th fret.
This means that the open strings, and the 12th fret are the same, after the 12th fret, the fretboard begins to repeat itself. This means you only need to learn the first twelve frets of your guitar, as it only repeats after that.
Use the markers on your fretboard as reference, 3rd fret is G and C, 5th fret is A and D, 7th is B and E, ect. This will be helpful later on.
Learning the rest of the guitar strings’ notes
Ok so if you can remember the top two strings, guess what, you know all the strings except for the B string. Why is that? Because of the fact the the alphabet repeats and we can use patterns and shapes to find our notes more effectively.
Remember how we have two E strings, Low E and high e? Well those two strings match note for note, fret for fret. This means that the 3rd fret is a G note on the top and the bottom string. You now know half the strings by heart already!
What about the D and G string? Well, you can apply the same method for finding the notes of the top two strings, but let’s not work so hard. We can use a pattern to find these notes more quickly and efficiently.
If you know the notes for the top two strings, you can find the notes for the D and G string.
Take the 3rd fret of the low E string, a G note. now travel two strings down to the D string and travel two frets down to the 5th fret, also a G note.
Because D and G are two notes away from E and A, respectively, you can apply this pattern all the way to the 12th fret where we can start over.
I have no tricks for learning the B string, just apply the alphabet. However, once you get the first few tricks down, you won’t have any trouble with the B string.
Memorizing fretboard exercises
Fretboard Exercise #1
I have two great exercises for memorizing the guitar fretboard. The first is pen and paper, and is a bit of a snooze fest. However, I doubt you’d need to do it more than 5 times before you get the point.
Get a blank piece of paper, a rule and a pen or pencil. Similar to the diagram or tab sheets I have in the photos, draw 6 vertical lines, one for each string, and then horizontal lines for the frets, enough for 12 frets.
Then fill in the blanks. Start with “Eddie, Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie” for the open strings. now you have your starting point. Then fill out the top two strings from fret 1-12all the way down the guitar neck, using the alphabet.
Next use the pattern trick to fill out the D and G strings. Copy your Low E string to the high e string, then work through the B string.
that’s it, you’re done. I’ve taught this method to kids under 12 that pick this up quickly. I only hope it translates well in written form.
Fretboard Exercise #2
Like barre chords? No? Too bad, try taking some of the basic songs you already know and translate them to barre chords. A simple G,C,Em,D song can be play with basic barre chords. Sure it might not sounds perfect, but that’s not the aim of this drill.
You’ll find that you can play most simple songs in various neck positions. Just play around with these, finding new locations on the guitar neck to play your favorite songs.
Learning to memorize the entire fretboard on guitar
You now have all the tools and tricks you need to increase your fretboard knowledge, from the lowest string to the highest.
If you dedicate a couple minutes practicing locating notes on the fretboard each practice session, it will quickly become second nature.
It’s always a good idea to have a fretboard diagram handy, so here’s a link to a good one, incase you don’t like my handwriting!
It doesn’t take much effort to learn the fretboard, and it is one of the best things you can do to improve your guitar skills.