Its one thing to know how to strum open string chords and play scale patterns up and down the guitar neck but to be a real guitarist and musician you should know the notes up and down the guitar neck. You would expect a pianist, trumpet player etc to know the notes that they’re laying so it shouldn’t be any different for guitarists.
One of the easy things when it comes to playing guitar is that you can learn a scale pattern such as the pentatonic scale. However many guitarists know the scale patterns but not the notes they’re playing. So how do you learn what notes you’re playing? Here are some tips and exercises to show you how to learn the notes on the guitar neck.
Name The Notes in Major Scales
One of the best ways to learn the notes on the guitar is to learn the major scale patterns and then name the notes as you play up and down the scales. For example play the C major scale and name the notes as you play them. Before beginning this exercise remember that the notes of music are A B C D E F G which then repeat. So for C major you simply say the alphabet starting at C and when you get to the G note the next note is A.
The are many positions on the guitar neck to play the major scale (and other scales of course) but on of the most common major scale patterns is the one below. The example is the G major scale is 2nd position which means that the lowest fretted notes in the pattern are the 2nd fret. This is also a shiftable or movable pattern as it doesn’t use any open strings.
To make the G major scale fit the steps of the major scale it contains a F# (Sharp) which is one fret up from the regular AKA F Natural note. So the notes of a G major scale are G A B C D E F#
To play the major scale starting on different notes you have to be aware of what Sharp # (up one fret) or Flat b (down one fret) notes are in the scale. The collection of sharp or flat notes in a scale are called Key Signatures. So when playing the major scales take note of the sharps and flats in the key signatures. The table below will let you know what sharps and flats are in what key signatures.
Find The Note On All 6 Strings
Another great way to learn the notes on the guitar neck is to practice this exercise that Joe Satriani teaches. The idea is to play all places where a note exists on every string of the guitar in time to a metronome click. For example play all E notes on the 6th string then all the E notes on the 5th string followed by the 4th string etc until you’ve played all the E notes on the guitar neck.
It’s good to start this exercise at a fairly slow tempo of about 50-60bpm playing one note per click. Try and mix up the order of notes to keep it challenging. So don’t play all the E notes then all the F notes but make the next note one further away such as A.
Learn 6th & 5th Fret Notes For Bar Chords
If you’re still struggling to learn all the notes on the neck it is best to start with memorising the notes on the 6th (low E) and the 5th (low A) strings. It is best to learn these notes first as these strings are used as the root notes for bar chords.
For example if you want to play the F# major bar chord you need to know where F# is located on the 6th string. Once you know this simply play the 6 string major bar chord shape to the correct fret for F# (2nd fret).
Another example using the 5th string is if you want to play Eb minor you need to know where Eb is on the 5th string (6th fret) and then you can play the 5 string minor bar chord shape to play Eb minor.
Also if you learn all the notes on the 6th string you’ve also learnt the notes on the 1st string also its also tuned to E.
An octave is where the notes repeat in a scale. It is called an octave as they are 8 notes apart.
So if you know where one G note is on the guitar neck you can use patterns to find the other G notes. For the 6th to 3rd strings an octave is 2 frets up and 2 strings over. So if you learn the notes on the 6th string it isn’t too hard to find the same notes on the 4th string 2fret up.
The same goes for using the 5th string to learn the notes on the 3rd string.
This pattern changes for the 4th to 2nd strings where the octave notes are 3 frets up and 2 strings over.
For the 3rd to 1st string the same 3 fret / 2 string rule applies.
Learn To Read Music
The final way to learn the notes on the guitar neck is to learn to read music. When you read guitar tab its very easy to get into the habit of playing fret numbers without thinking of what the actual notes are. When you read traditional or standard music notation you are forced to think of the note names that you’re playing.
While reading music can be daunting for many guitarists it is one of the best ways to be truly knowledgeable about where the notes are on the guitar and what notes you are playing. If you learn any other instrument you are expected to be able read music and if you want to be a truly well rounded musician and guitarist you should learn to read too.