Fretboard Theory

Learn Guitar Music Theory on the Fretboard

The guitar fretboard is a grid. All scales, chords and progressions make shapes and patterns on the fretboard. Guitarists visualize these shapes and patterns in order to navigate around the neck. Furthermore, guitarists understand how musical elements fit together by connecting the dots. In fact, no matter what form musical information comes in, whether presented through notation, tablature, or language, it ultimately has to be applied to the fretboard in the form of shapes and patterns.

Notes on the Guitar Fretboard

How well do you know the notes along the fifth and sixth strings? Do you know that all scale patterns and chord shapes can be traced back to either of these two strings? Also, octave shapes can be used to trace any note back to strings five and six. With this being true, why does every note reading guitar method begin by teaching students the notes on the first string saving the most important strings for last? The answer is because these methods are made to learn the music staff on the page, not the fretboard in your hand.

Fretboard Theory Matters Most

On the Fretboard you can chart progressions and determine correct scales simply by connecting patterns, with little or no regard to key signatures, notes, sharps or flats? Even if you take the traditional route determining these things, you still have to translate it into dots on the fretboard. Have you ever wondered how it is that so many pro players don’t read music and have no formal training yet music makes complete sense to them on the fretboard? It’s because the fretboard is ultimately what matters most!

Before You Learn Fretboard Theory…

 

There’s no reason to study the fretboard until after you’ve learned the basics. This includes open chords, a few barre chords, picking, strumming and lots of simple songs (for beginner level instruction click beginner guitar).

 

 

How to Learn the Fretboard

After you have the basics down the first step in learning the fretboard is to memorize the notes along strings five and six. Focus on the natural notes (no flats or sharps). The natural notes are the letters A thru G and always occur in alphabetical order. Some notes are one fret apart which is equal to the music distance of a half-step. Other notes are two frets apart which is equal to the music distance of a whole-step. Notes E and F along with B and C are right next to each other, always. This occurs on all strings wherever the notes are found. For a more detailed explanation along with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 1 Quick Review. Get your free preview copy of my whole course here. Better yet, buy the complete course here.

Notes on Sixth String E

  • The sixth string open is E. The next note is F (following the alphabetical order) and is at the first fret. When you play a common F chord your first finger is in the first fret. Use this association to help you remember the first fret is F.
  • The next note is G (following the alphabetical order) and is at the third fret. When you play a common open G chord the root G is at the third fret of string six (that’s why you begin strumming there). Use this association to help you remember the third fret is G.
  • Remember, in the alphabetical order only the notes A thru G are used. After G you go back to A. So, the next note on string six is A at the fifth fret. This note matches the open A string and is used for relative tuning.
  • Finishing up you have B and C at frets seven and eight followed by D at fret ten. All the notes repeat starting with E at the twelfth fret, which is usually marked by a double dot.
  • Memorize these notes and practice calling them out by name as you move forward and backward along string six. For a more detailed explanation along with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 1 Quick Review.

Sharps and Flats

Once you’ve got the basic notes down you can fill in the gaps with sharps and flats. Sharp (#) means one fret higher while flat (b) means one fret lower (think, a flat tire is lower to the ground). So, the note at fret two is either F#, meaning one fret higher than F, or Gb, meaning one fret lower than G and so on up the neck. For a more detailed explanation along with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 1 Quick Review.

Notes on Fifth String A

  • The fifth string open is A, root of the open A chord.
  • The second fret is B, root of the fairly common B7 chord.
  • The third fret is C, root of the common open C chord.
  • The fifth fret is D and matches the open D string.
  • Finishing up you have E and F at frets seven and eight followed by G at fret ten. All the notes repeat starting with A at the twelfth fret.
  • Memorize these notes and practice calling them out by name as you move forward and backward along the string. For a more detailed explanation along with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 1 Quick Review.

More Fretboard Work

This is just the very beginning to learning the fretboard. The next step is to learn how octave shapes are used to trace the other strings back to six and five (see Fretboard Theory Chapter 1 Quick Review). Then you can start mapping out scales beginning with the Pentatonic (see Fretboard Theory Chapter 2 The Pentatonic Scale or Getting Started with the Pentatonic Scale DVD). The CAGED Template Chord System is used to master chord shapes (see Fretboard Theory Chapter 3 The CAGED Template Chord System or The CAGED Template Chord System DVD).

Fretboard Theory

Additional chapters of Fretboard Theory will help you successfully apply the major scale to the fretboard as well as progressions, intervals, extensions, modes and more. Sign up and receive a free 25 page preview along with bonus details and free tab!