One of the easiest things to master on the guitar is knowledge of notes on each fret and string. The strange thing is that while it may be one of the easiest things to master, most guitarists wait until they are a fair way into their guitar progress before making sure they know all the notes (actually some people never learn them at all). Perhaps the reliance on tabs (a very useful tool) has spawned a league of guitarists that place little importance on knowing the fretboard.
‘Knowing your notes’ is a very important skill to have. As I mentioned earlier, it is easy, but not only that, you can learn your notes without any technical ability whatsoever. If you’ve just purchased your first guitar and are yet to sit down to play your first note, you have just as much ability to learn your notes as a rock star who despite his technical prowess, get’s a bit lost in the upper register of the neck.
Why is it important? What if you’re not interested in reading? While it is true that knowing your notes is an essential skill if you want to be able to read notation, it’s benefits extend far beyond that realm. Knowing your notes gives you the power to construct chords, scales and melodies with a much deeper understanding. For example, if your favorite chord is a minor7b5sus9 and you only know how to play it using one shape, why not figure out in 5 different positions. If you know where all your notes are, this not only becomes an easy task, it becomes more enjoyable and more fruitful.
So what is the best way of learning your notes along the whole fretboard? Well firstly, you only really need to know your notes along 12 frets. This is because the notes effectively start again (up the octave) at this point. For example, fret 13 on the D string is a D#, as it is on fret 1 of the D string. fret 13 on the B string is C, as it is on fret 1 of the B string. And so on and so on.
One of the best ways of learning your notes is to use the cycle of 4ths/5ths. If you don’t know what the cycle of 4ths/5ths is, it is simply a cycle of notes arranged by a set interval. I have attached the picture below. In one direction (clockwise) the intervals are in 4ths and in the other direction (counter-clockwise) the intervals are in 5ths. If you don’t understand the theory behind this, do not worry, it’s not needed for this task (I’ll save that for a later post).
Using the cycle of 4ths/5ths, all you need to do is go round in one direction of the cycle and play all 12 notes on one given string. For example, if we choose to work on the D string notes, we would start from C (10 fret) then move to F (3rd fret) then Bb (8th fret) and so on. The great thing about the cycle is that it goes through all 12 notes and once you get back to the start you can go again. Once you have mastered one string, move on to the next and repeat the process. You’re probably not going to remember all the notes in one go, but if you do this for even just 5 minutes a day, I guarantee you will have full knowledge of all your notes along the fretboard on every string within a relatively short amount of time.
Remember, on most instruments, knowing the notes on the instrument goes hand in hand with playing. It is very easy to know which note is which on a piano. You can’t really play a trumpet properly if you don’t know what note you want to play. Guitar however is a different story. There are duplicates of notes all over the fretboard and it is quite a confusing arrangement of notes. It takes a bit of discipline to actually set aside time dedicated to knowing all your notes. It is however, a fairly straight forward and easy task. And VERY beneficial!
Get to it!
By the way, to do this task properly, you need a way of checking to see whether or not the note you are playing is actually the note you want to play. This can be calculated or you can use another diagram of the notes along the guitar to do this. I’ll make another post about that shortly.
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