How To Start Learning Your Fretboard

Learning the notes on the low E string and A string can help a guitarist of any level in two important ways. First, once you've learned a moveable position of any scale, you will then be able to play that scale in the correct place on the neck when playing along to a song or jamming with others. Here is an example. I teach the minor pentatonic scale to all my students starting when they are beginners (see my post on pentatonic scales here). The pattern they learn has it's root on the low E string. Once they have learned the moveable pattern, we can then jam on the blues in any key. Here is how it works: if we are playing the blues in A, all they need to do is find where A is on the low E string and start the scale there.

The second way that knowing the notes on the low E and A strings can help is with naming bar chords. Once you start learning and practicing bar chords, this is the way to help identify the chords you are playing or want to play. The two standard forms of bar chords have their root on the low E or A string. If the bar chord you are playing is an E form chord, that is, it is similar in shape to an open E chord, then it's root is on the low E string. If I am playing an E form bar chord with the bar at the third fret, it is a G chord because G is the note on the low E string at this fret.

If I am playing an Am bar chord that has the shape of an open Am minor chord, then it's root is on the A string. If I play this chord with the bar on the second fret, then it's a B minor chord. And that's it!

I always suggest starting by memorizing the names of the notes found on the dots or inlays on your guitar's fretboard. Most electric and acoustic guitars have them at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th fret (and up). If you look at the chart above, these frets on the low E string correspond to the notes G, A, B, C#/Db and E. On the A string, these frets correspond to the notes C, D, E, F#/Gb and A. Start by memorizing the low E string then move on to the A string when you are ready. All you need to do is memorize the notes up to the 12th fret, as they just repeat after that. The 12th fret is equal to the open string, the 13th fret is the same as the 1st fret etc...

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