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    Kirks Guitar and Music Primer

fretboard map

Horizontal lines represent the strings, tuning pegs to the left, body of the guitar to the right. The number of each fret is indicated above, the fretboard markers are below. Trust those fretboard markers, they're the same on all guitars. Notes repeat beyond the 12th fret, in other words 13 is the same as 1, 14 as 2, etc., but one octave higher.

Learn the natural notes first, shown here in red. The sharp/flat notes fit between. While it's important to know where all notes are, it's far more important to know where chords are, as chords carry much more information than notes — just as words carry more information than the letters of the alphabet. More on chords soon.

I'm sure there are as many ways to learn this map as there are players, but so long as you remember the open string notes (EADGBE) and the fact that notes come in alphabetical order as they rise in pitch, you can never really get lost.
Even if, at first, you need to go back to the open string work your way up through the notes to find whatever you're looking for, you'll be fine. Notice that the natural notes stack up at the fifth and tenth frets. This is also a good landmark to lock in.

Do you need to know this by heart when you're starting out? No, not unless you can read notation and want to play pieces that have been scored out. If you're just starting out, you probably won't venture too far up the neck and won't really need to know the names of notes.

Apart from the five lowest notes on a guitar — E, F, F#, G and G# — and some of the very highest notes, all the others have at least one other position. Some, like the open B string note, have four other places where they can be found. This is what makes guitars so different from pianos, where only one of each note can be found. This is both a curse and a blessing!

OK, so we've learned that:

   • there are 12 notes that repeat like the months of the year
   • that a music year is called an octave
   • that all have a sharp/flat note between them except for E-F and B-C
   • that the distance between any two adjacent notes is called a semitone.

These are the raw ingredients, the building blocks. On a guitar, every string/fret postion is a note and the sharp/flat notes are all there, mixed in together. On a piano they're color-coded black and white; there is no such distinction on a fretboard.

What we hear as music is the way these 12 notes, plus the repeats in other octaves, interact with each other. For that, we need a blueprint. Music's Master blueprint is called the Major Scale.


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