Learn Your Neck

by Israel Doria

Like many of you, I learned to play the guitar on my own. This means that I simply learned chord shapes and scale shapes that were unrelated to each other. I learned fret numbers instead of note names and tablatures instead of music notation. These are all good things to know, but its also very important that we, as guitar players and musicians, take the time to learn theory and apply it to our playing. It is imperative that we learn the notes on the neck, key signatures, chord tones and put them all together to make music that works.


The first thing we need to get under our belts before we start hammering away at memorizing these key signatures is the musical alphabet.

There are seven letters in the musical alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Once you reach the end, it starts over and continues in each direction infinitely. Go ahead and play these notes on your guitar.

You’ll notice that some notes are two frets apart where other notes are only fret apart. These are called whole steps and half steps.

In addition to these notes, we have what are called accidentals.We will go over three kinds of accidentals: sharps, flats and naturals.

A sharp sign(#) raises a note a half step.
A flat sign(b) lowers a note a half step.
A natural sign(♮) cancels out any other accidental.

Chromatic Scale
Now its time to put the two together. The chromatic scale is a scale that includes every note within an octave. In the key of  A, it would look like this:

A – A#/Bb – B – C -C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A

This scale is the same in any key. Lets take a look at E:

E – F – F#/Gb – G -G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E

Application to Fretboard
The chormatic scale and understanding of the musical alphabet and accidentals will help you learn and memorize the fretboard. In order to get a point of reference, we need to memorize the open strings. The 1st string is the thinnest one and the 6th string is the thickest. The names of the strings are:

1 – E
2 – B
3 – G
4 – D
5 – A
6 – E

Now you can figure out any note on your guitar’s fretboard! For instance, if you want to know what the 7th fret on the top string is, you know the top string is E and if you could seven half-steps up from E you’ll see that the 7th fret is B.  This may seem tedious and boring but it is imperative to your playing that you memorize the fretboard. Next time, we’ll talk about key signatures and how to control the vast range of notes
that the guitar provides.


Musical Alphabet



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