Wow, just looking at the guitar can be confusing. Terrifying even! All of those dots, lines, and you have no idea where every note is.
It’s all about how you approach the guitar. By discovering systems and patterns, the fretboard will make a lot more sense. In this lesson, Ayla Tesler-Mabe talks about how she interprets the guitar and demystifies the fretboard.
Knowing The Strings
For starters, it’s probably a good idea to know the name of all six strings. The best way to memorize the string names is through a crazy catchphrase. For example, the one Ayla uses here is:
“Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.”
The first letter of each of those words represents the string, starting with the low E. Yes, there are two E strings. They are the same note just two octaves apart.
Now let’s take a look at the fretboard and decipher those lines. The lines on the fretboard are called frets (makes sense!) and every time you move up or down a fret, you’re moving up or down by one semitone. In other words, if you play an A note, and you move up a fret, you’re moving up one semitone now making the note an A#. If you move up another semitone, you’ll now be playing a B.
Sharps refer to taking a note and going up by one semitone and flats are taking a note and going down a semitone. However, there is a small catch to this rule. Between the notes of B & C and E & F, there is NO sharp or flat. So B# & Cb and E# & Fb don’t exist. That’s a little confusing, I know. But once you have that memorized, you’ll be able to move up and down the fretboard calling out the correct notes.
Just start with going through all the notes on the low E string and the A string up and down the fretboard before you try and memorize all six strings. If you’re curious to see what the rest of the fretboard looks like, click HERE to download a PDF of the fretboard chart.
Another thing you’ll notice when going through the notes is once you get to the 12th fret (indicated by the double dots on the fretboard), the note is the same as playing whatever string you’re on open. So playing the low E string open is an E note and playing the same string on the 12th fret is also an E (just up an octave). Playing the A string open is an A note, and playing the same string on the 12th fret is also an A (up an octave). And so on.
The Fret Markers
The dots on your guitar’s fretboard are called fret markers and they’re a great way to internalize important notes. You don’t necessarily need to have them all memorized, but the more you play, the more you’ll discover patterns within those fret markers to help navigate through notes.
A lot of guitar players use the fret markers to memorize fret numbers. The first dot refers to the 3rd fret, the next dot is the 5th fret, then the 7th, and the 9th. The reason it’s important to have this ingrained is that if you’re in the middle of playing and you quickly need to go to the 10th fret, you’ll automatically know where the 9th fret is and just move up one to get to the 10th.
Building Chords & Scales
If you’re comfortable with knowing the E and A string and their notes, you’ll find building chord shapes and scale shapes simple! If you play a chord shape that doesn’t use any open strings, you can move it to any key as long as you start on the right root note. The same goes for scales!
Playing a basic major scale will help unlock the fretboard even further. Click HERE to download the A major scale chart so you can follow along.
The A major scale we played only has 7 notes in it – everything else after is just repeating the same notes. The numbers Ayla called out (the same numbers written in the scale chart) are referring to scale degrees, a.k.a. the first note, second note, etc. But these numbers also refer to intervals. Let’s see if you can spot a pattern here:
The distance between the first scale degree and second scale degree is a major 2nd interval. The distance between the first note and third scale degree is a major 3rd interval. The distance between the first note and the fourth scale degree is a major 4th interval. You get the point.
This is true for the entire scale. So if you play up an octave, it’s still the same notes and the same distance apart! This rule has no exceptions (phew!).
The C Major Scale
To play a C major scale, all you have to do is take the same A major scale shape we learned and instead start on the root note of C. It’s the same shape just a different root note!
Click HERE to download the scale chart so you can reference the notes while you play along.
The A Major Scale (5th String Root)
If we wanted to play the A major scale on the A string without using any open strings, what you’ll do is go to the 12th fret and play this shape found HERE.
You can now play the scale in both positions which also unlocks more of the fretboard so you’ll know where to find all of the intervals.
The only thing that changes from the E string root shape and the A string root shape is the B string. So we’re adding an extra note on the high E string (otherwise we’d run out of strings!)
The importance of learning any chord and scale you encounter on the E string and the A string is that you’ll be able to play ANY chord or scale.
These systems and patterns are what Ayla still uses in her playing today to help understand the fretboard and uncomplicate music theory she wants to apply to her playing.
There’s a lot of information there and it may take some time to fully get a grasp on it. If you only get one thing out of this, it would be to always anchor yourself in root notes. A certain chord progression is going to look the same in different keys as long as you have the correct root note to start at.
Take your time with this and get comfortable with each of these steps before moving onto the next one. Before long, you’ll fly up and down the fretboard with ease that you were once afraid of.
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