How to Memorize Guitar Note Names
The following is a transcript of the video:
The very first step to mastering the fretboard is to be able to instantly identify the name of every note. In a recent survey on the Metal Method Forum 96% of all guitarists weren’t able to do this without hesitation. So, this lesson isn’t just for beginners – it’s for 96% of all guitarists.
You’ll never fully understand scales, modes, chords, and even basic theory without first learning to instantaneously recognize each note. If you want to learn to read music notation the first step is to learn the guitar note names.
I’m going to teach you four patterns, and a few exercises that will get the job done. These simple patterns will unlock every note on the fretboard. You should be able to master this within a couple of weeks.
To fully understand what I’m explaining download and print the study materials for this lesson right now if you haven’t done so already. After you’ve printed the diagrams let’s see how well you know the fretboard. Try this test as illustrated in Exercise 1 from the printed program material:
There are at least 2 of each guitar note name on each string. Set a metronome or drum machine to 60 bpm. You should be able to identify all notes without hesitation at this tempo. Start with the A note and identify two A notes on each of the six strings. After you’ve identified all twelve A notes move through the alphabet to B, then C, D, E, F, and finally G. You only get one chance to do this. You either pass or fail.
You may wonder how it’s possible to not memorize guitar note names yet still be able to play guitar. Here’s how. At some point most guitarists memorize some note positions. The problem is, they don’t continue to review the guitar note names and lose the ability to recall this information. Most guitarists play by ear, read tab, practice scale patterns and lead patterns without actually considering guitar note names. It’s possible to play at a professional level and not be able to instantly identify each note. Still, there’s no excuse for not mastering this. You can accomplish this in about two weeks then just continue to keep on top of it by reviewing these exercises occasionally.
I’m not going to explain note name basics because this lesson is aimed at guitarists that understand the basics but haven’t managed to memorize guitar note names. If you don’t understand the basics, please check out my video: Guitar Note Names for Beginners.
Exercise 2 in the printed material shows the open strings E, A, D, G, B, and E. As you should know, the guitar starts over at the twelfth fret. So you have the same notes in the same order as the open strings at the twelfth fret E, A, D, G, B, and E. The twelfth fret is an octave higher. We’ll primarily concentrate on note names for the first twelve frets since the layout is identical twelve frets higher.
Wouldn’t it be great if all notes were in the same order as the open strings? That would certainly make this easy wouldn’t it? That’s the fundamental idea of what I begin explaining in Exercise 4. These four simple patterns contain notes in the exact same order as the open strings.
You must learn to visualize these four patterns exactly like you visualize chord patterns. As I mentioned, each of these four patterns has the same notes, in the same order as the open strings. Keep in mind that these patterns work in a circular fashion just like note names do. With note names you have A, B, C, D, E, F, and G then it starts over again with A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Exercise 3 shows how to use the names of the open strings in this same circular fashion. The note order is E, A, D, G, B, and back to E just like the open strings. Then it starts over with A, D, G, B, E, and back to A.
Exercise 4 is the first pattern with the same notes in the same order as the open strings. Instead of starting on E it begins on G. The second pattern is shown in Exercise 5 and has the same notes in the same order as the open strings but begins on A. Exercise 6 has the same notes in the same order as the open strings but begins on B. And last but not least the fourth pattern is shown in Exercise 7 and has the same notes in the same order as the open strings but begins on D.
So if you know the names of the open strings and learn to visualize these patterns you know practically every note on the fretboard. At first when you move through the patterns you may visualize the open string names to remember these notes. For example as I look at Exercise 4, the first pattern, I’m visualizing the third string open G as I play the sixth string G. Then I visualize the second open string B as I play the fifth string, visualize the first string open E as I’m playing the fourth string E. E is always followed by A, followed by D then G.
With one small addition to these patterns you’ll know every natural note (notes without sharps or flats) on the fretboard. These patterns are missing the half tones. Remember all notes are a whole tone interval apart except B to C is a half tone and E to F are a half tone interval. These patterns are missing the C and F. So, the next step is to identify the C’s and F’s as shown in Exercise 8. That’s pretty easy. Since you know where all of the E’s and B’s are located the C’s and F’s are right next to them. Don’t begin working with Exercise 8 until you have memorized the four patterns without the ½ tone intervals and that will take a few days.
Exercise 9 shows that these patterns together contain every natural note on the fretboard. Sharps and flats can be identified the same way as B and C. Since you know where G is, for example, Gb is a half tone lower than G. For now, forget about sharps and flats, identifying them won’t be a problem once you’ve committed all tones to memory.
Run through the four patterns for five minutes a day at the beginning of your practice session. Set a minute timer for five minutes and don’t become distracted, no Facebook, phone or email. You must concentrate on this every day for two weeks. First run through the patterns in order then spend time naming the notes at random. Then add the C and F notes. Start hopping up and down the fretboard at random calling the note names out loud. Visualizing these patterns is a great first step but try to concentrate on the name of each individual note. Speak the note name out loud as you identify it and really concentrate on the name and position. Learn to visualize the G, for example, even when not related to the patterns that I’m teaching. There are some note names that will be more difficult than others to memorize. Spend extra time concentrating on these notes.
Next, set your timer for another five minutes. Look at the distinctive pattern of octaves demonstrated in Exercises 10 and 11. Run up and down the sixth and fifth strings naming octaves at random. It’s really only a single pattern that never changes. Really concentrate on the note name and position of each note.
Since the rest of the fretboard is just a repeat of the first twelve frets you now know the whole fretboard. Exercise 12 shows that the first pattern at the G is identical to the same pattern an octave higher. You can work with all four patterns an octave higher to master the entire fretboard.
Here are some other exercises to occasionally work into your practice routine. A variety of exercises will reinforce what you’ve already learned and keep this stuff from becoming boring and routine. By turning this into a challenging game you can actually make it fun. Exercise 13 demonstrates unison notes on adjacent strings. Exercise 14 demonstrates octaves on adjacent strings.
Try moving up and down the fretboard, a fret at a time and identify notes on all 6 strings at each fret. Do this in order and at random. When you can do this at 60 bpm you have learned memorized guitar note names.
As you play licks, scales, and modes identify guitar note names as part of the process. As you’re playing an A natural minor scale for example, analyze the notes that differ from A major.
After working on these exercises it’s time to measure your improvement. Do the same test as found in Exercise 1 by finding two of each note on each string. Do this for all seven notes. Practice this daily with and without a metronome. Do this for the next few weeks and you’ll have these note names mastered. After that you’ll want to occasionally practice these exercises to keep this clear in your mind. Use it or lose it.
Every exercise taught in this program can be visualized without a guitar in your hands. Use time that would otherwise be wasted to mentally work on these exercises. We all spend time waiting in line at the post office, or waiting for a car repair, a doctor appointment, or even lunch and dinner breaks. Use this time to mentally run through these exercises. It will make time fly.
I can always be on our forum: GuitarLessonForum.com. Stop by and let me know how you’re doing with this. I will create a poll for this subject on the Forum so you can see how others are doing with this. Three weeks from today sign on to the poll and tell us if this helped you. Even though 96% of all guitarists don’t know fretboard note names I’m confident that you’ll soon be in the top 4% of your class. Let me be the first to congratulate you on your success!