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I have 2 questions, which are somehow interrelated.

  1. Learning which-note-corresponds-to-which-fret-position was told to me as an extremely important task for any guitarist who want to get better at it. But, I find is very difficult to memorize all the position of the notes. Is there any smart or technical way to memorize it? or any software?

  2. Though many songs are played on standard tuning(EADGBE), how this memorization is going to help when its not standard tuning. Notes are gonna take different fret position with every different tuning? Or do every guitarist has to master all the note positions for every tuning he want to play in?

Some insight would help. Thanks.

Does these has anything to do with acoustic or electric guitar? I prefer acoustic.

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I've changed question title, if you don't mind, this one will be better, since it describes the topic. – Silver Light Aug 24 '11 at 14:41
@silver-light Not at all! In fact, thanks for stepping up :) – iamcreasy Aug 24 '11 at 16:31
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Good question! While it is important to know the what notes are at each fret, it's not necessary to know all the notes at once, especially if you're a beginner. To start memorizing the notes, first memorize the all the notes at each fret on the last two bass strings (tip: the notes repeat at the the 12th fret). Then, using octave shapes, you should be able to figure out the notes on all the other strings. This link explains it in detail:

Another thing that helps in learning the notes on the fret is to play scales, and say each note out loud.

Regarding songs that are not in standard tuning, if its a tuning that you use fairly often, such a Drop D, you'll probably find that you would be able the figure out the notes, especially if you have learned the notes in standard tuning. If it is a less common tuning, you could use intervals to identify notes by by. It's probably not necessary to completely master every tuning that you use, some guitarists simply mess around with an odd tuning and come up with a great song. And it there's no difference between learning notes on a acoustic or electric guitar, except the fact that a electric guitar usually has a longer neck.

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Exapanding Daryl Answer - here goes fretboard diagram with octave shapes:

enter image description here

Circle marks all "e" notes in standard tunning. Of Course You can move whole shape up and down the neck for other notes.

This how to practice it:

  1. Locate note
  2. Follow arrows to locate next position
  3. and so on ...

You can focus on note names on 6th and 5th string at start, and the gradually work Your way to other strings.

As far as other tunings are concerned i try to figure what are differences to standard tuning and alter fingerings accordingly. It helps to figure out some basic chords in new tunning and then build on top of that.

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The key to this is realising that different people think in different ways, and want to be able to achieve different things. The answers already given, tend to represent the the learning styles and playing ambitions of the people who wrote them.

Learning by rote versus learning by discovery

You can learn the position of every A on the fretboard by consulting a diagram. You can learn scales in every key by copying the diagrams in books. That may be your preferred learning style.

You can reason about the tuning of the guitar. On all but one string (in standard tuning) a note fretted on a particular string, is the same pitch as the next string up fretted five semitones lower. You can use that knowledge, and the knowledge of the intervals -- 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 -- to play a major scale in any key. You can hear the interval between your current note and your root note, and name the note that way. This may be the way you prefer to think about music.

Reading music via note names, or directly

It's possible you don't want to read music at all -- we'll come to that. However, if you do...

Some people like to start by going via the names of the notes. For each note, the mental process goes:

  • A note at this position on a stave is a C
  • In the current key signature, a C becomes a C#
  • To play a C in that octave on my fretboard, I fret here

Of course, with practice, those three steps happen really quickly.

Other people take a more direct route from sheet music to note:

  • In this key signature, that position on the stave corresponds to this position on the fretboard

The name of the note doesn't matter, for this kind of person. Why even think about its name? You just want to play it.

Realistically, I think most people are somewhere in between those two extremes. I think people who start as the first type, get to the point where they're doing it the second way and know the note name instantly. People who start as the second type, may always need to think a bit if they need to name the note they just played.

Improvising and playing by ear

Some really good musicians never learn to play by ear. Some really good musicians improvise by moving around scales they've learned by rote; reasoning about key signatures. Knowing the names of the notes that will fit, and playing those notes on the fretboard.

Other musicians simply know by (learned) instinct, what pitch they'll hear if they fret a certain position, and what pitch they're aiming for. I'm certain that most of the blues legends play in this way. They can probably tell you what key they're playing in (so they can growl "Rainbow, G" at the house band) but they're not thinking "F#" as they hit it.

Alternate tunings

You specifically asked about whether alternate tunings are difficult to learn.

Yes they are. To play guitar well, you need to get really, really familiar with the tuning. So it follows that another tuning is going to be really challenging.

I think people who use alternate tunings fall into two camps:

  • Really dedicated virtuosos who go through the hard work of adapting to a tuning
  • Guitarists who use alternate tunings to "trick" effects out of the instrument.

By the latter case, I mean -- open tunings that give you a chord wherever you barre it -- or the kind of tuning Keith Richards or Lou Reed would use to enable them to play a riff they wouldn't be able to achieve with standard tuning. Those guys are almost certainly not thinking of the names of the notes they're playing.

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Very valid point - about half my guitars are standard E tuning, and a few are drop D (which does confuse my muscle memory, but is useful for certain songs) and now I have one with drop D plus a 7th string as a low A. It is hard work, but forces you to come up with new things - as your automatic movements have to become conscious. It slows me down, fractionally, but makes me come up with new ways to move around the fretboard. – Dr Mayhem Oct 5 '11 at 13:59

You know that, um, its alphabetical, right?

Just remember that there is only 2 places where there are two notes RIGHT next to each other B and C and then E and F.

Then just follow the alphabet and when you get to the letter "G" start over.

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Is this process/guideline was enough for you to memorize all the note position is every tuning you wanted? – iamcreasy Aug 24 '11 at 23:45
The notes will always be alphabetical from whatever note the string is tuned to. Always. No matter what tuning you use. You are making this way harder than it needs to be. – Basso Ridiculoso Aug 25 '11 at 2:39
I was asking, whether only they-are-alphabetically-sorted was enough info for you to memorize them. Here memorizing means playing a scale on any places rendomly you want, not just pointing what note belongs where. – iamcreasy Aug 25 '11 at 19:36
It should be enough, because once you know the first note (the open string) you just run the alphabet to get wherever you want. – Basso Ridiculoso Aug 27 '11 at 0:07
Are you a guitarist at all? – iamcreasy Aug 27 '11 at 17:08

I'll just spend a few rows on why memorizing notes on guitar fretboard :)

Learning scales and digging deeper into music will allow freedom. What I look for in music (and I think also many others) is just the plain possibility to express myself. In sports there's a state of mind called "flux" where the thinking stops and there's just place for action. Think about Cristiano Ronaldo trying to get over a defender... If he wastes time thinking "I will do this and so I will get there" probably he'll lose the ball. So he just stops thinking and his body moves fluidly with a trick and get past the defender.

(Isn't necessarily like this but please keep on reading :) )

For a musician I think the most incredible moment is to express concepts. "Sun", "Flaming bird", "Sadness", "Fun", "Morning"... With scales, notes, bending, power, caress, vibrato, octaves, cymbals...

How can you trigger that spontaneously, if the technique is slowing you and turning your actions into choppy movements as if you were a wooden puppet like pinocchio? Own the technique. Cut it down to small pieces. Practise hard. Eat it. Digest it. Just THEN you can let it happen.

That's what you need to do with notes and scales. You can play in a great way without studying theory if you have a big heart (and a bigger ear). You can write a touching poem without studying language and licterature but... If you do your work it'll be easier and you'll be much more free. When a dancer has a solid base of movements and tricks and mastered tempo... He / she can float like a feather. Express feelings. Even to people that do not speak his / her language.

All the answers above are more technical and accurate than mine. I just want to say: to the more you can. Dig into music. Learn techniques, listen a lot: let yourself bloom :)

Do not aim necessarily to the top: 2 steps are more than zero.

Have fun!

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This answer has good information, but it does not address the original question (how to memorize notes on the fretboard). This may have been more suited as a comment. – user393 Aug 24 '11 at 16:54
-1 for reason stated above. This isn't an answer. – yossarian Aug 24 '11 at 18:55
You're right but since in comments I'd have troubles writing so much I thought to choose answer even if I didn't want it to be the choosen answer (because it is not really one). Next time I won't do that again :) – Pitto Aug 25 '11 at 10:37
I'd also like to add that the question title was changed since when I answered it wasn't that clear. No problems, anyway: I'll take all the minus incoming :) – Pitto Aug 25 '11 at 10:38
Well, may be this doesn't answer anything, but it was a fun to read and I favorited my own question for this answer :P – iamcreasy Aug 25 '11 at 19:37

While lots of guitarists learn the fretboard by learning scales, or methods similar to what Daryl L suggests (and I believe it's great for many people), this has never really worked for me - I don't know why.

The alternative method I started recently was to get a good beginner's guitar course book which only uses notes (no tab), and learn to play the songs. In addition, I bought a sight-reading book (again without tab), and it helped me to find the correct positions on the fretboard intuitively and quickly. I still have some work to do for the higher positions on the neck, but overall it's the first method that has given me results. As a side effect, I can now play (easy) sheet music on the guitar!

I think, there's a certain difference between just knowing the notes ("let me think - uh - a D sharp - uh - 2nd string, 4th fret"), and finding all the notes of a chord or melody immediately on the fretboard.

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I am a beginner, so trying to find easiest way to put the fretboard into my mind.

I say "across" for moving up the fretboard, away from the nut; "down" from heavy to skinny strings; "up" from skinny to heavy strings.

Now, play any note. Then, look at the string and position of the given note and move: 2x2 if on 2 heavy strings (2 across 2 down); 3x2 if on 2 middle strings (3 across 2 down); 2x3 if on 2 skinny strings (2 across 3 up).

It may looks a bit stupid, but in a few minutes it really helped me "see" the same notes around on the fretboard. And what I actually need to memorize is "2x2, 3x2, 2x3".

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