I'm learning music theory for the first time. I recently learned that a fret is equivalent to a half step. For whatever reason, when I think of a half step I imagine going from one A => A# per-se. Looking at the the guitar neck, sometimes there are 2 half steps between notes (A => B), other times there is only 1 (B => C).

Is there any relationship between the alphabet name of a note and the distance between the notes (interval)? And isn't A# the same as B? So what does that make 6th fret low E?

3 Answers 3


The musical alphabet consists of 7 notes: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. All the notes have 2 half steps between them, except for B->C and E->F - between those, there is only 1 half step.

And isn't A# the same as B? So what does that make 6th fret low E?

No, A# is A# - 1 half step above A.(It can also be called Bb - 1 half step below B). You need to go 2 half-steps to get to B, as explained. The 6th fret on your E string is A# or Bb. The 7th fret - 2 half steps above A - is B. It is the same note as the second fret on your A string - 2 half steps above A, the open string.

The relationship between the number of steps and the name of a note can get a bit complicated, but those are the basics.

  • Is the B->C and E->F being 1 half step a guitar thing or all music thing? Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 23:03
  • 2
    All music thing - that is the way the system works. It is ancient, and the reason it is that way has to do with the way the human ear hears a scale of seven notes.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 23:10

Get a picture of a piano keyboard. Write in the letter names on the white notes. C is the one just below a group of two black notes. When you get to G, start over with A.

Yes, if you start on a white note, a sharp always means 'next note up'. Sometimes this takes you to a black note (C to C#). Sometimes to another white one (E to F). So, E# is F. Sometimes it's clearer to spell it as E#, though just for now I think I'll ask you to take that on trust!

Guitar is not the easiest instrument to learn theory on :-)

  • @P.Brian.Mackey - you can get a little casio keyboard for a few dollars. Use it to peck out and visualize your scales and chords. I play guitar and (mostly) bass and I started doing that a few years ago - it is a great help. (Eventually you'll also learn how to play some piano - a very good thing to know.)
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 19:04

In the Western world, music wise, we split an octave into 12 equal parts - now called 12EDO, or equal temperament.

We also split (usually) an octave into what probably sounds like seven 'equal' parts. We call those major and minor scales.

Obviously, with 12 divisions on one hand, and 7 on the other, there's going to be trouble. In a key/scale of 7 notes, each must have a separate letter name, otherwise writing them on manuscript would be horribly messy.

So, we use letter names A to G, then start again.Unless we are German, and bring H into the equation, making it all more interesting!

Now, using the 7 letter names, only once each, there are going to be musical gaps between each on either a semitone (one step/fret) or a tone (two steps/frets).

Developing over many centuries, we now have A>B=T, B>C=S, C>D=T, D>E=T, E>F=S, F>G=T, G>A=T. When keys other than the ubiquitous C major are used, some of those notes need to be sharpened or flattened in order to sound in tune.

In the case of, say, Eb major, the spacing of the notes need the E to be flat, and also A and B. So it ends up having 3 flat notes in that key.

Another well used layout is the keyboard, where the white keys are called ordinary (natural) notes, A>G, and the black keys get called sharps OR flats, depending on the key of the prevailing piece.

Don't know where the terms 'step and half-step' come from, but they're universally known as tone (T) and semitone (S). They're sometimes portrayed as W (whole) and H (half), which seem to correspond to your terms better.

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