I am playing a steel-string classical guitar, but i mostly play acoustic songs on it. I mention this because classical guitars have 12 frets.

I learned all the notes, 1st-12th fret, 1st-6th string, by using the Horizontal Chromatic Scale.

But my problem is, how do i now know that, when i play 5th fret of the D string, that it's the note G?

I wouldn't be able to tell which note is it unless i played through all the frets on the D string. I'm not exactly sure how to start memorizing where an exact note is without playing through all the frets. Any tips?


5 Answers 5


Here are a couple of things that I found helpful once upon a time: First, learn about the Circle of Fifths. This will help you to understand which notes go with each Major (and Natural Minor) scale, but it will prove useful in many other ways. Learn it.

It wouldn't hurt a bit to know some signposts: know the open string notes, the notes at the fifth fret, and the notes at the 12th fret at least.

Next, play chromatic scales all over the neck, and spell them out loud as you play them. Play the scales ascending, sharping the notes as you go up (G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G), then play the scales descending (G Gb F E Eb D Db C B Bb A Ab G). Do this starting from every note, and a good way to go is to work around the Circle of Fifths. Start by playing the C chromatic scale ascending, then the F chromatic scale ascending, then Bb, and so on until you finish the G chromatic scale. Then play the C chromatic scale descending, F chromatic descending, and on until you finish the G chromatic scale. Don't think about patterns, think about note names and find them on the neck. Try different routes by switching strings on different notes. Mix things up, but always spell what you are playing, and find that on the neck.

When you get reasonably proficient with that, try playing ascending C chromatic, descending F chromatic, ascending Bb chromatic, and so on.

After you can spell these chromatic scales easily and find the notes, do exactly the same exercise with the Major scale. Spell the scales, don't rely on patterns. To do this, you need to learn how to spell scales; you need to know that D Major has F# and C# in it, so is spelled D E F# G A B C# D. Knowing the Circle of Fifths will help you with this. Play your Major scales all over the neck, avoiding the same patterns all of the time by spelling then playing. Go as slow as you must to do this.

The point of this exercise is not to make music, but to learn where the notes are on the fretboard. You don't need to avoid patterns forever, but focusing on spelling and locating the notes for a few weeks will teach you very quickly how to find the note you are looking for.

After you feel like you know the fretboard pretty well, make some flashcards with all of the notes on them (natural, sharped, and flatted). Turn over a random card and see how quickly you can play that note; see how quickly you can find that different note in three different places.

Sight-reading is good for this too, but people tend to get hung up in certain areas of the fretboard this way. If you get in there and play scales (or arpeggios) every place that you can think of, every way that you can think of, spelling instead of relying on patterns, you will be on the way to instant recognition when you look at your fingerboard.


It's not necessary to be able to know every single note name on every single fret on every single string on guitar. It seems like you've learned all the notes sequentially. It's not a bad move, but it's not particularly helpful, as you are finding out. Once upon a time, you learned to count one at a time - 1,2,3,4 etc. but that's not how you perceive numbers now. The same is happening with note names, and you need to go past that stage.

Landmarks are useful - and the dots on the fingerboard are there to help. If you know that 3rd fret top string is G, then it's fairly straightforward that 4th fret is G#/Ab, and 2nd fret is F#/Gb. There's usually a dot on 5th fret, so learn the note names there - A D G C E A - making all the 6th fret notes sharp. A# D# G# C# F A#. Go another way, 7th fret marker - notes B E A D F# B. go back to fret 6, they all get flattened - Bb Eb Ab Db F Bb, (Yes, same notes, different names. Confusing - very - on guitar!)

There is no need to learn 12th fret - those notes are the same as open string names!

Since the guitar is designed as it is, patterns are very useful. Let's face it, most melodies are diatonic (contain the notes from a particular scale), so knowing the scale pattern will enable you to find notes in that key more easily than thinking 'next note's G#, where's G#, which string is best for it?' So, I recommend learning major and minor pentatonics, major and minors scales at least as a starter.

Reasoning there is that actually you need to cut out the middle man. 1. Look at a note on the music. 2. say what the note is. 3. find it on guitar. Is all too slow when you play properly. So 1.Look at a note. 2. Play it because you know where it is in a pattern. That's more efficient.

Knowing which note names go with which keys is very important. Know that there are 3# in key A - F# C# G#. Expect those notes to be played in key A. Again, we're into patterns rather than what every single note is called on the fretboard.

Develop ways in which to play the same name note all over the guitar. Example - C is 5th string, 3rd fret. There's always an octave two strings and two frets up - thus 3rd string, 5th fret. This does not work between 4th string and 2nd string, or 3rd and top! You can work out their relationships. There is always the same note going down a string and up 5 frets. This does not work between 2nd and 3rd strings! Be able to play 7 or 8 F# notes anywhere on the guitar, in quick succession.

There are many other ideas, which, with some thought, you can invent yourself. I guess you're aware that several notes have two names in general use - F# is the same sound as Gb, but need to be called differently in different keys (not just when going up or down the chromatic scale). Good luck!

  • It's a good answer, but I'm a little ambivalent about "It's not necessary to be able to know every single note name...." At the end of the day, the important thing is that players have a good mental map of the fretboard. Sometimes you go someplace, and other times you end up someplace, so you need a map that lets you both find things quickly and get your bearings quickly. For me a part of this map is the ability to identify note names on the fretboard without thinking about it too much. In any case, +1.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 12:23
  • @DavidBowling - thanks. I tend to think of note names after the event. I am in a certain key, usually, and map the notes needed using ' that finger'll do that job' approach. So, for me there's a lot of academia in 'what's the name of the note'. My mental map doesn't involve note names while I'm playing! More intuition (and luck!) than anything!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 14:47
  • We need all the luck and intuition we can muster ;) When I'm actually playing I'm not thinking much about note names either, but occasionally I need one. When you look at the 8th fret on the 2nd string, somehow I doubt that you have to do a lot of fret-counting to know that it is a G.
    – user39614
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 15:00
  • 1
    @DavidBowling - that's true. The little stickers I have on a lot of frets are a great help..!
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 15:09

I found that reading music is a big help. Something about looking at the note, saying in your head what the note is, then playing it on the guitar, really solidifies what note is where in a way that just playing scales doesn't, because playing the scales tend to turn into shapes rather quickly.

Another thing I find useful is to learn movable barre chords with the root on both the 6th and 5th strings. Learn at least the major and minor forms of both. Then find some simple songs and play them in several different keys. If for example your song has a progression of I, IV, V play it in C as many places around the neck as possible. 3rd fret on the 5th string for C, 6th string 1st fret, 6th string 3rd fret. Then play it 8th fret, 8th fret, 10th fret (with the roots on 6th, 5th, 5th). Now you know c, f and g on two string in 2 different positions. Bonus you know a few notes on the high e too as it is the same as the low e. Now transpose the song to the key of D. Then A. Then E. now add a chord maybe ii and then vi. Pick a few more keys.


There's a way that works very quickly.

Example - C scale

  1. Play C in the position you know best, e.g. 5th string 3rd fret. This is to get the sound in your head.

  2. Play C on every string

Play C on the 6th string 8th fret

Play C on the 5th string 3rd fret

Play C on the 4th string 10th fret (two frets down from D on 12th fret)

Play C on the 3rd string 5th fret

Play C on the 2nd string 1st fret

Play C on the 1st string 8th fret (same as 6th string)

You'll know if you go wrong by the sound.

  1. Repeat (2) above over and over and faster and faster until you've played it twice in a row without a mistake. Then stop. (Always stop on a success)

  1. Now move on to D. Play D on the open string to get the sound in your head.

  2. Play D on every string

Play D on the 6th string 10th fret (two down from E on 12th fret)

Play D on the 5th string 5th fret (like tuning the guitar)

Play D on the 4th string 12th fret (octave of open string)

Play D on the 3rd string 7th fret

Play D on the 2nd string 3rd fret

Play D on the 1st string 10th fret (two down from E on 12th fret like 6th string)

  1. Continue this way with each note in the C major scale until you get back to C.

After a week of doing this I guarantee you will know every natural note on the fret-board up to and including the 12th fret.

From here you can play around:

Play the chromatic scale starting with E on 6th string 12th fret. Play E on every string, then move on to F.

Play scales in different keys. Every time play each note on every string before moving to the next note of the scale.

Start on the 1st string and work down.


The 6th string and 1st string always have the same note at the same fret. You know the notes on the fifth fret from tuning (except for the 4th fret on the G string) You know the octaves of the open strings. They are all on the 12th fret. You can move backwards two frets from the 12th fret to get the natural note below it (they all are naturals)

I invented this method for my young students and it worked like magic.


First off, classical guitars usually have 19 frets. The 12th fret is where the neck joins the body (which is the 14th fret on most steel string guitars).

To answer your question, here's how I did it:

I made a set of flash cards. One for every letter A-G, one for every sharp A#-G#, and one for every flat Ab-Gb. I just used 3x5 index cards.

I shuffled the cards and turned one over. Whatever note it was, I tried to find it as quickly as I could on all six strings. Then I'd turn the next card over and do it again.

I spent about 3 weeks doing this, roughly 15 minutes a day, and at the end of that time I knew the fretboard positions of notes cold.

My thinking was that note names are as basic to music as times tables are to math, so I'd better know them by rote.

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