10 Things You Gotta Know About the Fingerboard

EVER FEEL A LITTLE OUT OF TOUCH OR just plain lost on certain parts of the guitar fingerboard? You’re certainly not alone. Consider this: A standard-tuned, 6-string guitar with a 22-fret ’board has a range just shy of four octaves and contains five middle Cs, while a full-size piano keyboard covers over seven octaves yet it has only one middle C. What’s up with that?!? It’s simply the nature of the instrument. By design, the keyboard relegates any given pitch to a single key, while the guitar fingerboard offers anywhere from one to five different string and fret locations for the same note. These multiple repetitions of the same pitch afford guitarists many options for where to play any given note, but they also cause considerable confusion for beginners or players who often feel lost above the 5th fret, particularly on the inside four strings. Memorizing the address, (i.e., location) of each and every note on the fingerboard can take years, but there are ways to hasten the process. Wanna know how to find and maintain your bearings anywhere on the fretboard? First, you’ve gotta...


Let’s begin by reviewing some rudimentary musical knowledge. The basic units of measurement in Western music are the half-step, or semitone, which translates on the guitar to a distance of one fret, and the whole-step, or whole tone, which covers two frets. The musical alphabet consists of seven natural notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. All of these adjacent notes are spaced a whole-step apart, with two exceptions, B-to-C and E-to-F, which are half-steps. With all that in mind, it’s time to…

Compare the guitar fingerboard to a piano keyboard, the birthplace of music theory, and you’ll find that while the keyboard separates natural notes and accidentals (sharps and flats—more on those in a minute) into tidy white and black keys that lie along a horizontal plane and repeat every octave, the guitar offers no such easy path to note recognition. Many traditional beginner methods cover notes up to the 3rd or 5th fret, but above that, we are essentially left to our own devices. Placed on a full fingerboard grid, or matrix, the natural notes manifest as shown in Fig. 1. Granted, that’s a lot of notes to memorize, but the first thing to remember is that unless you change tunings, every note’s address is permanent. They ain’t going nowhere. Now, what about all those empty spaces?

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