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Finding the Notes on a Guitar

Updated on August 6, 2014

The Chromatic Scale

Western music has twelve notes. Playing these in order is known as the chromatic scale. All twelve notes are laid out quite easily on a piano.

A guitar also has its notes running chromatically. However, unlike a piano the exact same note can appear more than once on the fret board. Up to six times if a guitar has twenty four frets.

Looking down at the fret board, your thinnest string will be at the bottom and the thickest at the top. The thinnest string is known as the first string. The thickest as the sixth. The diagram above shows the notes of each string on the left. This is the note that will sound if an un-fretted or open string is picked.


There are two main ways to tune your guitar. The quickest is to us a tuner, either standard or digital. The second it to tune to another instrument. I.e, another guitar or a piano. A lesson CD that has each sting sounding one by one is helpful too. Eventually, you may be able to tune by just knowing what pitch to expect from each string, but in the mean time I’d suggest using a tuner. It’s quicker and gets you playing quicker, with an accurate tuning which will help familiarize your ears to the notes as you play.

When tuning your guitar. The ‘A’ note on the E string’s fifth fret will be the same as the open note of the A string. By fretting the fifth note on the sixth string and the open fifth string you’ll be able to hear if your guitar is in tune.

Similarly, the ‘D’ note played on the fifth fret of the A string will be the same as the open forth string, which is ‘D

The ‘G’ note played on the fifth fret of the D string will be the same as the open third string, which is ‘G

The pattern differs slightly on the next one. The ‘B’ note on the forth fret this time, is the same as the open ‘B’ string.’

The ‘E’ note played on the fifth fret of the B string is the same as the open first string, which is E.

As the notes appear more than once on the fretboard, the ‘E’ note on the twelfth fret of the sixth string is the same as the ‘E’ note on the seventh fret of the fifth string, and the second fret of the forth string.

Having the notes appear more than once is an advantage guitarist have over musicians as a riffs and melodies can be played in various positions.

Here is a demonstration

Sharps and Flats.'

So far, we’ve covered standard note values. The remaining notes are known as Sharps and Flats.

A Flat note is to the left of a standard note, a Sharp note is to the right.

A Flat note is also known as ‘lowered’. A Sharp note is known as ‘raised.’

A Flat note uses this icon -

A Sharp note uses this icon - #

A note to the right of A would be A#. A note to the left of A would be A♭

An Important Tip To Remember

Sharps and Flats can actually be the same note. An A# is the same note as B♭. The reason for this is due to what ‘key’ a song is written in. No key will contain both sharps and flats. It’s one or the other.

The more you learn about the guitar the more you'll discover it's more ‘pattern’ orientated than other instruments, and this can make things a lot easier in terms of playing, learning and composing… not to mention performing.

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