Let’s put all that piano stuff off to the side for a moment and focus on the guitar. We’ll get back to the piano keyboard in a little while.
Just like each key on the piano has a note name, each string on the guitar has a note name. But identifying guitar strings is a little tricky because of words like high, low, top, and bottom.
When referring to pitch, high and low indicate what the note sounds like. For example, here’s a low E and a high E on the guitar.
When talking about guitar strings, we use the terms high, low, top, and bottom to indicate what those strings sound like – not their physical position on the instrument. When holding a guitar, the low/bottom string is higher physically (closer to the ceiling) while the high/top string is lower physically (closer to the ground).
Guitar strings are named with either notes or numbers. Don’t get the numbers reversed! The high string (closest to the floor) is always the 1st string while the low string (closest to the ceiling) is always the 6th string.
Note also that guitar diagrams show the neck upside down with the low string at the bottom (floor) and the high string at the top (ceiling). Guitar diagrams usually show the nut on the left side. You’ll read about frets and the nut in the next section.
The previous figures show the letter and number names of each string. Here are a few mnemonics to help you memorize the letter order from low string to high string.
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Elvis Always Dug Good Banana Eating
- Every Amp Deserves Guitars/Basses Everyday
- Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually
The names (letter and number names) of the guitar strings, from low (closest to the ceiling) to high (closest to the floor) are:
- Low E
- High E
The vertical wires on a guitar neck that cross the strings are called frets. To the left of the first fret is the nut. Most guitars have between 21 – 24 frets. As you play guitar, you’ll move your fretting hand up and down the neck horizontally as you jump from fret to fret. Moving towards the nut of the guitar is called moving lower or down the neck (because the pitches get lower). Moving away from the nut is called moving higher or up the neck (because the pitches get higher.
Most guitar necks have fret markers, which are small dots, diamonds, or other designs that mark some of the frets. Fret markers simply make it easier to locate frets. Here are a few things to remember about fret markers:
- Fret markers start at fret 1 or 3, depending on the guitar.
- Fret markers are located on odd-numbered frets through fret 9.
- Fret 12 always gets a double marker (or a fancier marker) to indicate the octave, which is the next higher pitch of the open string. For example, if the string name is E, then the note at the 12th fret is also E. It’s just the next higher octave.
- After the 12th fret, the pattern repeats. Fret 15 has a marker and it’s an octave higher than fret 3. Fret 17 has a marker and it’s an octave higher than fret 5. Etc.
- If a guitar has 24 frets, then fret 24 gets a double marker.
Steps on the Guitar
Remember that on a piano two consecutive keys on the keyboard are a half-step apart. This translates on the guitar to a span of one fret. For example, from fret 1 to 2 is a half-step. A whole step skips a fret. For example, from fret 5 to 7 is a whole step.
Finding Notes on the Guitar
Each fret represents a half-step (or semi-tone). If you know the name of an open string, you can figure out the fretted notes along that string. Remember that:
- Notes follow in alphabetical order up to G, then start over at A.
- Half-steps occur between B-C and E-F.
Let’s look at the 1st string (high E) as an example.
- The 1st string is the high E string. So the open note is E. Remember the nut is on the left side!
- The 1st fret is a half-step higher than the open note (E). As there’s a half-step between the notes E and F, the 1st fret of the high E string is the note F.
- The 2nd fret is a half-step higher than the 1st fret (F). Therefore, the 2nd fret note is F♯.
- The 3rd fret is a half-step higher than the 2nd fret (F♯). Therefore, the 3rd fret note is G.
- Continuing this idea and remembering that half-steps happen between E and F and between B and C, you can figure out all of the notes on the 1st string. If a note has an accidental, you can choose either enharmonic name.
Match the string number to its letter name:
Name the note on the 1st string's indicated fret: