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What You Need to Know To Play Guitar: Part 2/Tunings and Fretboard

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Introduction

Hi! Welcome to What You Need to Know To Play Guitar, Part 2! If you missed Part 1, it is right here.
We learned previously how to play a note and the name of the strings of your beloved instrument, from the 6th to the 1st string: E A D G B E, and we even had a mnemonic sentence to remember them: ‘Eat All Day Get Big Easy’.

At this point, you know which note you play if you strum the strings without fretting them, but what if you do fret one? How do you know where the notes are on this gigantic fretboard?
That’s what we are about to learn.

What You Need to Know To Play Guitar: Part 2/Tunings and FretboardChromatic Scale

First point, the chromatic scale! What a scary word, don’t you think? Well, this will be your main tool to understand the fretboard.

A scale is a set of notes selected by a formula, for example, the C Major Scale is C D E F G B C, the A Minor Pentatonic Scale is A C D E G A. The difference here is that our chromatic scale contains every notes, even the sharped (#) or flatted (b) one.

You may have stumbled upon them, they are what we call accidentals, they change the pitch of a note. Naturals (without accidentals) notes have a certain distance between them that we call steps:

  • There is a whole step between A and B, C and D, D and E, F and G, G and A.
  • There is a half step between B and C, E and F.

When you sharp a note, A for example, you add a half step to it, thus, as there is a whole step between A and B, A is one half step lower than A#, while A# is one half step lower than B.

You do the exact contrary when you flat a note, you take a half step from it. If we take back our example, A is one half step higher than Ab, which is itself a whole step and a half lower than B.

Read again if you did not understand, do not hesitate to write everything until you do.

OK, if it is crystal clear, let’s finally learn that chromatic scale. However, there are two “versions” of the same scale as you can not use sharps and flats at the same time:

  • The ascending (from the lowest pitch to the highest) chromatic scale: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C.
  • The descending (from the highest pitch to the lowest) chromatic scale: C B Bb A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db C.

The fretboard

Now the practical thing, how do you use the chromatic scale with the fretboard?
First, the fretboard is composed of numbered frets, each of them represents one half step. Knowing this, take the string you are fretting as the starting point, let’s say its the 6th, E, and go up the scale:

1. F

2. F#
3. G
4. G#
6. A#
7. B
8. C
9. C#
10. D
11. D#
12. E

As you can see, we went full circle, all the notes following the 12th fret follows the same sequence over and over.

Do it yourself for the other strings, A D G and B, remember, the 12th fret’s note is always the same as the string.
Do not forget to do it backward as well.

To practice and get more comfortable with the fretboard, try saying the notes you play aloud while you exercise. Another way to practice is to select randomly a note and find which one it is as fast as possible, or try to find a note all over the neck, be creative and persistent!

Tunings

I told you before that your strings have names, it is not exactly true. E A D G B E is one of many tunings possibilities, but it is the one mainly used, it is thus called, standard tuning.

For example, in rock and metal, you need a heavier sound, so they use tunings like drop D (D G C F A D), or drop C (C F B E G C), it depends on the needs.

The large amount of tuning possibilities is the reason why you should not learn the whole fretboard and rather focus on figuring out the notes as fast as possible. Take time to study the most used tuning of your favorite musical genre.

End of Part 2 folks! If you have questions, leave a comments, otherwise, see you in Part 3

What You Need to Know To Play Guitar: Part 2/Tunings and Fretboard
General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.

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