Tablature Vs Notation in 2023

Why learn the notes on the fretboard?

You might have attempted a google search for ‘Notes on the fretboard’ or something similar and in return you’ve been shown fretboard diagrams that show you all the notes across the entire fretboard. 

Understandably, you’ve probably gone back to playing your guitar and just carried on enjoying your practice session. 

Describing notes on the fretboard of the guitar

Rather than saying string 3 fret 5, you could say ‘the C note on fret 5 string 3 – finger 2’. You’ll immediately come across to other musicians as someone who cares about what note they’re playing rather than just playing the right note. 

Also, you’ll set yourself aside from other guitarists. Unless you’re a classical guitar player, learning the notes on the fretboard and where they are on the stave isn’t usually the top priority. 

Tablature Vs Notation

Often learning guitar music, has tablature and notation together. The advantage here is that once you’ve learned where the notes are on the fretboard, you can quickly learn where they are on the stave by training your eyes to look at the notation rather than the tab. 

Unless it’s music that has been written for finger-style or classical guitar, there often isn’t enough information on the notation to help you navigate your fretboard. You can have the same note in 3 different places and if written well, the music will teach you which fret, which string, what rhythm and which finger to use.

With finger-style music, it’s usually written in a way that’s thoughtful because the relationship between finger-style and classical guitar is actually very similar. 

How the left hand transitions from one chord to another and how the right hand works with the notes is actually very similar when compared with classical guitar music. Numerical information will also be available for the left hand in both styles. 

The lack of tablature for classical guitar will be swapped with fret positions using roman numerals and which string to use will be indicated with a number in a circle. Numbers next to the note indicate which fingers to use in the left hand.

How to learn the notes on the guitar’s fretboard (basic)

Looking at a fretboard diagram can feel overwhelming to the novice guitar player and frustrating. Learning the notes on the fretboard isn’t actually that hard but it does require a couple of skill sets. Knowing your alphabet (up to the letter G) and a good memory.

Follow this video. It will show you where to find the normal notes without having to worry about the sharps and flats. It’s just your alphabet but you’ll need to start from a different letter each time. What letter you start from will depend on what string you start from.

If you’re on string E, start from the letter E. If you’re on string A, start from the letter A. Watch out for the gaps on your fretboard. I’d recommend learning the notes on the fretboard using just strings 6 – 4.

How to learn the notes on the guitar’s fretboard (advanced)

Once you’ve mastered where the notes are without worrying about the sharps and flats we can then start to include the sharps and flats. Sharp and flat symbols look like this: # & b. 

If you’re not working in a particular key, you can remember the gaps on the fretboard by keeping the letter the same. Use a sharp if you’re going up a fret or a flat if you’re coming down from one fret higher. 

Notes on the fretboard & how to memorise them (octave method)

The notes on the fretboard can be quickly found by using the octave method. The octave method is a term used to describe the distance from one note to another. In this case it’s 8 degrees from the tonic. Tonic is the 1st note and the 8th is the ‘8th’ note – excluding sharps and flats which aren’t in that key or scale.

The good news is, that it’s easier to find the notes from any fret when using the octave shape than it is perhaps to understand the reason why it works.

Follow this video to understand how to find notes from strings 6 5, 4 or 3 using the octave and how to find any note from strings 1 2 or 3.The octave is the same shape from strings 6 – 5 but a different shape if the note is on strings 4 or 3.

You can work left to right or right to left along the fretboard to work out the name of the notes on any string. The 12th fret is an octave of the open strings – making it easier to find notes which are  closer to fret 12. 

Play clear and clean notes every time 

Diagrams for the guitar often tell you to play the notes in the middle of the fretboard. There are situations that require you to do so, but you want to try and aim to play every note just behind the fret. You’ll get a clean note every time and on any guitar. 

Do you know your open chords?

If so you might be interested in my CAGED System for Guitar video course. You can find the link here

Are you interested in having a lesson online?

Feel free to get in touch and book your introductory lesson. Lessons can then be at the same time every week during term time. Contact me