How to Memorize the Notes on the Fretboard


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Why should anyone really care if they have a good handle on fretboard and note memorization? Knowing your notes helps you find and create chords, apply licks you’ve learned to different musical settings, and interpret all written forms of music, including those inaccurate, half-baked free internet tabs you found last last Wednesday night when you were bored.

Knowing your notes opens doors, and getting started is not that hard!

This weekend, you have the opportunity to intentionally set yourself up for success in the fretboard note memorization game. You’ll have a specific exercise to do on day 1, and another similar exercise to do on day 2. If you work these exercises, you’ll be WAY ahead of where you were going into the weekend. This time will function as the correct starting point when it comes to learning the notes on the fretboard. I’m just going to put this out here now: Learning the fretboard is a LIFELONG process, but with this edition of Weekend Warrior we can really speed that up!

Knowing Scale Patterns Learning the Notes

When you’re first playing, the neck tends to get blurry after the first 5 frets or so. Once you’ve learned a few scale patterns, you start to see how certain areas connect to one another. The more you play, the more the neck becomes familiar territory, at least in some ways. If you’re like a lot of players out there (myself included), learning scales doesn’t really help in learning the location or names of notes.

Until I applied what I’m about to have you tackle this weekend, I could work up to a note while naming the tones of a memorized scale pattern in my head the way young kids add numbers by counting on fingers. But if you pointed at a note and asked me what it was, I’d have to think way too long and hard about it before giving you my answer… and it might have been wrong.

It’s unrealistic and tedious to try and memorize all the notes on each string. It is too cumbersome to bust into a scale and start “counting.” If you’re going to get a handle on note names and locations, you need a framework that is quick to learn and even quicker to apply.

Focus and Learn the Octaves

You will be able to incorporate any note in seconds We’re not going to use any fretboard diagrams. They look like an overwhelming mess if you haven’t started this process correctly from the beginning. We’re not going to use any chords or scales. We’re not going to use any word games or trite memory aids that take our attention away from the instrument.

We are going to focus on one simple note relationship: the octave.

This is what I have found to be the best starting point to conquering the mess of notes that is the fretboard.

If we take octave relationships the distance, we really only need to have a working memory of the notes on the 6th string initially. After consistent practice, the octaves will allow you to quickly perform a few instantaneous glances at your neck and identify and incorporate any note in seconds.

Day 1: We Start with the F Note

It’s all about the “F” note on day one. Why start with “F?” It is one of two notes that is not a sharp or flat that does not have an open string and can be played on the first fret. This means that it provides a nice and neat way to work up and down the entire fretboard.

Remember, resist the urge to look at fretboard diagrams. Use the provided tab instead. The idea is that you’ll be looking at your fingers and your fretboard without having to look at the names of all the notes at once. Once you learn the octave relationships via the tab and play them with your own hands and your own guitar, you’ll be able to port the shapes to any note you wish. So for day 1, we’re going to play and recite all of the “F” notes on the fretboard.

This may seem goofy. I feel goofy doing it. But it works.

This is F Exercise

Don’t worry about timing right now. This is about shapes and new connections in the brain that are not exactly of the artistic nature. There is a specific way to work through the above exercise for maximum absorption. First, look at the note on the tab and play the first note while saying “this is an F.” You must say it out loud; don’t be embarrassed! Then, play the following octave relationships and say, again out loud, “F.”

You’re going to be speaking the whole time you’re doing this exercise; it’s part of the fun and helps memorization to boot! For each measure, you’ll notice a single note followed by an octave. Play each measure in this same way. Again, timing is not important. Don’t play using a click or try to feel any sort of rhythm. It is about looking at the page, then your fingers and connecting those with your voice and mind.

Day 2: We Continue with C

On day 2, you’re going to do the exact same thing with “C.” Don’t take any shortcuts. Go just as slow as you did on day 1 and pay careful visual attention to each note and relationship as you play and speak. Here is the included tab for day two:

This is C Exercise

You will notice that each of the exercises only climbs the neck. This is intentional. After you have climbed up the neck using the tab for reference, it is your job to go back down on your own. The first few times you run through each exercise incorporate the tab on the way up, and then toss it aside on the way down.

Don’t attempt to read it backwards. It won’t really work.

Going off of your memory, even though it is still developing, will help form muscle memory more quickly. Do each exercise a minimum of 5 times on their assigned day. Take it slow and engage your mind and voice each time you work through. You may need to circle back to F on Sunday too, just make sure you complete your practice in C first.. It is important that by the end of the weekend you can play each one in your sleep.

After day two is complete, take the shapes and your new muscle memory and start applying to other notes a few times per day. As I said earlier, it is handy to be able to name your non-sharp or flat notes on your low E string. If you can do that, you know the notes on your high e string as well. Use a piano keyboard or electronic tuner to help you determine the pitches. If you do this regularly as part of your practice sessions, you’ll notice that note location and naming will improve tremendously. Instead of working through a scale in order to determine a note name, your octave shapes will light up before your very eyes when you’re looking at any given note and you’ll be able to name it almost instantly.

Wanna take this even further? Check out my 6-week note memorization course on JamPlay. Here's the first lesson for free.

6th String Octave Relationships by Chris Liepe

Taught by Chris Liepe

Welcome to week 1 of this 6 week program! This lesson covers all of the 6th string octave relationships found across the fretboard.

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Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading! Have fun with the blues this weekend and be sure to leave any questions or comments you might have in the comments below!


Chris Liepe
Content Director

Chris Liepe Content Director Chris Liepe is the content director at JamPlay. He was one of the first JamPlay instructors. His talents were quickly noticed, both on and off camera. Chris and the folks at JamPlay soon realized that he would be a perfect fit for the team. He hopped on board as a full time staff member in 2009 and has since been leading the charge towards realizing JamPlay's mission: providing affordable music education worldwide.

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