The Guitar Fretboard

Inspiring Creative Project Ideas


Welcome to learning the Guitar Fretboard, an Adventure Learning Initiative in mentoring and instructing apprentice artists. We hope you enjoy this experiential quest in the simple life of guitar and music.

I like to think of the guitar fretboard as an object with unlimited possibilities for creation and expression! Being a guitar mentor for many years has made me a student of guitar more than anything else. As a student I’ve learned that the better I know my guitar fingerboard the better I play. The same goes for you! Which is why I’m sharing this initiative with you! Every time I practice is a meditative experience! And no more so than when I’m spending time getting to know the fretboard more intimately. Enjoy the experience…

Notes on the Guitar Fretboard

The first order of business is to find out how the guitar fretboard works and then to find ways to locate all the notes scattered around on the fingerboard. (Just a quick note here, the words fretboard and fingerboard are interchangeable and will be used at different stages throughout this page.)

In total, there are only 12 notes on the fretboard, however, on a guitar with 22 frets, it leaves you with 132 notes, yikes! A daunting task to learn, but one that will have multiple rewards! Fortunately it is not 132 different notes but the same 12 notes repeated in different places on the fretboard.

Understanding how the guitar fingerboard works is actually pretty simple if you understand Whole and Half Steps (also called Tones and Semi Tones respectively). Just to be clear, whole and half steps has nothing to do with walking, at least not in this context.

  • Half Step: the distance from one fret to the next on the guitar. For example, the distance from the 4th fret to the 5th fret is a half step and two half steps equals a...
  • Whole Step: which is the distance between 2 frets on the guitar fingerboard, for instance, the distance from the 4th fret to the 6th fret.

Unlike the English alphabet, the musical alphabet, or scale, only has 7 letters, namely, A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The letter you start on will determine the name of the scale. For example, if you start on the letter C the scale will read: C, D, E, F, G, A and B. The arrangement of whole and half steps in the musical alphabet is as follows:


Something very important to keep in mind is that there is and will always be a half step between the notes B and C, and the notes E and F. Another way of saying this is that you will never get a B sharp or a C flat. Similarly, there is no E sharp and F flat. Confused? Don't worry, sharps and flats will be explained a little further down on the page.

Natural Notes on the Guitar Fretboard

A natural note is a note that is neither sharpend nor flattened. Sharps and Flats are discussed in the next section. So, how does this translate onto the guitar fingerboard? The following fretboard diagram will help answer that question:


Again, in most guitar diagrams, it all seems a bit upside down. You’ll notice in this diagram that the 6th string (that’s the thickest) is at the bottom and the 1st string (the thinnest) is at the top. Look at this fingerboard diagram and see how the pattern of whole and half steps pan out. Now, if you don't have it in hand already, grab your guitar and see how it translates onto your fretboard. Another thing you’ve probably noticed is that there are a lot of gaps in between the notes. Well, if you haven’t guessed, that’s where all the sharps and flats go.

Sharp Notes and Flat Notes

  • A sharp (#) is when you move a note up (i.e. closer to the bridge) one half step.
  • A flat (b) is when you move a note down (i.e. closer to the head stock) one half step.
  • A sharp or a flat can also be called a chromatic tone.

Sharps, Flats and Natural Notes
On the Guitar Fretboard

This next diagram shows all the notes up until the 12th fret, sharps and flats included.


Now, if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll notice something very interesting happening here. If you look at the 2nd fret, you’ll see that F# and Gb fall on the same fret, is this a typo? No, no, two notes that have different names and fall on the same fret are called enharmonic equivalents and every single sharpened or flattened note has got an enharmonic equivalent.

I’d like to encourage you to spend some quality time in learning your guitar fretboard. The rewards will huge! But don’t take my word for it, discover the benefits for yourself.

Musically Yours,
Andrew Pittendrigh in association with
The Adventure Learning Muso Mentors

If you feel you would like to mentor or instruct in a creative short course or program, simply complete the Creative Project Ideas Mentor Application form.

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