Music Theory: Fretboard Magic...
Geeks Note: The secet to learning the Fretboard is learning the position of Root notes on the 5th and 6th strings, then learn the patterns that will let you find everything else. Patterns, patterns, patterns. Everything else will come with time!


Let's Get Our Directions Straight

It is important you understand what directions mean. You can get confused easily, especially if you play right handed.

Moving towards the HEAD STOCK is moving DOWN the fretboard because you are moving DOWN to lower notes. Moving towards the BODY is moving UP the fretboard because you are moving UP to higher notes.

Same rule applies to strings. Moving form Low E to High E is moving UP the strings as you are moving UP to higher notes. Vice Versa for Down.

Cool? Good.


Learning Objectives
By the end of this lesson, here is what you should have learned:
  1. To relate the lesson on Intervals directly to the Fretboard of your guitar.
  2. To understand the repetitive relationship of Interval PATTERNS on the Fretboard of your guitar.
  3. How to "back trace" to find out what any note any finger position is.
  4. How to find any note in all of it's locations on the Fretboard, in your head.
  5. Necessary information that is going to make a whole lot of sense when you start learning the different shapes of Chords, Chord Progressions and Chord Harmonics.

The Fretboard of a guitar is LARGE and there are a LOT of notes on it. Well, actually there are only TWELVE notes but they keep repeating over and over. There is a simple way of learning all those notes and finding them with a minimum amount of actual study. That is what this lesson is about.

A word to the wise, you don't have to learn ALL of these at one sitting. I would recommend you come back to this page frequently, pick an interval and practice it all over the fretboard to make sure you learn the PATTERN.

Yes, that what this lesson is about, PATTERNS. To have the patterns be applied to something though, that means you need to have a starting point. Ergo Sum, the graphic on the left. This graphic shows the whole notes on the low E and A string in the first twelve frets. You need to memorize these notes and where they are located. There is no way around it.

The easy way to memorize it though is during your warm up. Come to the page, fret then pick anote than say it out LOUD. Next note, same thing. Keep doing this over and over. Within a few days you will have this brief set of notes memorized in their locations.

As you look at the diagram on the left, remember that the un-named spaces are actually notes as well. I didn't put them on there because if you know the whole notes, the Sharps and Flats are no brainers. For example, the space between the note C and the note D is either C# or Db (depending on what you are talking about or what scale you are using).

Again, to help you memorize this and put it in perspective, here are the 12 notes of the 12 Tone Chromatic Scale:

A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A


Fretboard Golden Rule

There is a hard and fast rule that will make these patterns and other "music figgering" much easier on you:

LAND ON THE "B" STRING or CROSS THE B STRING and the landing note in the PATTERN moves ONE FRET towards the body

This will become more and more important as the lesson progresses.

In the diagram at the right is the second most important of all the diagrams you will study on this page (the first diagram being the most important one). This diagram shows the PATTERN relationship to repetitions of Whole Notes (Octaves).

This is a MOVEABLE pattern (just like Barre Chords). This pattern holds true for every note on the Fretboard on the 6th and 5th strings. All other strings are found by refering to the 5th or 6th string note. You will also notice that the 5th string pattern is ALMOST identical to the 6th string pattern.

This disgram tells us:

To find a whole note from the 6th string (low E) you can:
  • Move up one string and seven frets towards the body. (1 + 7)
  • Move up one string and move five frets towards the head stock. (1 - 5)
  • Move up three strings and move three frets towards the head stock. (3 - 3)
  • Move up two strings and two frets towards the body. (2 + 2)
  • Move up four strings and five frets towards the body. (4 + 5)
  • Same fret on the high E string. (5 + 0)

To find a whole note from the 5th string (A) you can:
  • Move up one string and seven frets towards the body. (1 + 7 : SAME AS THE 6TH STRING)
  • Move up one string and move five frets towards the head stock. (1 - 5 SAME AS THE 6th STRING)
  • Move up three strings and move two frets towards the head stock. (3 - 2 : Remember the Golden Rule about landing on B)
  • Move up two strings and two frets towards the body. (2 + 2)
  • Move up four strings and five frets towards the body. (4 + 5) (The only pattern on this page that breaks the Golden Rule)

Summarize These Patterns → Memorize THESE:
  • UP one string, UP seven frets.
  • UP one string, BACK five frets.
  • UP three strings, BACK three frets (Remember, if landing on B string we move one fret closer to the body, so it's only back two frets)
  • UP two strings, UP two frets.
  • UP four strings, UP five frets.
  • Low E and High E strings, same fret.

Take the time to finger them on your fretboard. Do it once a day for a couple minutes initially to learn them and then whenever you need a reminder after that.

You can choose to sit and memorize every note on every fret. Power to you if you do. You will be faster at finding the notes. However, if you memorize these patterns and spend time applying them on a regular basis, you will become just as fast. Remember that once you have learned the six patterns above, you will have actually learned (12 notes x 6 patterns) a whopping 72 patterns.

Wait a minute.... do you remember the three note Power Chord?

One thing I will point out that will help with ONE of the patterns. Remember the lesson on Power Chords and the part about Octave Doubling? In this diagram we see that we are going from Root to 5th and then another perfect 4th to reach the Octave of the Root. This pattern is also UP TWO STRINGS, UP TWO FRETS which is one of the patterns above. See? You already know one of the patterns!!


Interval Patterns

The following are INTERVAL patterns. You can use these anywhere on the fretboard. Remember, once you have learned the pattern ONCE you have learned the pattern TWELVE times and can apply it from MULTIPLE positions. Here we go:.


I have no diagram for the Unison or Octave. Use the relationship diagram at the beginning of the lesson to find a corresponding Root Note. Your ear will tell you if it is a Unison or an Octave.


You don't need to memorize all of these. Just a few of them. From those you can build off them in your mind. As you scroll through the Interval fingerings you will see there is a pattern to their progression. Keep that progression in mind with the patterns. If you memorize the Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Minor and Major 7th then you all the others you will be able to calculate in your head by doing the Interval Math (half steps for each Interval).

© Aaron Gallagher