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The Guitar Fretboard Chart

a fresh approach

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

In order to fully understand the guitar fretboard chart, you need to grasp three things first:

  • basic note layout along the fretboard

  • scale layout along the fretboard

  • note layout across strings: the way the strings of the guitar are tuned

  • These points are explained in the previous articles in this series: If you haven't done so yet, read them beforehand!
    Or read on and then use the section index at the bottom: your call...

    In the beginning...


    When I first decided I wanted to learn to play guitar, I had no idea what I was getting into. I started taking lessons: classical, jazz, you name it. The years went by, but one thing remained constant: not one of my teachers —many of them top-notch, world-renowned guitar players— was able to give me a method for memorizing notes on the fretboard, other than saying:

    "Well, play every note, fret by fret,
    string by string, saying their names, until you've memorized them."

    No mention of trying to understand what the heck was going on! This is what spurred me to begin my own quest to understand the fretboard…

    So then I went to the books

    Here's what I found out: most guitar methods out there have a guitar fretboard diagram that looks pretty much like this:

    • guitar fretboard chart
    • white notes fretboard chart
    Fretboard Chart 1:
    This shows fret by fret note correlation for each string:
    The whole thing repeats, one octave up, after fret 12

    Or you might find a guitar fretboard chart that looks like this (exact same thing, but with less information, since it says nothing of specific pitch height):

    • note names on guitar fretboard
    • white notes on guitar
    Fretboard Chart 2:
    Same thing, replacing the staves for note names

    This results in very poor musicianship!

    This is not new. You can find many versions of this guitar fretboard chart on the web, even software that will help you learn where each note is —again— by rote. This information has been available since the early 1800s. Talk about novelty and innovation!

    There are a myriad variations, but the basic concept is the same. After all, if you can see all the notes on this "guitar fretboard map", that should be enough to understand it fully... right?

    Well, not quite... let's put it this way: if you don't understand all the underlying relationships within that fretboard diagram, you're not likely to have learned much, if anything at all (at a practical level- what you really need) from it.


    There is a guitar method that suggests exploring the guitar string by string, learning scale patterns on each string and improvising on them as a good starting point to get to know the guitar.

    This is actually a great idea. But that still hasn't really explained the fretboard from within: it is as if you had learned to play each string as an independent instrument. What we guitarists are badly in the need of is a way of looking at the guitar that will let us understand and grasp it visually, much like we do with the piano: guitar theory!

    This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

    Let's get down to business...

    A good way to start is to take only natural notes (no accidentals, i.e. sharps or flats) into account. You can visualize the fretboard like this:

    guitar fretboard chart
    Fretboard Chart 3:
    Same thing, but only showing "white keys", for ease of visualization

    Or like this, to take a look at the bass guitar fretboard:

    bass guitar fretboard chart
    Fretboard Chart 4:
    Same for bass guitar
    ...Click here for an explanation of the Bass Fretboard.

    This last guitar fretboard chart, and bass guitar fretboard diagram are far easier to grasp, or digest in one "eyeful". And if you're are super-smart, you might start spotting patterns... (For in-depth explanations of fretboard patterns, check out Fretboard Essentials).

    So what's next?!

    The next step is to link it all up. To get a complete view of the guitar fretboard map, so you can move freely all over the fretboard...

    guitar modes

    GTiD TIP: Even if you don't play bass guitar, it's a really good idea to study the bass guitar fretboard chart. Since this is exactly the same as strings 3 to 6 on a guitar, and all patterns you can find there retain their symmetry perfectly on all string combinations, playing everything only on those four strings is a great starting point.

    This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

    Guitar Fretboard Articles:

    1. Guitar Fretboard in Depth: Back from Guitar Fretboard Chart to section overview

    2.Guitar Notes: A view along the Fretboard, and other important points

    3. Guitar Fretboard Diagram- string by string: still looking along the fretboard, scales and modes this time

    4. Guitar Tuning and the Fretboard: a view across the guitar fretboard

    5. The Guitar Fretboard Chart explained afresh —also for Bass players

    6. Fretboard Map: connect the dots!

    7. 24 Frets: The full diagram

    Top of Guitar Fretboard Chart

    Fretboard Essentials

    Hi Alex,
    Your chord and triad diagrams are great.

    I've got a bunch of books, but your diagrams are the clearest thing I've seen.
    Thanks for the great site and material and openness to sharing!

    Sigfried Gold, USA
    What do you have to say?

    play bass guitar

    Fretboard Essentials

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