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Guitar Fretboard Diagram
String by String

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

For a first approach toward the full guitar fretboard diagram, let's divide our fretboard into individual strings. This will give us a better grasp when we put it all together.

Now you know that if you go up a string, fret by fret, you get what is called a chromatic scale (if you haven't read our article Guitar Notes, I recommend that you do so now).

Yet, most of the music we play and hear is based on other scales: namely major scales and minor scales. Let's take a look at how these are organized along the strings.

First of all, major and minor scales have 7 tones. I therefore like calling them heptatonic scales (hepta = seven ; tonos = tone).

c major scale

Image 1: The major scale. When the root tone (Do) repeats an octave higher,
the cycle closes giving us the full Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

The minor scale is a little more complex, but for now let's stick with the simple view of it and say that it's the exact same thing as the major scale, except that we start on the 6th tone of that scale:a minor scale

Image 2: The minor scale. When the root tone repeats an octave higher, the cycle closes.

Since they both use the same notes, learn one, you've learnt both!! (we will look at this in far greater depth later on, but this simplifies matters for now).

These scales are both examples of what is called a diatonic scale. In terms of intervals, diatonic scales are composed of whole tones and semitones only: each pair of adjacent tones is divided either by one whole tone or by a semitone.

This may seem like dry theory, but understanding the guitar fretboard diagram in depth now, will save you years (literally!) later on!!!

major scale

Image 3: The major scale in steps and half steps.

whole tone & semitone

major scale

Image 4: When the root repeats an octave higher, closing the cycle, we get this pattern of tones and semitones.

diatonic-scale

Image 5: On a piano these 7 tones look like this

You will notice that they are all white keys (no accidentals —sharps or flats). The only places we have semitones is wherever there is no black key between two whites: E-F and B-C.

These 7 tones repeat in higher and lower octaves, but note layout remains the same for each octave:

piano notes 3 octaves

Image 6: Diatonic scale on the piano keys, 3 octaves

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

Before we get into trouble and look at the complete guitar fretboard diagram, lets break it down and look at each individual string.
For now, each string is an independent instrument:



guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 1: This is the same as the Phrygian Mode

guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 2: This is the same as the Locrian Mode

guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 3: This is the same as the Mixolydian Mode

guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 4: This is the same as the Dorian Mode

guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 5: This is the same as the Aeolian Mode

guitar fretboard diagram
Fretboard Diagram 6: This is the same as the Phrygian Mode

Images 7-12: Guitar Fretboard Diagrams 1 to 6 —the notes on each string


See how we only find two pairs of adjacent notes in all 7? (That is, notes without a fret between them) As you can see, they are E-F and B-C.
This means that the remaining frets —the ones we skipped— are the black keys. Each guitar fretboard diagram shows the diatonic scale on a string: by starting on different degrees of it, we get modes.


What is the relationship between the strings?

In order to have a full view of the fretboard, and really understand it, we next need to "connect" all the strings: find out what the relationship between them is.



Of course, we can always start our diatonic scale on any of the 7 tones that compose our primary scale. This produces the 7 modes (click for guitar modes) of the major scale.

In order to have a full view of all fretboard notes along each string, we have to take a look at the black keys -or altered notes: major pentatonic scales and minor pentatonic scales.

Adding these two gives us a full chromatic scale (For the complete explanation of this, and much more, check out Fretboard Essentials).

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

Guitar Fretboard Articles:

1. Guitar Fretboard in Depth: section overview

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

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

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

5. The Guitar Fretboard Chart explained afresh —also for Bass players: several guitar fretboard diagrams providing different views

6. Fretboard Map: connect the dots!

7. 24 Frets: The full diagram


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
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