Beginners Lesson 4

This lesson is about the very basics of  fretboard. As a beginner you should firstly take a look at this before you move on to chords, scales, strumming etc.

Take a look at your guitar's fretboard. It has a sequence of raised metal wires called frets. Most electric guitars have 24 frets, but acoustics tend to have 20.
              Image Courtesy Of Guitar Fretboard Diagram. Do check their website for more.

Now, each fret represents a new note for each string, but when we come to applying our fingers, we use the spaces in between the fret wires to create the note, not the wire itself. For example, pick any fret and the spacing before that is the area that creates the note when applying our fingers.

So when we refer to fret 2 or fret 6 we are actually referring to the space just before the actual fret wire. Because of this, guitarists tend to think of "frets" as the spacings rather than the fret wire itself.

You'll notice on your guitar's fretboard there are inlay markers, either dots or symbols at particular fret intervals. Most commonly, these are found at frets 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12. The 12th fret marker is often more prominent than the others (e.g. 2 dots instead of 1). We'll see why the 12th fret is particularly significant in a minute.

Once we get beyond the 12th fret, the pattern of inlays repeats itself. So, the inlay markers will be at frets 15, 17, 19, 21 and 24 if your guitar accommodates it.

It's a good idea to learn these marker intervals and their corresponding fret numbers to start with (that was a hint!)

How the strings work on the fretboard

Your guitar will have 6 strings (hopefully).

So from low to high, low being the lowest sounding, fattest string, we have:
E A D G B and e (small "e" representing the higher pitch). This is known as standard tuning and is by far the most common guitar tuning to work with.

Playing each of those strings without using any fingers on the fretboard is known as playing the strings open. So an open string is basically an unfretted string (e.g. open E, open A, open D etc.)

Now, here's where the 12th fret comes in - if you play any of the 6 strings open, then play that same string fingering at the 12th fret, you get the same note but what is known as an octave higher. This means the same as "12 frets higher" or "12 semi-tones higher".

If your guitar has 24 frets, the 24th fret will be an octave higher than the 12th fret, and therefore two octaves higher than the open string!

This also means that notes/frets past the 12th fret will be an octave higher of their corresponding lower fret for each string. For example, 13th fret is an octave of 1st fret for each string. 17th fret is an octave of 5th fret. Try and learn all the corresponding octaves past the 12th fret.

We'll be looking more at what we actually call the notes in between the open - 12th fret - 24th fret marker points in a later fretboard lesson. For now, though, just ensure you can identify the open strings, the fret numbers based on the inlays and the octaves beyond the 12th fret.

Numbering your frets is also beneficial when it comes to reading guitar tab (a form of notation for guitar), it will show you the fret numbers you need to apply your fingers to for each string. More on how to read guitar tab here.

Obviously there's much more to fretboard theory than what we've just looked at, but at this stage we don't need to know any more. We are ready to take a break from this and learn some chords and practical playing techniques. We can come back to more advanced fretboard theory when we need it.