Any tips for learning all the notes on the guitar fretboard?

I just got Tom Quayle’s Solo app and plan to use it to learn the notes on the fretboard. Just checking to see if anyone has suggestions on a better approach.

Hi and welcome to the board @PeterT.

I used this guy’s method It seemed like a good approach and certainly helped me learn where the notes were.

1 Like

I’m a piano player, but it seems to me that the chapter at the beginning of David Reed’s IFR book explains how to find your way around the fretboard

He explains how to see the tonal map on the fretboard from any starting point, so you know where you are and where you want to go next.

In other words, the goal is not to learn the note name locations as such, but to learn where you are and where you’re going within the tonal map, anywhere on the fretboard.

Of course, along the way you will pick up the note name locations in a natural manner, but they are not of ultimate importance in improvising.

1 Like

Has Tom added the IFR approach to his app? Without it, it looks like a backwards step to me.

As to learning the note names, I haven’t worried about that much. It has been enough to try and know the note I am fretting is the 1 2 3 4 5 6 or 7, flattened or sharpened, of the current major scale in use.

Welcome to the forum @PeterT

Same here @Neil_Burnett, with the slight refinement that I did make a point of learning the note names along string 6 (low string).

So, if I want to find a particular note as a starting point, or I want to discover what note is at a particular combination of strng & fret, then if it’s not a position that’s become known by absorption I just mentally connect that known low string to the target location using the known interval patterns.

On standard EADGBE tuning, knowing the low string also gives you the high string, but you need to allow for the G-B oddity when applying interval patterns.

Personally I use ‘All Fourths’ EADGCF tuning, so my high F string is one fret out from the low E string, but on the plus side interval patterns are consitent right across the fretboard. :smiley:

1 Like

Same here on the low and high E strings. I’ve never tried the all 4ths tuning. I think if miss the cowboy chords.

I got the IFR starter package a few days ago and don’t understand it yet. So its difficult for me to understand the comments in that context.

Does that mean you start every improv on one of those strings?

Yes, the IFR will get you oriented on the guitar fretboard with the IFR tonal map approach. This is a great place to start, you will develop an understanding for the tonal numbers and how to move around with them.

If you are new to the guitar, another good skill to have is knowing where the named notes are, for example if you want to play with a D as the tonal centre, knowing where a D is helpful. The video I linked to will get you there.

The Solo app uses Tom’s approach which is not the same as the IFR approach, and may not be teach you where named notes are. I dont know this for sure, but I did look briefly at the app and decided against it, as the different approach was confusing.

I’d recommend you get into the IFR book and method first and see how it goes, before investing in the Solo app.

That’s what I thought but the other respondents seem to think that isn’t a good thing.

The way I’m using the Solo app is very simple. It displays a chord and I play the root note. I’ve seen the video you posted and I’m sure that will work. But I think the Solo app is a less passive approach and engages the brain more, which should enhance the learning process.

I understand the IFR method for getting around the fretboard. But you still need to know the notes for your starting point and if you switch to a different part of the neck.

Hi @PeterT, welcome to the forum! I can understand your confusion, although each comment on this thread has contained little gems of wisdom that are all part of the story.

So first, let’s clear up any confusion about the value of knowing the names of the notes on the fretboard. This is a fantastic thing to learn, and it will always be useful and beneficial to you. Even if the benefits are only very occasional, and even if they are minimal, it will still be a luxury to have this ability at your disposal. And honestly, if you really put your mind to it like a school child who has to memorize something for a test, how long would it really take you to memorize the note names on the fretboard? Maybe a week? Compare that to a LIFETIME of enjoying this knowledge, and you can see why I say that it’s well worth learning the note names even if the benefits are only occasional.

Another point I want to clarify is that if you intend to play with other musicians, these benefits won’t just be occasional. Other musicians will constantly be referencing the letter names of chords, and you will be handicapped in all of these conversations if you can’t take advantage of that information.

So let’s make that absolutely clear. We are all in agreement that (1) knowing the names of the notes would be better than not knowing them, and (2) learning the names of the notes is pretty easy. So if you’re already open to that work and excited about it, then by all means master the note names so you can add this resource to your skill set!

But let me also just clarify some other factual points that some people on this forum have brought up. These issues are not “drawbacks” to learning the note names. There is absolutely nothing harmful about knowing the note names. These are just other considerations so you can put the note names in their proper context. There are really two other points to understand:

  1. The note names are a terrible language for understanding harmony. You should know the note names because other musicians will reference these note names in some of their indications to you. But just beware that this language of the note names isn’t going to reveal the logic of harmony or unlock abilities like understanding music by ear, improvising and composing your own music, etc. All of that musical understanding can only be gained by studying the notes relative to the key of the music, and this is what we do in IFR when we talk in tonal numbers. So just be aware that the note names are useful for talking with other musicians and also for deciphering sheet music, but they aren’t particularly relevant to actually understanding the notes and chords. For that, we switch to the much more empowering system of tonal numbers which lets us talk about each note relative to the key.

  2. On some instruments, you can actually get by without even knowing the note names. The guitar is one of these instruments, which is part of the reason why you’re getting conflicting advice. The guitar is such a visual instrument that once you learn to construct the system of tonal numbers, you can do this anywhere on the fretboard and it doesn’t even matter what the note names are! This is a wonderful property of the guitar, and it’s what allows me to teach my guitar courses without requiring that my students know the note names on the fretboard.

Again, notice that neither one of these points is an argument against knowing the note names. For the reasons I listed at the beginning, knowing the note names will always be useful to you. But I hope my other points above help to put the note names in their proper context.

In a nutshell, in IFR you’ll learn to do all your thinking in tonal numbers so that you can always play anything you learn in any key on the fretboard. But in your interactions with other musicians and sheet music, from time to time it will be very helpful to be able to reference the exact note names. And so if you’re passionate about playing the guitar, I think that taking a couple of weeks to master the note names is practically a no brainer. This is a minuscule investment to learn a language that’s going to be surrounding you as a musician for the rest of your life.

I hope that helps provide some context. Thanks for bringing this discussion to the forum so that we can all share our opinions about it! - David

1 Like

Great insights by @ImproviseForReal, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable the IFR approach has been for me on my musical journey.

I’d just like to clarify my thoughts about the Solo app.

If you are just using it to give you a chord name (such as Bm7) and you are finding where the Bs are, then great. But Tom’s approach is to use a numbering scheme to identify the chord notes (ie 1 b3 5 b7) and to always number the chord notes with 1 as the root note. This is different to the IFR approach, and I think it will be confusing when you get into the IFR method.

So, my advice would be to just use the app as you have said, and ignore the numbers, at least until you have a good grounding with IFR. Just my thoughts YMMV :slightly_smiling_face:

@PeterT once you know the ‘interval shapes’ on the fretboard it’s easy to ‘know’ the notes on other strings from those strings just by applying the known shapes, e.g one string lower & two frets towards the bridge is up a perfect fifth, or one string lower & one fret towards the headstock is up a major third, and so on

I don’t understand how that’s possible based on what I’ve read in IFR so far. You have to know the key of the song and find a corresponding note on the tonal map.

That is interesting. In which part of the book do I find that aspect of the IFR method.

I know how to do that. But it doesn’t seem like it will be fast enough for improvising.

This will start to make sense when you are further into the book and method, but the IFR tonal map is described fairly near the start, after Exercise 1 as I recall.

A note name is just a label for a sound/pitch that you hear, and can sing or play. “Knowing” the key of a song, in this context, means being able to sing it or play it on your instrument, not necessarily “knowing” that it is Eb (for example). I think this will be clearer when are are further into the book.

IFR gives you a conceptual framework/map for thinking about music, it’s quite simple and also different from the conventional approach.

[Edit to add: I see that @mem posted while l was writing this, so there is some cross over]

A need to know is largely a matter of context.

Here are a couple of scenarios where note names might not be essential:

  1. Playing solo (either a specific tune or free improv), especially if just playing for yourself. e.g. If I pick up a guitar to ‘just play’, I let my hand fall somewhere on the neck & start there. It doesn’t matter what my starting note is, so long as it seems to fit what I feel like playing (indeed it may influence what I choose to play). All that matters is that I know the relative positions of the scale tones from that start.
  2. Jamming, either with a group of muscians or a backing track in an unknown key (e.g. on ‘random play’). In that case I’d hope to establish the key by ear as I gradually join in. The actual named note that key turns out to be doesn’t really matter (unless I’m ‘testing’ myself & wish to check), all that matters is that I’m playng in an appropriate position on the fretboard to match the music.

Sure, if I were playng in a band & we’d agreed that we were going to play something in given key I’d need to know where to find the root of that key right from the start, but even then I don’t actually need to know the names of all the others notes - they can be found by being aware of the patterns.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I do assure you that it can be perfectly natural to not know the names of the notes you are playing.

If it seems like an issue, then I suggest you just ignore it. If you’re happier always knowing the note names then fine. We all have our different ways - that’s one of the beauties of music. :smiley:

Personally I find it much faster not to have to think about note names, and just think of intervals & the flow of scale tones (i.e. IFR numbers) on the fretboard instead.

As I wrote in my previous reply, we all have our different ways - that’s one of the beauties of music. Part of the fun is finding what suits you. :slight_smile:

Hi, the way I did it was by learning only E and C on every string.
Now you know that F is just a semitone away from E
And also the same with B and C.

After that you already have half of the “natural” notes, you then just have to fill in the blanks.
You have D in between C and E,
A is behind B,
And finally G after F.

You will need to know how the C major scale works beforehand.

1 Like

That’s another neat idea @Asuryan.

On my Chapman Stick (12 strings, in two sets of 6, one set in ascending intervals the other in descending intervals, and inlay markers only at frets 2, 7, 12 & 17) I have added stickers to mark the C’s! Some people just use ‘dots’ for this purpose, but I made it decorative as well as functional by using small birds & feathers. :slight_smile:

Having an interest in patterns I decided to make use the different sytles of birds & feather in the sticker sets to indicate which C it is too, e.g. a flying bird indicates a C4!

Probably OTT, but I like the effect it produces. LOL!

1 Like