Figuring Out Notes (Guitar Lesson)

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Matt Brown

Figuring Out Notes

Ever wondered what a teacher is talking about when they reference a C sharp half way up the neck? Now you'll know. Matt teaches you how to figure out any note on your guitar.

Taught by Matt Brown in Rock Guitar with Matt Brown seriesLength: 7:00Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (3:19) Introduction to Notes In this lesson, Matt shows you the basics of figuring out any note on the neck of your guitar. In what is most commonly referred to as Western music, music is composed using a system of 12 tones. The musical alphabet consists of letters A-G and the accidentals that exist between them. An accidental is a note that is sharpened (#) or flatted (b). In order to figure out the corresponding note name to a given fret/string location on the guitar, a few simple music theory concepts need to be memorized. First, the note names of each open string on the guitar must be learned. They are, in order from largest to smallest: E, A, D, G, B, and E again.

To figure out a given note, it is easiest to think of each string as its own piano keyboard. The keyboard consists of white keys and black keys. The white keys represent the natural notes, or A-G, and the black keys represent the accidentals. Between two white keys, an accidental exists. In other words, between A and B there is a black key. This note can be named A# or Bb. If the melody line is ascending (from low to high), the note is called A#. If the line is descending, Bb is used. Notes that refer to the same pitch that can be called by different names are said to be "enharmonic." There are two exceptions to this rule. Between B and C, and between E and F, there is no black key. These pairings of notes are said to be a half step apart rather than a whole step (A to B).

So how exactly does this translate to a guitar? It's quite simple. To move a whole step, you simply move up the neck two frets. To move a half step, you move up the neck only one fret. A whole step movement on a guitar is the equivalent of moving from a white key to another white key on the piano. A half step on a piano would be moving from a white key to a black key.

In the major scale, there are whole step transitions between every note except from B to C & from E to F. So to move from a B to C or E to F, you simply move a half step. For the rest, you move a whole step.

Let's look at the C note (1st fret) on your B. To go from a C to a D, how many frets would you move up? Two! Your D note on the B string is on the 3rd fret. To move from D to E, you move another whole step (two frets) up. Your E note is on the 5th fret. Now remember, moving from E to F is only a half step. Instead of moving two frets up, you'll move only one. Your F is found on the 6th fret.

From F to G is a whole step; G is on your 8th fret. G to A is another whole step (now your 10th fret). A to B is another whole step (now your 12th fret).
Chapter 2: (1:28) 12th Fret Trick As you might have noticed, the 12th fret is always the exact same note as your open string (in this case the E string). If you're looking to find the note on your 15th fret of your E string, it is much easier to start at your 12th fret & go up (since you know this note is an E) instead of starting with the open string and counting all the way up. Moving from E to F is a half step (now on the 13th fret). Moving from F to G is a whole step. This will put you on the 15th fret, a G. Using this short cut will save you quite a bit of time.
Chapter 3: (2:19) Flats and Sharps For whole steps, we've been moving up the next two frets. I'm sure you're wondering what the note would be if you moved up only one fret. This is where you encounter sharps & flats.

Let's say you're on the open B string on the 1st fret, a C note. You know that moving to a D would be up two frets (the 3rd fret). If you move up only one fret, you are playing a C sharp or D flat. These notes are identical. They are named based on the direction you approach them. If you're moving from a C up the neck (ascending), it will be called a C sharp. If you start on the 3rd fret (D) and move down (descending) to the 2nd, it would be called a D flat. They are named differently simply because it is much easier to read in music with this convention. It is much easier to read a D flat coming from a D than it would be to read a C sharp coming from a D.

Here are the notes on the "E" string:
open: E
1st fret: F
2nd fret: F#/Gb
3rd fret: G
4th fret: G#/Ab
5th fret: A
6th fret: A#/Bb
7th fret: B
8th fret: C
9th fret: C#/Db
10th fret: D
11th fret: D#/Eb
12th fret: E
That's basically all there is to figuring out any note on your guitar. If you have any questions at all, just let us know.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Supplemental Learning Material


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

phil5980phil5980 replied on April 13th, 2016

Whoa, big fella. depends on what key you are in. If, in Eb, for example and ascending I use a natural A rather than the Ab within the key, I annotate the note with the natural sign.. If I then go up one half step, I'm at Bb, not A#. The annotation is regulated by the key so ascribed until another key is set. No need to make this any harder than it already is. Guitar is a tough instrument to read on. I'm a newbie on keyboards and I figured that out in 10 minutes. :)

thrasher101thrasher101 replied on September 18th, 2011

kinda off topic here matt... but why doesnt jamplay put some metallica songs in phase 3. Metallica rocks! by the way awesome lesson

mattbrownmattbrown replied on September 18th, 2011

We used to have around 10 Metallica lessons on the site. We had to take them all down though. Basically, Metallica's publishing company isn't interested in doing business with JamPlay. Until that changes, there won't be any lessons on their songs.

brandonl15brandonl15 replied on March 23rd, 2011

Great lesson. This really helped me understand the notes.

specflecspecflec replied on October 13th, 2009

Great lessons, Matt. One tiny comment on your reference to the existence of B# and E# - in theory, they do exist and are written as such in certain keys. Of course, your point to folks just learning the notes is well taken in that there is not a separate key or fret for B# and E#, but actually they both are referenced as such in, for example, C# major. This is because you cannot, in any given key, refer to a letter name as both natural and sharp or flat. This holds true in the flat keys as well - i.e., f flat and c flat. Keep up the outstanding work!

omrisamaomrisama replied on March 24th, 2009

Wait, if I'm supposed to go whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half when doing the Major Scale on one string (this is from the metal lesson by Dennis) than how come I can't go open, 1st fret? Dennis shows this as 0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12 and back. But if between E and F is a whole step than why isn't it 0-1-3-4-6-8-10-11 and back?

omrisamaomrisama replied on March 24th, 2009

Sorry. I posted too soon. I didn't know between E and F and B and C is considered Half Step not whole...

herronc33herronc33 replied on October 17th, 2008

wondering if you have any good practice tips for learning the whole neck of the guitar

VinnyBVinnyB replied on October 17th, 2008 The supplemental content of this Brennan lesson has a fretboard diagram in it with all the notes up to the 15th fret. Hope that helps you out.

kajkagenkajkagen replied on March 20th, 2008

Spot on! This short lesson really opened my eyes! Thx dude!

cheesebombcheesebomb replied on September 6th, 2007

This lesson really helped. I didn't know this before (I'm not very musical) Thanks Matt & Co!

Rock Guitar with Matt Brown

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chuck Berry among others pioneered the style of rock and roll in the 1950's. Today, rock and roll remains the most popular genre of music. Over the years the genre has progressed & spawned many sub-genres: soft rock, classic rock, punk rock, and more. Dive into this Phase 2 set of lessons to become a master of rock.

Lesson 1

Proper Practicing

Learn how to get the most out of your time when practicing.

Length: 29:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Introduction to Lead

Matt Brown discusses some of the fundamentals to playing lead.

Length: 15:41 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Figuring Out Notes

Matt shows you the basics of figuring out any note on the guitar.

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4


Learn the basic minor, natural, and major scales. Quite a few techniques & ideas start with scales - they're an essential building block.

Length: 34:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Major Scales

In this lesson, Matt takes you through the major scales & helps you to understand how they can be used.

Length: 20:25 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Natural Minor Scales

Matt teaches the most common natural minor scale patterns.

Length: 13:24 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7


Learn & master the most popular types of bends.

Length: 27:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Sweep Picking & Rakes

Learn sweep picking and string rakes.

Length: 18:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Solo Techniques

Learn various techniques to use when improvising / soloing.

Length: 12:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 10

Tuning Down

Matt explains the most effective way to tune your guitar down.

Length: 7:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Barre Chords

Learn how to establish finger independence and a few tips and tricks with barre chords.

Length: 37:18 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Rock Licks

In this lesson, Matt Brown introduces a rock lick and shows how several famous players have modified it.

Length: 19:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Rock Sequences

In this lesson Matt teaches some crucial rock sequences. He also explains how these sequences can be integrated in to your playing.

Length: 34:52 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

String Skipping

Matt Brown focuses on string skipping technique. He provides several exercises designed to improve this aspect of your playing.

Length: 33:09 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15


Lesson 15 in Matt's rock series is all about intervals.

Length: 34:47 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Rock Lead Guitar

Matt Brown demonstrates lead guitar techniques using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as an example.

Length: 29:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Solo Using Diatonic Scales

Matt Brown explains which scales can be used when playing a solo over a diatonic progression in a major key. As an example, he teaches the solo section to Candlebox's song "Far Behind."

Length: 33:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Diatonic Natural Minor

This lesson covers the natural minor scale and diatonic natural minor progressions. Matt uses the solo section to "Stairway to Heaven" as an example.

Length: 24:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

Right Hand Technique

In lesson 19 Matt provides instruction on developing right hand skills including string skipping.

Length: 26:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Non-Diatonic Progressions

In lesson 20, Matt discusses chord progressions that don't follow a diatonic tonality.

Length: 29:07 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 21

Harmonic Minor

Matt begins to discuss and demonstrate the harmonic minor scale.

Length: 29:46 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 22

Improvising Over Harmonic Minor

In lesson 22, Matt continues his discussion of the harmonic minor tonality.

Length: 14:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Sweet Child O' Mine

In lesson 23, Matt takes a look at the solo section for the song "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Length: 19:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 24


Matt will be taking a look at the solo section from the live version of the Smashing Pumpkins song "Today".

Length: 7:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Back In Black Solo

Matt Brown reviews and discusses the solo section to AC/DC's hit "Back In Black".

Length: 9:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 26


In lesson 26, Matt covers the solo section from the Alice in Chains song "Brother".

Length: 9:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Matt's Rock Manifesto

Matt Brown discusses lead guitarists, what makes a good solo, and tips for your own lead playing.

Length: 41:06 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Legato Playing Exercises

Matt Brown teaches a number of exercises aimed at improving your legato playing technique.

Length: 37:16 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Right Hand Exercises

Matt Brown demonstrates a few exercises to build skill and speed in your right hand.

Length: 15:06 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 30

String Skipping Etude

Matt Brown teaches Heitor Villa-Lobos' 1st Etude as a lesson in string skipping.

Length: 38:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 31

Three Octave Scales

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play three octave versions of the minor pentatonic and the major scales in all 12 keys.

Length: 16:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 32

Diatonic Intervals

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play all seven of the diatonic intervals within the framework of a horizontal major scale.

Length: 23:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

Matt Brown discuss diatonic arpeggios as a theory lesson as well as demonstrating the technique.

Length: 9:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 34

Diatonic 7ths Across the Neck

Matt Brown explains how to play the diatonic seventh chords of the major scale. Similar to lesson 32, this lesson takes a horizontal approach to the fretboard.

Length: 10:46 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Solo Ideas #1

Matt Brown teaches a progression and accompanying solo to demonstrate ideas for creating your own.

Length: 21:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Solo Ideas #2

Matt Brown takes a look at another chord progression and solo.

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Legato Playing Ideas

In lesson 37 of the Rock Series, Matt Brown demonstrates and talks about legato playing ideas.

Length: 21:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

Rhythm Concepts

Matt Brown switches gears in lesson 38 to start talking about rhythm concepts for rock playing.

Length: 27:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

Compositional Techniques

Matt Brown discusses some often used techniques to build effective rock compositions.

Length: 17:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Creative Chord Voicings

Matt Brown shows off some ways to add some creativity and originality to your rock chord voicings.

Length: 11:59 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Lesson 41

Lead Approach

Matt Brown takes another look at his approach to soloing. He demonstrates ideas you can use in your own playing.

Length: 12:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 42

Lead Approach #2

Matt Brown adds practice to his lead approach by giving you another chord progression to solo over.

Length: 7:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 43

Lead Approach #3

Matt Brown has another chord progression and solo exercise to go over in this lesson on lead approach.

Length: 10:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 44

String Skipping Revisited

Matt Brown takes another look at string skipping. He breaks down some key areas of Matteo Carcassi's Allegro as an exercise.

Length: 16:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Matt Brown View Full Biography Matt Brown began playing the guitar at the age of 11. "It was a rule in my family to learn and play an instrument for at least two years. I had been introduced to a lot of great music at the time by friends and their older siblings. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, so the decision to pick up the guitar came pretty easily."

Matt's musical training has always followed a very structured path. He began studying the guitar with Dayton, Ohio guitar great Danny Voris. I began learning scales, chords, and basic songs like any other guitarist. After breaking his left wrist after playing for only a year, Matt began to study music theory in great detail. I wanted to keep going with my lessons, but I obviously couldn't play at all. Danny basically gave me the equivalent of a freshman year music theory course in the span of two months. These months proved to have a huge impact on Brown's approach to the instrument.

Brown continued his music education at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed a degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2002. While at Capital, he also studied jazz guitar and recording techniques in great detail. "I've never had any desire to perform jazz music. Its lack of relevance to modern culture has always turned me off. However, nothing will improve your chops more than studying this music."

Matt Brown currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. He teaches lessons locally as well as at Capital University's Community Music School. Matt's recent projects include writing and recording with his new, as of yet nameless band as well as the formation of a cover band called The Dirty Cunnies.

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