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Basic Notes and Theory (Guitar Lesson)

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Jim Deeming

Basic Notes and Theory

Understanding notes, intervals, and scales is key to music reading. Jim proves a beginner crash course on these subjects.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Music Reading seriesLength: 18:53Difficulty: 1.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (01:12) Musical Introduction Welcome to Jim Deeming's Phase 2 Reading Music series! In this series, Jim will provide you with the tools necessary to reading sheet music.
Chapter 2: (07:34) Reading Sheet Music Like Jim mentions, countless guitarists over the years have obtained high levels of success without ever learning how to read music. However, this statement should not diminish the importance of developing reading skills. Developing these skills can only help your playing and overall understanding of music. The more you know about any subject, the greater your chances of success are in that field of study. This is definitely true of music. Learning to read will expand the options available to you. It will help you communicate with other musicians. In Matt Brown's first lesson pertaining to reading music, he offers the following arguments in support of learning how to read music:

-First and foremost, learning to read music will make you a better player. Reading skills will enhance the overall musicality of your playing. Continuing with these lessons will make you sound better. Period. After all, isn’t that the goal we’re all after?

-If you can’t read music, you cannot interpret written music or tablature properly. This is due to a lack of understanding of how notes function with one another from a theoretical standpoint.

-It is impossible to learn music theory without basic reading skills.

-Musicians that play other instruments don’t use tablature. You cannot communicate with these musicians without reading skills. Drummers and guitarists are the only musicians that use the tablature system with any frequency.

Disadvantages of Tablature

Tablature only gives you half of the information necessary to play a piece of music. You must be able to read music in order to understand and interpret the remaining details. Tablature does not convey rhythm well at all. Rhythm is the single most important aspect of music. Other important information such as phrasing, melodic structure and contour are also absent from tablature. If you write a song or an arrangement, how do you expect to convey all of this information to another musician without a basic understanding of how to read music?

Reading Is Easy!

Do not be intimidated by this series. Reading music is relatively easy once you learn the basics. However, it does take work. Reading and playing written music successfully requires diligent practice and memorization. Undoubtedly, you will be glad that you spent the time to master this subject.

Additional Resources

In lesson 13 of his phase one series, Jim explained the note names and locations for the open strings as well as the first three frets on each string. This lesson functions as an excellent precursor to this lesson series. Make sure that you understand all of the information in the aforementioned lesson. Jim expands upon these concepts in the current lesson.

Also, it is highly recommended that you study Matt Brown's Reading Music and Rhythm lessons in conjunction with the lessons in this series. These lessons will provide you with some additional information and exercises designed to enhance your comprehension of reading skills, rhythm, scales, and overall knowledge of the fretboard.

The Musical Alphabet

This alphabet consists of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Once the musical alphabet ends, it simply repeats itself over again. The primary set of notes can be augmented by adding accidentals to each of the letter names. Accidentals are sharps (#) and flats (b). This gives a total of 12 notes possible in the Western music system.

Open String Note Names

The first logical step when learning to read music is learning the note names of each of the open strings. Beginning with the string that is closest to your face (the fattest string) the open strings are named E, A, D, G, B, and E. As you've probably noticed already, the highest an lowest strings produce the same pitch. However, the high E string is two octaves higher than the lowest, fattest string.

Remaining E String Notes in First Position

For the first several lessons in this series, Jim limits all discussion to the notes located in "first position." When playing in first position, the first finger frets all of the notes located at the first fret of each string. The second finger frets the notes at the second fret. Essentially, the fret number corresponds with the finger used to fret a given note.

The first fret of either E string is the note F. The note at the third fret is G. Notice how Jim skipped a fret when going from F to G. This is a very important concept that he explains later in the lesson video.The fifth fret of this string is the note A. However, you have to shift up the neck to reach this note. The closest available note in "first position" is the open A note. You don't have to move your left hand out of position to reach this note. Economy of movement will become very important as you become more advanced as a guitarist.

First Position Notes on the A String

Proceeding downward towards the floor from the fattest string, the next open string produces the note A. Then, the note B is at the second fret and C is found at the third fret. All of these note names and locations absolutely must be memorized! Follow along with Jim closely as he covers the remaining first position note names and locations.
Chapter 3: (06:35) The Piano Keyboard Looking out how the notes in the musical scale are laid out on a piano keyboard is often a more helpful visual representation of the musical alphabet. Learning where each note appears on a piano keyboard is usually very advantageous to guitarists.

On a piano there are white keys and black keys. The black keys are grouped together in either sets of 2 or 3. As Jim explains, the black keys separate most of the white keys but not all of them. For instance, there are some locations on the piano keyboard when two white keys occur sequentially.

Half Steps and Whole Steps

The distance between any two notes in the musical alphabet is measured in half steps and whole steps. The ordering of black and white keys provides a useful visual demonstration of where the half steps and whole steps occur. The distance from one key to the next regardless of color is a half step. Similarly, this interval occurs from one fret to the next on the guitar. A whole step is occurs from one white key to the next when a black key lays in between them. Notice how two white keys are often grouped together on the keyboard. These notes are only a half step apart.

The note to the left of a group of two black keys is always the note C. You learned earlier that the note C is located at the third fret of the A string. Notice how E and F are right next to each other on the keyboard. This represents one half step. The same is true of the notes B and C. Both of these notes are on white keys that are right next to each other. The note C is also located at the first fret of the B string. This note is a half step away from the open string pitch. Think of the 2nd fret as the black note on the keyboard that you have to skip over. Thus, the note D is located at the third fret of the D string. At this point in time, it is important that you learn and memorize where the whole steps and half steps occur within the musical alphabet.

Memorization Time

At this point in time, your homework is to memorize the locations of all the notes in first position. Memorize these notes string by string, rather than starting at the first fret of all the strings and then moving on to the next fret. There are only two notes on the G string in this position. Remember this important exception. All of the other strings have three notes in this position.
Chapter 4: (03:31) Review and Future Lessons Jim provides a brief review of the material covered in this lesson. Thus far, you have learned the location of whole steps and half steps within the musical alphabet. You have also learned the natural notes and their locations on the fretboard of the guitar in first position. Realizing where these notes occur from a visual standpoint is the easiest way to memorize this information. For example, the notes on both E strings occur at the first and third frets. The same is true of the B string. The notes on both the D and A strings are at the 2nd and third frets. This leaves the G string. Remember that there are only two notes to learn on this string at this point in time. These are the notes A and B.


When playing in first position (sometimes referred to as "open position") your first finger will play the notes at the first fret. Finger 2 plays at the second fret, and finger 3 plays at the third fret. Do not deviate from this fingering at all. Proper fingering will become very important down the line! So, you don't want to develop bad habits early on.

Preview of Upcoming Lessons

Jim has provided tablature in the supplemental content section that indicates the fretboard location of all the notes played in first position. In the following lesson, Jim will explain where these notes on the guitar are written on the five line musical staff.

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.

jvazqu23jvazqu23 replied on October 18th, 2013

What song is he playing in the Intro?

rishabhsehgalrishabhsehgal replied on December 23rd, 2017

what not

malygrismalygris replied on March 25th, 2013

Scene 2: Reading Sheet Music shows an error. Others seem to be working.

shadowblueshadowblue replied on September 9th, 2010

I get it all down then I lose it. Thanks for the refresher course

joseefjoseef replied on October 13th, 2009

W W H W W W H for all major scales, right?

crossfitcrossfit replied on February 1st, 2010


devoyedevoye replied on November 14th, 2009

I loved the Piano explanation - That helped me A LOT

aznboy110aznboy110 replied on November 27th, 2008

that was a great lesson it helped me alot with understanding my scales thanks.

rj surfsrj surfs replied on September 27th, 2008

Great Intro to Music Reading Jim... I really like your teaching style. Looking forward to more.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on August 7th, 2008

Awesome! Jim-I'm so glad that you're doing a series like this too!

Music Reading

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Reading music and rhythm is the foundation for anyone serious about music. In order to understand the theory necessary to progress as a player, a basic understanding of how to read music and how to read rhythms is necessary.

Lesson 1

Basic Notes and Theory

Understanding notes, intervals, and scales is key to music reading. Jim proves a beginner crash course on these subjects.

Length: 18:53 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Basic Music Reading

Jim covers basic music concepts such as the staff, time signatures, clefs, measures, note duration, and note representation.

Length: 16:25 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

The First Two Strings

Jim covers the first two strings in this lesson. He explains where the natural notes are located on the fretboard and how they appear on the staff.

Length: 17:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

The Third and Fourth Strings

Jim covers the third and fourth strings. He explains where the natural notes are located on the fretboard and how they appear on the staff.

Length: 11:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

The Fifth and Sixth Strings

Jim covers the fifth and sixth strings. He explains where the natural notes are located on the fretboard and how they appear on the staff.

Length: 11:34 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 6

Symbols, Timing, and Notes

Jim Deeming explains more music symbols in this lesson. He also introduces 3/4 time and eighth notes.

Length: 10:25 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 7

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

In this lesson Jim Deeming uses the classic song "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" as a music reading exercise.

Length: 11:06 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

The Low Strings

In this lesson Jim takes the song "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and plays it on the lower strings. This is an excellent exercise for reading and memorizing these notes.

Length: 5:39 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 9


Jim Deeming teaches a music reading exercise entitled "Echo." This fun, play-along lesson is a perfect way to hone your reading and counting skills.

Length: 18:03 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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