How to Read Notes on the Guitar

By Benjamin L. Nissimov for Guitar on Demand

Reading Pitch

Each string on the guitar can play many different pitches. Today, we will examine some of the pitches on the first string of your guitar, and learn how to read on the first string. Let's get started!

We keep track of different pitches in music by assigning letter names to them. You may have already noticed, the musical alphabet does not go all the way to Z like our regular alphabet. What pitch does our musical alphabet go to before it begins to repeat itself?

A big part of the reason we assign letter names to pitches is so that we can communicate musical ideas across multiple instruments. For example, you could write a song on guitar, and then give it to a piano player and have them play it for you.

The neck of the guitar has frets. Frets are the strips of metal embedded along a guitar's fretboard. The frets we will be skipping over for now are like the black keys of the piano. For the purpose of this articles, we will be focusing on notes below:

Pitches are written on a staff, like this one. The symbol at the start of the staff is called a treble clef. For our purposes, it just tells us that we can play this music on guitar. Each pitch has a specific place on the staff. As the pitches get higher and higher, we start running out of room on the staff. Starting with the pitch A, we start seeing ledger lines. These are like an extension of the staff. It helps us read higher pitched notes.

Let's make sure our first string is tuned to the pitch E using a tuner. Now when we play the first string without pressing it down, it will play an E. Play E 10 times!

We can raise the pitch by pressing down on frets. For example, we can play the pitch F by pressing down the string at the 1st fret and then playing it. Play F 10 times!

G is on the 3rd fret. Play G 10 times! A is on the 5th fret. Play A 10 times! B is on the 7th fret. Play B 10 times!

As we start to play higher and higher pitches, it gets harder to know what fret we're on. There are a lot of them after all! This is where most guitar makers will give you some help. There are likely dots on your fretboard at certain spots. These are here to be a shortcut for you, so that you don't always have to count all the way up from your 1st fret. Find the dots on your fretboard. What frets are they on?

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