Left Handed Guitar Notes

Understanding the concept of notes, and memorizing the notes of your guitar’s fretboard is important for guitarists for several reasons including:

  • Communication with other musicians
  • Understanding composition and songwriting
  • Possessing the ability to transpose music
  • Improvisation
  • Understanding the basics of guitar theory (music theory for guitar).

In the following in-depth guide, we’re going to cover the concept of musical notes and provide some useful tips for learning the notes on your guitar’s fretboard from a left-handed guitarist’s perspective, using left-handed fretboard diagrams, and chord and scale charts.

The Concept of Notes in Music

So what are notes exactly?

In music, notes are the fundamental sounds that create melody (when played sequentially) and harmony (when played at the same time).

Notes in music are directly related to specific frequencies, measured in hertz (Hz). Each musical note corresponds to a particular frequency, and this relationship is essential for understanding the pitch of sounds.

The 5th string of your guitar (A), for example, is commonly tuned to 110 Hz. This means that when you pluck the A string on your guitar and it’s perfectly in tune, it vibrates at 110 Hz, which equates to 110 completed vibrations per second.

Similarly, other notes have their designated frequencies; for instance, middle C (C4) is around 261.63 Hz, and the note E4 is approximately 329.63 Hz.

Why is there a number after the note letters above?
A C4 note signifies the C pitch situated in the fourth octave of the musical scale, with octaves counted numerically. 

An octave is a musical interval that includes the same note at a higher or lower pitch. In terms of frequency, the pitch of a note in the higher octave is exactly double that of the same note in the lower octave.

Going back to our numbering system for a monent, this notation is used to pinpoint the exact location and pitch of the C note within the fourth octave of a musical instrument, providing a standardized reference point for musicians.

The Chromatic Scale

In Western music, there are 12 unique notes in total. When shown in order (as below) the notes form the chromatic scale (a musical scale consisting of all twelve pitches, each separated by a half step, encompassing all the notes in Western music.)

AA♯BCC♯DD♯EFF♯GG♯
The Chromatic Scale

If we look at notes sequentially on the guitar’s fretboard, a half step is equal to one fret. The example below demonstrates this by showing the A string (5th) string on the guitar.
The notes of the A string (5th) string on the guitar (left-handed diagram)

Sharps, Flats & Natural Notes

In music theory, natural notes refer to the basic, unaltered tones represented by the letters A through G. These notes do not have any sharps or flats associated with them.

In contrast, accidental notes are alterations of these natural notes, represented by adding a sharp (♯) or flat (♭) symbol. Sharps raise a note by a half step, while flats lower it by a half step.

Accidental notes (sharps and flats) are used to create variations in the melody or harmony, adding richness and complexity to musical compositions. It’s important to understand that sharps and flats are enharmonically equivalent, meaning an A note, sounds identical to a B♭. The choice to use one or the other depends mostly on the musical context.

Notes vs. Chords: The Fundamental Difference

So what is the difference between notes and chords?

F Major Chord - Left-Handed

As we now know, notes are the individual building blocks of music, represented by specific pitches or frequencies.

Alternatively, chords represent harmony and are a combination of notes played simultaneously. When you press down on multiple strings at the same time to form a chord shape on your guitar, you are essentially playing a harmony of notes.

Chords provide the harmonic structure in music, creating a rich and full sound. While notes are like the individual letters in a sentence, chords are the sentences themselves, conveying emotion and depth in your music.

You can read more about chords, and how they are constructed here.

Scales

While I’ll be writing in-depth on scales and the theory behind them in future articles, It would be remiss not to add some information on scales, which are structured sequences of notes that ascend or descend in a specific pattern.

Scales serve as the foundation for melody, and harmony, as all chords are derived from scales.

A Major Scale - Left-Handed

In essence, scales are like the roadmap of notes that guide a guitarist through the musical landscape. They define the set of notes available for a particular key, and understanding them is essential for creating harmonious and coherent music.

A musical key refers to a specific set of notes or a scale upon which a piece of music is primarily based. It serves as the tonal center around which melodies and harmonies revolve. Keys are defined by their root note and can be major or minor, influencing the mood and character of music. Understanding the key of a piece is crucial for musicians as it guides chord progressions, scales, and overall musical expression.

Guitarists often use scales as the building blocks for improvisation, lead guitar solos, and crafting melodies. Scales provide a structured framework for exploring the fretboard.

Whether it’s the familiar sound of the pentatonic scale or the more exotic tones of the harmonic minor scale, mastering scales allows a guitarist to express themselves creatively and navigate the vast terrain of musical possibilities available on the instrument.

You can read more about scales by clicking here.

Notes on the Guitar’s Fretboard

Understanding what notes are and how notes relate to melody and harmony is one thing. But learning the layout of the fretboard with regard to where the notes lie in relation to one another is another. While not essential for playing guitar, being able to navigate the fretboard enables guitarists to play melodies, solos, and chords more fluidly, allowing for greater musical expression. This knowledge also facilitates improvisation, making it easier to navigate through scales and create unique musical phrases.

Secondly, it enhances the guitarist’s ability to communicate and collaborate with other musicians. When performing with a band, knowing the notes on the fretboard enables quicker and more efficient communication about key changes, chord progressions, and musical ideas.

Lastly, it contributes to a deeper understanding of music theory. By visualizing the notes on the fretboard, guitarists can grasp concepts like intervals, chord construction, and scale patterns more intuitively, ultimately improving their overall musicianship.

Below are some useful tips for navigating and ultimately memorizing the guitar’s fretboard.

Tips for Memorizing the guitar’s fretboard

Memorize your open strings

The best place to get started learning the notes of your fretboard is by memorizing the notes of the open strings (E (6th string), A (5th), D (4th), G (3rd), B (2nd), and high E(1st). These notes are the foundation for understanding the fretboard and are repeated at the 12th fret of the guitar, being one octave higher in pitch.

Open Strings and Octaves (Left-Handed Fretboard)

You can use mnemonic phrases like “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good-Bye Eddie” or create your own to remember the string names and their order.

Locate The Same Notes On Different Strings

Regardless of the note being played, you can find the same note on the string above it by moving 5 frets down the neck.

However, there’s a slight variation with the B string, where you’d move 4 frets lower because of its unique tuning. While I have used A as the example in the diagram above, remember that this principle applies universally to all notes in the chromatic scale.

Practice with Patterns

Left-Handed Fretboard Diagram Showing Notes at the 5th Fret

Break the fretboard into smaller, manageable chunks. Focus on learning specific patterns, like the notes within a single fret or across a few frets. As a left-handed guitarist, you can mirror the patterns used by right-handed players. Once you master these patterns, you can piece them together to navigate the entire fretboard more comfortably.

Incorporate Note Recognition into Your Playing

While practicing songs or exercises, consciously think about the notes you’re playing. Name them aloud or in your mind as you go along. This will help you associate the physical act of playing with the corresponding notes on the fretboard. You can also begin to do this when playing chords, which will also assist with understanding the theory behind chords which can prove invaluable when you are required to learn new chord voicings.

Use Apps and Online Resources

There are numerous apps and websites designed to help guitarists learn the fretboard. Many of them offer interactive exercises and quizzes to reinforce note recognition. Take advantage of these resources to make your learning process more engaging and efficient.

Stay Consistent

Learning the fretboard is a gradual process, so stay patient and consistent with your practice. Dedicate a portion of your practice routine to fretboard memorization daily when first learning the guitar, and you’ll see gradual improvement over time.

How Many Notes Does a Guitar's Fretboard Contain?
The number of available notes across the guitar neck depends on the instrument's fret count. In the case of many acoustic guitars equipped with 20 frets, you have a total of 120 notes to explore (20 frets multiplied by 6 strings), resulting in each note of the Chromatic scale being repeated ten times. However, electric guitars, often consist of 21 or more frets, offering an even greater number of notes to work with.

By following these tips and staying committed to your practice routine, you’ll gradually become more familiar with the notes on the guitar’s fretboard. This knowledge will then open up new possibilities for your playing, allowing you to explore melodies, scales, and chords with confidence.

Final Thoughts

Understanding notes and ultimately memorizing the guitar’s fretboard is incredibly useful, benefiting communication with fellow musicians, enhancing composition skills, enabling transposition, and boosting improvisational abilities.

As noted (no pun intended 🙂 notes are the building blocks of music, and while not essential for becoming a great guitarist, learning the language of music, of which notes are fundamental will help you become a better musician.

About Marty

My name's Marty, I've been tinkering around on left-handed guitars for over 30 years.