Because guitarists rely on the notes on their fretboard to play all chords, riffs, and solos, learning how to read guitar notes is essential. Just as important is knowing how many notes a guitar player must be familiar with.
How many notes are on a guitar? There are different numbers of notes in a guitar, depending on the note you are pertaining to. Specifically, a guitar has 6 guitar string notes, 12 chromatic scale notes, and a total of 45-48 unique notes on the fretboard.
What are the 6 notes on a guitar?
The six notes in a guitar are the guitar string notes. In standard tuning, the open string guitar notes are E-A-D-G-B-E. These six guitar string notes are listed from low to high.
Most guitars are tuned in standard E-A-D-G-B-E. Alternate tunings change these notes and should be avoided by a beginner. It’s best to stick with standard tuning as you learn to play.
How the Guitar String Notes are Named
The thickest string is known as the sixth string. This is tuned to E in standard guitar tuning. This is referred to as the low E string, the deepest guitar note you can play. Here are the other guitar string notes:
- A string – the 5th string tuned to A
- D string – the 4th string is tuned to D
- G string – the 3rd string is tuned to G
- B string – the 2nd string is tuned to B
- High E string – the 1st string is tuned to E. The thinnest of all the strings
These notes are the same on electric, acoustic, classical and semi-acoustic guitars.
How to Remember Guitar String Names and Order
An easy way to remember the names of the six guitar strings is by using a mnemonic device. Below are some example phrases for the six strings. Feel free to create a mnemonic of your own.
- Eat All Day Get Big Easy.
- Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually.
- Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie.
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.
Guitar Notes vs Guitar Chords
Notes are individual pitches, the smallest unit of musical language. Chords are groups of notes played all at the same time. A chord produces a more prominent and fuller sound because several guitar notes are played simultaneously.
Here are some analogies that might find helpful in differentiating notes and chords:
- Notes can be thought of as letters, and chords can be considered words in a language. Just as words are made up of individual letters, so are chords composed of individual notes.
- A note is like a single pixel in an image. A chord is a group of notes, so it’s like an image constructed from a collection of pixels.
Guitar Notes and the Musical Alphabet
Musical notes are named with letters and symbols called the musical alphabet. The same letters and symbols are used for any instrument that makes music, so musicians can speak the same language and describe the same notes.
The standard alphabet has 26 letters, and the musical alphabet has 12 notes. The normal alphabet begins with A and continues to Z; the musical alphabet starts with A and continues to G.
Every musical note has a sharp or flat associated with it. Sharp and flats appear between most letters to indicate how a note is related to one of the natural notes. Hence, the musical alphabet and the order of guitar notes then appear as:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A.
Important: The notes B and C directly follow each other without a note in-between, as do E and F. These combinations of notes are known as enharmonic equivalents.
What are the 12 notes on a guitar?
There are 12 notes in an octave, and each note is represented by a letter. The higher the letter, the higher the note. A is the lowest, and E is the highest. Again, this is the complete order you will hear from the open string all the way to the 12th fret:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A
These notes are also called the 12 chromatic scale notes. They appear at each fret along the entire neck of the guitar and on all 6 strings.
A chromatic scale has all 12 possible pitches, or notes, within an octave to make music. In other words, when you divide an octave into twelve equal parts, the result is the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.
What are the 7 notes on a guitar?
The 7 notes on a guitar are the natural notes. Natural notes are notes that do not have sharps or flats. These notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Notice that after the G, there is no H. The following note is A, but it’s at a higher register than the previous A. This is because it has moved up to a higher octave. Octaves help divide all the notes into manageable parts.
How many notes are there on a guitar fretboard?
If you count all the notes in a guitar fretboard, you will come up with around 45 to 48 unique notes, depending on the guitar.
As we now know, there are 12 chromatic scale notes on a guitar, whether it’s an acoustic or an electric. Again, these notes are A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#.
We determine the number of unique notes depending on how many frets a guitar has. A typical standard guitar has 21 or 22 frets. However, guitars with as many as 24 frets are popular now too. From there, we can then determine the number of octaves a guitar has.
There are 4 octaves on a 24-fret guitar, counting up to the 24th fret from the low E to the high E string. Meanwhile, a standard-tuned, 22-fret guitar has a range of slightly less than 4 octaves.
To calculate the number of all unique tones in a guitar, we multiply the number of octaves by the number of chromatic notes (12 in total). It would look like:
4 octaves x 12 chromatic notes = 48 unique notes (24-fret guitar)
3.75 octaves x 12 chromatic notes = 45 unique notes (22-fret guitar)
Therefore, a 24-fret guitar has 48 unique notes since each can be played at different pitches. On the other hand, a 6-string, 22-fret guitar has 45 unique notes.
The guitar may be simple to play, but learning all of the notes on a fretboard is not so easy. Knowing how many guitar notes to learn helps guitarists understand and master their instruments.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.