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Note reading 3

Here are the locations of the notes in the first position.

guitar notes, diatonic


The first thing to do is memorize where these notes are.


All you have are 7 notes, but each one exists in more than one place. Because of this, there are 18 note locations (count all the circled letters, including the open strings).


A quiz!

Quiz yourself.. The quiz question has the same form every time. Where is the (letter name) on the (letter name) string. For example, where is the F on the D string? Or where is the A on the G string?  You don’t need to do this for very long until you know where all the notes are.


The next part takes a bit longer, but it’s made easier by the step you’ve just taken by quizzing yourself.


Notes are pictures

Below are all of the notes on the staff in first position.


guitar notes, diatonic on staff


Think of these notes as pictures. Relating note names to the pictures is a recognition of location. Where is the C on the second string? On the second space from the top.


If you did the quiz, you know that the F on the high E string is on the first fret of that string. Now you just need to remember that the F picture is on the top line. Eventually, you’ll look at that location and think “F.”


Repeated note names

You may have noticed that there are 3 Fs in the diagram. Looking at the F on the 4th string will make you think of all 3 Fs for a split second. This will make you stumble mentally. This is normal. It will go away soon. After all, the picture/location for each F is completely different, and your brain will recognize that.


This isn’t as hard as it seems. But if you don’t have a good reason to do it, you’ll want to stop. You’ll tell yourself that tab will let you learn what you want without this tedium.


Find a song

Motivate yourself by finding a song melody or a simple solo that you’ve heard. Make sure that it’s in a book without tab. Don’t worry about the rhythm for now. Just figure out where the notes are. Since you already know the song, the rhythm will be in your ear.

This gives you a decent start. Keep working on this. Once you feel confident with what we’ve looked at so far, start looking at notes past first position. My favourite book on note-reading is Music Reading for Guitar: The Complete Method by David Oakes.



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Note reading 2

Twelve notes

Here are all the notes that exist in Western music:


A  A# (or Bb)  B  C  C# (or Db)  D  D# (or Eb)  E  F  F# (or Gb)  G  G# (or Ab)


Twelve notes. That’s it.


Accidentals (sharps and flats) can be a pain because each one has two possible names. But you’ll get used to that.


Where are they on the guitar?

The problem is to locate them on the neck of the guitar.  As it turns out, it’s ridiculously logical.


Start with the open strings – E A D G B E.


Let’s take the low E string and look at the first fret. All you need to do is count up one from E in that 12 note sequence that I have above. Doing that brings you to an F. The first fret’s name, therefore, is F.


Keep going up fret by fret. Every time you get to a new fret, go up one in the 12 note sequence. The second fret’s name is F#, the third fret’s name is G, etc. Do the same thing with every string.


Take at look at figure 1.





This is where all the notes are on the guitar, up to the 12th fret.  But not every note is created equal. An A on one fret may not be the same A on another fret.


Confused? You should be.


Here’s what I mean.


Too many choices

There are four different A’s on the guitar.  They look like this.


4 As


There are two places to play the first A; four different places to play the second A; four different places to play the third A; and one place to play the fourth A. This makes the guitar one of the most difficult instruments to read music on. No wonder people use tab.


But don’t worry. We’re going to stick to one area of the guitar, and only use one choice for every note we play. In other words, each note we play will always be in the same place.


I promise you that it won’t take long before you can look at a note on the page and know where it is on the guitar.


For now we’ll boil it down to the notes without accidentals.


These are: A  B  C  D  E  F  G


I’ve given you some background. The next post will be more specific. It’ll focus on notes in a single position.

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Note reading

Note reading on the guitar has become more rare, killed by tab. Guitar books all have tabs below the notes, but nobody I’ve ever talked to looks at the notes.  Tab is quicker at helping you play the sound.


The problem with tabs

But tabs make you a slave to playing music the way the tab tells you to. Most guitar players that use tab exclusively don’t know that you can play the same thing in 3 or 4 different places on the guitar. Tabs don’t make you think. They just say “do it this way.” No choice.


But what if you could play it better somewhere else on the guitar?


The power of choice

Developing as a musician means making choices. It means being in charge of how you do things. This is difficult to get across to players brought up on tab. After all, you can develop a lot of technical skill using tabs. You can learn to sound great. But you don’t learn to think in a fluid way. Being a guitar player means more than being able to put your fingers in the right place at the right time.


Pitch names

Even if you use tabs exclusively, learn the names of the pitches at each fret location. When you’re improvising (as opposed to just playing a solo that you’ve learned), you need to know what note you’re heading for. If that note is in the chord, it will sound one way. If it’s not in the chord, it will sound another way.


Good improvisers understand this relationship between notes and chords. Because they understand, they’re able to quickly learn which notes are best for their own tastes.


Exploring other music

Aside from that, notes give you access to non-guitar books. Sometimes you want to learn a saxophone solo. Or, like John Petrucci, you might want to use piano music to improve your technique. Knowing your notes allows you to do this.


This may not be important to you. That’s ok. But you should know what you’re missing. Players that know their notes can do everything tab players can do. The reverse isn’t true.


If I haven’t totally alienated you, move on to the next post. I’ll go over some strategies for reading notes.


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 Imagine what you really want to do. Are you doing it? If not, then you’ve experienced resistance. Resistance is that force that tells you that the thing you want to do is:


  • Unrealistic
  • Financially dangerous
  • Not who you are
  • Too hard
  • Something that takes too long
  • Too competitive
  • Stupid


There are more.  Pretty much anything coming from you that keeps you from doing what you want is resistance.


Universal resistance

Everyone experiences resistance. The good news is that it will unfailingly show you the direction to take. The thing that scares you the most is the thing that will allow you to grow the fastest.


Can I do this?

Self-doubt is an indicator of aspiration. If you find yourself questioning whether or not you’re a musician or a writer or whatever, chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.


Just do it

You can’t wait until you want to do it.  If you want to get good at something you need to build a schedule around it (see my post on ritual – When asked about his writing schedule, Somerset Maughm said, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.” He sat down every morning and got to work, because he knew if he did, things would get done.


So many of us don’t schedule the things that are most important to us. We do them when we feel like it, we don’t improve – or we don’t improve as quickly as we’d like – and we quit.


Check out Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art for more.

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How to make chord progressions a pro would love, Part 16: Rhythm III – Strumming

So let’s take the progression from the last post…

Gmaj-8 bars


…and add some rhythms using quarter notes and eighth notes.


Gmaj w: rests

You’re probably looking at that symbol on the second and fourth beats of bar 5, and wondering what’s going on. Let me explain.

Silence is as important as sound in music, so we need symbols to express that. The one you’re looking at expresses silence for the same length as a quarter note. Another way of saying that is that the symbol substitues silence for the sound of the quarter note. Because of this, it’s called a quarter rest.
So the way bar 5 works is: beat 1 – quarter note (sound); beat 2 – quarter rest (silence); beat 3 – quarter note (sound); beat 4 – quarter rest (silence).


One last thing. When you’re reading rhythms, it’s a good idea to count so that you don’t get lost. In the example below, you’ll see that there are four numbers in each bar,  corresponding to each of the 4 beats. Between some of the numbers, there are  plus signs. The plus signs are under the offbeat 1/8 notes.
Gmaj w: slash 8ths
 So we have downbeats (where the numbers are) and offbeats (where the plus signs are).
This tells you that when you have 1/8 notes, you count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” You have to count evenly when you do this.
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How to make chord progressions a pro would love, Part 15: Rhythm II

Before we get to using those quarter notes and eighth note rhythms, I want to briefly review harmonic rhythm. I mentioned it a while ago, but we haven’t really put it to use. This is a good time to do that.

Progression in G major

Let’s take a look at a progression in the key of G. The chords for the key of G are…


G          Am          Bm          C           D           Em           F#dim
And here’s a progression using some of them.


Gmaj-8 bars



That double bar-line with the two dots at the end of the second line? That’s called a repeat sign. It means that you need to go back to the beginning and repeat the 8 bars.

Changing harmonic rhythm

Now let’s change the rhythm. I’ll do the harmonic rhythm first. Then, in the next post, the strumming rhythm.
The progression below takes the original progression and places some of  the chords on different beats. The original progression has a chord on beat 1 of every bar. The new progression takes the Em and puts it on beat 4 of bar 1; Am goes to beat 2 of bar 3; and the D chord is placed on beat 4 of bar 7.
Gmaj-8bars harmonic rhythm
Of course this is only one idea. Try experimenting with other possibilities.


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