Understanding the layout of a guitar fretboard is one of the most important things any aspiring guitarist can do. Knowing where to find certain notes, how to quickly locate your position on the fretboard and what the frets actually do will make you a significantly better guitarist. The basic principles of the guitar fretboard can be transferred to other fretted instruments such as the bass and the banjo.
Each consecutive fret indicates a change in pitch of one half step. This is the distance between a D and D#, for example. In the vast majority of Western music, this is the smallest musical interval used to craft songs. The pitch a string produces raises one half step per fret as you move away from the guitar nut -- the strip at the top of the fretboard near the guitar's tuners -- and lowers one half step as you move toward it.
Assuming your guitar is in standard tuning -- spelled E, A, D, G, B and E from the lowest string to the highest -- the notes that your E strings will play are, from the open strings to the 12th frets: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D# and E. Then this pattern repeats from the 12th to the 24th fret. The A string cycles through this procession of notes from A to A, and the other three strings follow in the same manner (D to D, G to G and B to B).
In standard tuning, the A note played at the fifth fret of the low E string is the exact same note as the open A string. In this way, the seventh fret of the low E string plays the same note as the second fret of the A string and so on. In the same manner, the fifth fret of the A string is the same note as the open D string, the fifth fret of the D string plays the same note as the open G string and the fifth fret of the B string is the same as the open high E string. The open B string, however, is equivalent to the fourth fret of the G string. Because of the way the guitar fretboard is set up, some notes can be played at three or four different places on the fretboard.
The inlays on the fretboard and the top side of the guitar neck are more than just decorations. They are actually position markers that can help you find your place on a guitar neck quickly and easily. Most guitars have markers on the third, fifth, ninth, 12th, 15th and 17th frets. The 12th fret marker is generally more pronounced in some way to help you immediately recognize it. Familiarizing yourself with these markers can help you greatly when learning about the layout of the fretboard.
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