Fundamentals Of Guitar Theory


The guitar lends itself well to an organized understanding of music and how chords are built, the logic of common chord progressions and so on. That's because music is a very organized and structured phenomenon and, well, so is the guitar. (note to self: write an article soon regarding what an amazing creation music really is)


As opposed to blindly memorizing a set of fingering patterns to play on the guitar fretboard, you should use these patterns as an aide to help you organize your understanding of the guitar fretboard.

Below you'll get your first glimpse of these patterns on the guitar.


The only letters used in music to represent notes are- A through G. The change in pitch (how high or low a note sounds) between each of the notes is measured in distance by whole and half steps. If any instrument sounds an "A" note and then moves to a "B" note, the movement, or distance in pitch, between the "A" and "B" note is always one whole step. Each of the notes are spaced as follows:

Letters used to represent notes in music

As you play each successive note on the guitar in an upward direction (meaning successively higher in pitch, i.e., A to B to C and so-on), you'll repeat the letters in a new "octave." We'll talk about what an octave is a little later but just think of it as a higher register of the same note. This is seen in the example above that shows the A thru G notes. When you get to the G note, the next note up is called A.


On the guitar a whole step is a distance of 2 frets. A half step is a distance of 1 fret. So... if you know the note names of the open strings on the guitar, you can map out the entire neck showing all the notes named above, "A" through "G". I've done that for you below. Click the "next" button and follow the example.


Imagine you had a 1-string guitar. In order to play a wide range of pitches you'd have to have a long-neck instrument and you'd be pretty busy moving up and down that one string. Some of the first stringed instruments did only have 1 string. At some point in time a smarter person came up with the idea of adding another string and tuning it a little higher than the other one in order to play some of the higher-sounding pitches without having to move up and down the neck so much. What we eventually ended up with was the 6-string guitar. Using what's known as the equal-tempered scale we tune the guitar as you see in the example above.


The notes "A thru G" as shown above are known as the "natural" notes. You probably noticed that there are playable notes in-between the "natural" notes, namely the notes that have a Whole Step's difference between them, i.e., the note that lies between "A & B", "C & D", "F & G" and "G & A."

This is really pretty easy. Here's an example of how it works:

The note that lies in-between F & G can either be called F-sharp or G-flat. The symbol for "sharp" is the # symbol (pound sign) and the flat is indicated by a "b", (lowercase b). Take a look at the example below. With this information you can actually map out all the notes on the entire guitar neck until you run out of frets!