Whether you've just picked up a guitar for the first time, or you have a bit more experience, learning guitar string notes is an essential step on your musical journey. The good news is that it won't take very long to master with this essential guide. Best of all, it's fun. Let's get started.
What Are the Guitar String Notes?
Standard guitars have six strings with a name and a number that corresponds to each string. Guitar strings are numbered starting from the thickest string and ending with the thinnest string. You may hear the strings referred to by their name, their number, or both interchangeably.
The thickest string is the 6th string, sometimes called the Low E string.
The next string is the 5th string, also called the A string.
The next one down is the 4th string, also known as the D string.
The 3rd string is known as the G string.
The 2nd string is also called the B string.
The thinnest string is the 1st string, which is also known as the High E string.
Don't worry if you've heard the terms "open strings" and "closed strings" being thrown around and felt confused. It's a straightforward concept.
They're called "open strings" when you play any of the six strings without pressing down on the fretboard. When you press down on the fretboard as you play, they become known as "closed strings," which are also called fretted notes.
You can play a few simple chords by merely plucking the open strings, but there are also plenty of basic chords on guitar out there you can play even when you're first beginning your guitar journey. Some of them only require you to press down on a single fret.
Why Do the Strings Need Names and Numbers?
Believe it or not, the reason strings need names and numbers isn't because the music gods want to make things as confusing as possible for newbie guitar players.
It's actually because some guitars are tuned differently (The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards wrote some of their most famous hits using Open G tuning), so it's essential to know the names and the numbers of each string.
From classic rock artists like Pink Floyd and The Doors to more recent bands like Radiohead and Coldplay, guitarists use alternate tuning to express themselves creatively and create a unique, instantly recognizable sound.
Alternate tuning is also useful for singers, who can tune their guitars up or down to better compliment their vocal range.
In some genres like folk music, heavy metal, and the blues, alternate tuning is the norm more often than not, so it might be easier to refer to guitar strings by their numbers instead of their names.
The 1st string will always be the 1st string no matter what tuning style you use, whereas if you don't utilize its function as the High E string, using that name won't make any sense. While this probably won't come in handy until you have more experience playing, getting in the habit of using the numbers might be useful later on.
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Remembering the Names of the Guitar Strings
Let's say you plan to stick with standard tuning for a while. You'll probably want to memorize the names of the guitar strings instead of just the numbers. One of the easiest ways to remember the names is to use a mnemonic.
The goofier the mnemonic you create is, the easier it will be to remember. Some of my favorites include:
Or you can use something a that's a bit more kid-friendly, like:
But learning is a personal process, and not everyone finds it easy to count down from six to one. If a part of your brain is screaming, "I don't count that way! That's backward," starting from the 1st string instead of the 6th string might make more sense to you.
You can always change up your mnemonic to something that's equally memorable, such as:
Just make sure you can remember whether you started with the 1st string or the 6th string when you created your mnemonic. Taking notes during the learning process always helps, and it's especially crucial if you're going to create a personal mnemonic.
We recommend using one of the more common mnemonics. Learning how to play guitar actually rewires your brain, and taking small steps like learning the strings from the 6th to the 1st is a simple step you can take to make the process easier.
Learning the Lingo
You might have come across the terms "top strings" and "bottom strings" if you've been reading books or watching tutorials about playing guitar. If you use the mnemonics we just went over, you'll start from the 1st or the 6th string while memorizing the names of the guitar strings.
In the case of top strings and bottom strings, there's no room for personalization. The top string always refers to the 1st string, the High E string. The bottom string will always be the 6th string, the Low E string.
Here's where it might get a little confusing at first: we're not referencing the physical positioning of the strings. When someone refers to the top string, they're talking about the pitch of the string.
The High E string, the top string, creates the highest pitch, and the bottom string, the Low E string, produces the lowest pitch. The High E and the Low E strings are separated by two full octaves.
A Note on Natural Notes
Like pianos, guitars are based on a chromatic scale, which is a fancy way of saying a 12-pitch scale. Using a chromatic scale places 12 pitches in an octave, which are arranged in ascending order on the fingerboard, each located a half step apart. On a guitar, each fret increases the pitch by one-half step.
For example, holding down all the strings against the 2nd fret produces the same notes as if you played the strings open, but the pitch is an octave lower.
If you're just starting out, you might find notes produced by the E and A strings the most important to focus on since they're some of the most commonly used in chords.
On a guitar, the notes E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E are called "natural notes," which are located two frets apart. Natural notes are neither sharp nor flat.
On a piano, natural notes are the white keys. A sharp note is one fret higher than a natural note, and a flat note is one fret lower than a natural note. On a piano, you can find the sharp and flat notes on the black keys.
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Learning All the Notes
You don't have to learn every single note on the guitar all at once when you're starting out. Believe it or not, you don't even need to know all of the notes on every guitar string to be a good guitar player.
On the other hand, if you want to get to know all the notes on the fretboard, one of the best ways to do it is by playing chords. Chords are the very building blocks of music, so if you focus on learning different chords instead of dwelling on individual notes, learning the notes will come easier. Try starting with something simple like the G major chord.
If learning the individual notes is important to you, try saying the notes aloud as you play through chords from a few of your favorite songs. Playing chords from songs you love is a great way to learn because you already know what they're supposed to sound like, and you'll be that much more determined to learn how to play them well if you're drawn to the music.
While having a guide to guitar notes is a great way to get started, practical application is your best teacher. But don't feel like you have to rush. With the exception of a few, rare prodigies, no one goes from asking "what does this string do?" to becoming the next Jimi Hendrix overnight.
Using a guitar string chart based on your specific guitar model, testing out the various notes you can produce with different chords, and practicing with music you love is ultimately what will make the learning process much easier, not to mention much more enjoyable.
Put it all together: Learn how to read guitar sheet music
Learning how to play guitar can be as challenging as it is fun, but did you know that it can also improve the way your brain functions?
You use the same area of your brain that governs cognitive memory and muscle memory when you play guitar, so you'll boost the mood of a party when you play a few tunes, but you'll also boost your brain power, too.
Learning guitar string notes is the first step you'll need to take on your way to six-string greatness, but you'll be well on your way with our essential guide to guitar string notes, a little patience, and a lot of practice.