Finding notes on guitar

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In standard tuning, the open strings are tuned to E2 (bass, 6th string), A2, D3, G3, B4, E4.  In concert pitch,  A4 (5th fret on 1st string) to 440 Hz.  Hz is short for “Hertz”.

See next section for what we mean by “Hertz” and the fundamentally important concept of the “semitone”, along with the number used in a note name.

The pattern of natural notes

Click this icon to see the natural notes on the bass string.

E and F are adjacent.  As are B and C.  Otherwise there is a one fret gap between these notes.


Now you know the pattern of natural notes. Click the eye-ear icon to use this knowledge with a few tests. A box appears.  Click “>” in the box, to move to the next test.  Click on “><” to retry.



Another way to find out notes on the guitar is as follows

  1. Move the mouse along a string (no clicks) and watch the pitch strip.  The note name at that location (empty or not) swells up.


Hertz, Semitone, Octave

Physical properties involved in sound creation

With fretted instruments, a string contacts the nut by the tuning pegs and at the other end contacts the saddle on the bridge.  These two contact points determine the length of the string that vibrates when plucked.  The tightness and thickness of the string, along with that length, determines how rapidly the string vibrates, for example moving backwards and forwards at a frequency of 110 times second.  When we press down behind a fret, the string contacts the fret. With fretless guitar, the string contacts the neck at the point of your finger.  In both cases, this shortens the string length that vibrates, resulting in higher frequency of vibration.  We hear a more treble note.  On piano, playing a piano key strikes a particular group of two or hree strings of a partiuclar length and thickness.


The Hertz

In a musical instrument, these vibrations are modified by its construction, as they pass through it.  The result then sets the air vibrating the same way, which is what our ears respond to.  For electric guitar, an electrical signal mimics these vibrations, sent to an amplifier, and on to loud speakers, vibrating the air the same way.

Sound engineers refer to one vibration a second as a hertz (Hz).  For example, we hear a 110 Hz  guitar note, or a 110 Hz piano note.

The semitone

The frets are positioned so that adjacents frets on the string create frequencies one semitone apart. A semitone is a number based on maths (approximately 1.059).  As a result, the note produced 12 frets higher is an octave higher, that is, double the frequency.  When we hear two notes an octave apart, they sound very strongly related.

The tightness of the open string then determines what hear for it and all its frets.

A piano is constructed so that adjacent piano keys also create frequencies one semitone apart

Note names

In total, there are 88 notes, each a semitone apart, that theory recognises.  International standards have chosen a specific frequency for the lowest note a piano can produce (27.5 Hz), and theory names that note “A0”, with the highest being “C8” (4186 Hz).

The build of the instrument and tuning determines where these notes are produced (some piano key, some string and fret, somewhere along a string for fretless stringed instruments).

Some pianos, and synths, can produce all 88 notes, with each piano key (black or white) producing a different one of these.  A guitar can only produce a smaller range, and the same frequency note can be produced on different strings at different frets, in standard tuning.

A 24-fret Guitar can produce 25 notes (the open string, and at the 24 frets) on each string  The actual notes depend on the tuning (frequency) of the open string.  Notes produced by bending a string slightly are un-named.



About note names (independent of instrument)

At the bass end, we have three notes named A0, A0#, and B0.  After that we have seven repeated blocks of 12 notes, followed by one note, C8.

Each of these 12-note blocks starts with the note C, for example C1.

Seven of the notes are known as the natural notes. In block 1, these are C1, D1, E1, F1, G1, A1, B1

The remaining five note names include a # (sharp) sign.  In block 1, these are C1#, D1#, F1#, G1#, A1#.

Altogether, we get C1, C1#, D1, D1#, E1, F1, F1#, G1, G1#, A1, A1#, B1 in block 1.  Each note is one semitone higher in frequency than its predecessor.  So, C1# is a semitone higher than C1, and so on.

Block 2 then follows, with C2 being 12 semitones higher than C1.  We say C2 is an octave above C1.  Likewise, C2# is 12 semitones higher than C1#.  Blocks repeat all the way up to block 7. The last named musical note is C8, which is an octave higher than C7.

On guitar, if we wanted to play all the notes of one block, we’d do this using a few strings, otherwise the hand movement is excessive, whereas this is feasible on piano.

Note range on guitar

In standard tuning, the open strings of a 6-string guitar are tuned to the frequencies of the notes E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, and E4, for the 6th string (bass) to the 1st string (treble) repsectively.

The highest frequency note is produced at the 24th fret on the 1st string.  This is E6. In total this gives 48 notes, and 4 octaves of sound, starting at E2.

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