If you're just getting started on the guitar you've already noticed that there are a lot of new terms, concepts and nomenclature to become familiar with.
But one good way to simplify communicating notes and chords on the guitar is by assigning numbers to the strings, frets and fingers.
Today we'll talk about how to identify the strings, frets and fingers using numbers. This will be useful as you get into a guitar lessons program or start playing with other guitarists.
One of the first things you should have learned on the guitar was the letter names of the open strings:
E A D G B E
When you first learn the letter name of the 6 open strings, it's typical to refer to them starting with the "low" E string. In other words, as you are holding the guitar, the string that is closer to you, or the thickest one.
As a result, it's a common misconception that when assigning "numbers" to the open strings, we should do so in the same order.
The reality is that it's just the opposite. When referring to the strings numerically, the 1st string is the "high" E string (the thinnest one) that is farther away from us when holding the guitar.
To illustrate, below is the way we commonly refer to the strings when naming them by note, and next to that is the way we refer to the strings numerically:
E (low) - 6th
A - 5th
D - 4th
G - 3rd
B - 2nd
E (high) - 1st
In addition to string numbers, we also assign numbers to the frets to help identify where we should play notes on the guitar.
Fret numbers start on the lowest fret, or the one that is closest to the headstock by the guitar "nut". This is fret number 1, and they go up sequentially from there.
As you move up the neck, most guitars have "fret markers" imbedded into various locations on the fret board. These are often called "inlays" and can usually be found at standard intervals.
On many guitars they are located at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and the 12th fret "octave", and repeat a similar pattern from there. Often there are also corresponding fret marker dots on the side of the neck and these all serve to help the guitarist quickly locate their position.
To put this all together, when taking lessons your instructor may say something like:
"play the note on the 3rd fret of the 5th string"
You may already know that note as a "C" note, but if you didn't, you would still know exactly what to play.
In addition to string and fret numbers, we also assign a number to each finger on the playing hand.
The forefinger is number 1, the middle finger is number 2, the ring finger is number 3 and the pinky is number 4.
In this way an instructor may teach a chord by saying:
"place the 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of the 5th string - the 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string - the 1st finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string - and play the 1st and 3rd strings open"
What they are telling you is how to play a "C" chord without having to say it in terms of notes.
As you can see, it's not nearly as complicated as it looks initially.
Although at first this may seem a little overwhelming, with time and practice you will be referring to notes in terms of fret, finger and string numbers without even thinking about it.
Keep on picking!
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Keith Dean is founder of http://www.AdultGuitarLessons.com and a 30 veteran of stage and studio. He toured extensively as a road musician throughout the US and Europe, was a former lead guitarist for Jason Aldean, and has shared stages with Little Big Town, Wild Rose, Winger, Confederate Railroad and more. He is a published songwriter, owned and operated a successful music store, and has instructed numerous students in guitar.
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