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The musical staff is the basic framework for traditional music notation. The staff consists of a series of five parallel lines. The sequence of musical notes that make up a song are then placed along these lines.The two dimensions represented on the staff are pitch and time.



Pitch - whether a note sounds "high" or "low" - is represented by placing notes higher or lower in the series of staff lines.
Each line and space between the lines represents a specific note position. An oval shaped note under line 1 is understood as D. A note on line 1 is E. And so on, until we get to E again in the top space, and F on the top line.










Time - There are actually two different components to the time dimension of music. Every piece of music has a beat which varies from song to song, and sometimes within the same song. This is called the tempo of the music.

Tempo is normally measured in terms of beats per minute (bpm), and is indicated at the very beginning of the first staff line of a composition. In our example the tempo is indicated as 80 beats per minute. And this tempo is maintained unless a different tempo is indicated.
The length or duration of individual notes is  measured with reference to that tempo. If a song has a tempo of 60 bpm, then each beat will be one second long (1/60th of a minute), and in 4/4 time, each quarter note will have a duration of one beat.
The notes placed along the staff therefore tell us three very different things about the sounds they represent. First, they tell us the pitch of the sound. Second, we are told how fast or slow the piece is to be played (its tempo). And third, we know from the shape of each note symbol how long that sound is to be held - the duration of each note or rest.
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When I work with a new student who is learning guitar from scratch we first play 4 string versions of G, C and D because they are a bit easier to play. The fact is though, that these chords where you don't use all the strings may actually sound better than "full" chords in some cases.

For example a 4 or even 3 string version of D lets you highlight the higher strings. And an A (or even more commonly, a B chord) played on strings 4, 3 and 2 - where you don't play string 1, can sound perfectly adequate when used the right way.

Rock guitarists actually use two string combinations a lot. So-called "power chords" are 2 string chords played on the lower strings like the well known riff from "Smoke on the Water".  And "double stops" are two string combinations played on the higher strings (a la Chuck Berry).

The bottom line is that a "chord" is not always played by strumming across all six strings. To get the best sounding string combinations you need to strike the most appropriate strings.
Chording with Fewer Strings - Vimeo
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When seated, hold the guitar so you are not hunched over. The neck should be tilted upwards slightly to make it easier to reach all six strings with your hand that does the fingering (usually your left hand).
How to Hold the Guitar - Vimeo
For more info and simple guitar playing tips see Guitar Coach
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Many "learn the fretboard" exercises begin by suggesting you learn each note (A, B, etc.) on all six strings.

I sincerely doubt this is the way most accomplished guitar players learn the fretboard.

This method may be helpful to give you some initial feel for note positions. But when it is divorced from playing the notes in songs and exercises, you will inevitably forget the positions. And simply being able to recite "A is at D7", for example, will probably not help much when you are in the heat of the battle (i.e., when you're playing.)

Of course, eventually if you repeat "A is at D7" often enough you will look at D7 and think, "That's an A isn't it!" But just think about it for a minute. You have learned that C is at B1, like most guitar players who've gotten past the first month or so, because you've played it a thousand times.

Either you've played it in the kind of simple songs we all begin with (Ode to Joy!), or as the root of the C chord we all learn to play in our first couple of practice sessions.

And, by the same token, when you look at G3 you probably don't automatically think Bb. Why? Because that particular note has not been drummed into you as a point of reference (like G at E3, or C at A3, or C at B1.) And that's because beginning guitar players don't often play in keys that use Bb.

In order to learn them you must play them

So, after many attempts to come up with a "system" for learning the fretboard, I've come to the conclusion that the only lasting way to learn notes is to USE THEM - TO PLAY THEM - either in exercises, and even more effectively, in actual songs.

As I've said in other places, this almost inevitably means you will have to learn to read music. At this stage you shouldn't be surprised to hear that, since the impetus to learn the names of notes comes from the attempt to understand how the fretboard works. You've already pretty much bought into the traditional system by worrying about note names.

The Most Important Notes

The most important notes will be the ones you play the most and the ones that serve as a reference for others you use in your playing. For example, if you do a lot of playing in the keys of C, D and G, (as most beginning players do), those root notes (C, D, G) will be very important.

Chances are you already know them. And if not your first task should be to learn where these notes are in Section 1 of the fretboard (frets 0 -5).

C is at A3, G5 and B1
D is at D0, A5, and B3
G is at E3, G0, D5, and E3

Here are some exercises and songs to help learn these note positions.

Once you learn these note positions you should expand your repertoire of notes to include the rest of Section 1.

You could begin by adding E and A ..... and then F and Bb:


E is at E0, D2 , B5, and E1
A is at E5, A0, G2, and E1

F is at E1, D3, and E1
Bb is at A1 and G3

Here are exercises that focuses on these note positions.
We'll continue this conversation in the next post...
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In a previous post I suggested what is hopefully an efficient way to learn the guitar fretboard. The steps I outlined there were:
  1. Find a strategy that simplifies the task of learning the fretboard, and stick with it.
  2. Learn as many of the most important notes as you can
  3. Learn how the "mathematics of the fretboard" results in some easy-to-remember patterns.
  4. Use it or lose it! Practice! You don't even need a guitar to do this. You can just visualize the keyboard even when you're lying in bed at night. Just keep working on it.
Now, in the next series of posts I want to expand on these points and add a few techniques I've found helpful. But before I do I want to emphasize that it is useful to learn how to read traditional music

I know, I know. Guitar players usually think playing from formal music is totally impractical. And in many cases I completely agree! But the truth is, learning the positions of, say, C, at various places on the neck is of limited value if you can't relate it to formal music notation.

And from the learning-the-fretboard perspective knowing "how to read" opens up practice and learning possibilities that you just won't have if you can't read music.

For instance, let's say you want to use some simple melodies as exercises to help you learn note positions. There area number of these simple melodies right here.

Take the melody of Ode to Joy for example. You can play the exact same tune at different places on the neck. This is absolutely the best way to learn note positions on the fretboard.

If you are a complete newbie when it comes to reading music, and if you are interested in learning, here are some blog posts that will help you learn music reading.

So much for that! 

In the next few posts I will touch on the learning-the-fretboard strategy points I've outlined above, starting with: Learning the Most Important Notes.
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There are lots of guitar gurus who will tell you they have the secret formula for learning the notes on the guitar fretboard. Don't believe them. There is no simple formula. If you know the notes of the guitar fretboard you have probably spent years playing and studying the instrument.

However, having said that, there are effective strategies and not-so-effective strategies. And there is no guarantee that the strategy that works for one person will work for another.

Here are some things about learning the guitar fretboard we can say with some certainty:

  1. The fretboard has a lot of notes. Learning them all at once is very difficult for most of us. You need a strategy that simplifies the task.
  2. Some notes will be used over and over again. Learning the most important notes is an easy and effective place to start.
  3. Because of the way the guitar is tuned there are simple-to-learn, repeatable patterns. Learning these patterns will help a lot in understanding the fretboard.
  4. You have to play all over the fretboard in order to really learn the notes and lock in their locations. Use it or lose it!
There you have an outline of an effective strategy.
  1. Learn the most important notes. See some suggestions here...
  2. Learn the most important patterns. See some descriptions here...
  3. Find some exercises that target note locations up and down the neck...
  4. Play songs and melodies, scales and arpeggios at different locations up and down the neck...

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If you're an aspiring Bass player, you probably know that learning to play the bass guitar - arpeggios and bass patterns at different places on the neck is really important.

Learning about options, different fretboard positions and different patterns can be helped by learning to read bass scores. They can be pretty simple, but the fact that they are written on the bass clef means you will have to pay them special attention.

For someone like me who learned to read many years ago that has provided a special challenge. I learned trumpet music written on the treble clef and became marginally adept at it.

So switching gears to the bass clef took a fair bit of getting used to. Obviously it can be done. Traditional piano players learn to read both clefs from very early in their formal training. In time it just becomes second nature.

 I've put together a series of printable worksheets (in .pdf format) to help you learn the relationship between notes on the bass clef and different positions on the bass fretboard.

 You can find them here: Level 1 Bass Worksheets and Here: Level 2 Bass Worksheets.
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The song "Let It Be" appeared on the Beatles' album by the same name, Let It Be, and was the twelfth and final studio album by the band. It was released on 8 May 1970, almost a month after the group's break-up. After an unsuccessful attempt to finalize the album in early 1970, a new version of the album was produced by Phil Spector in March–April 1970. Guest musician and keyboard player, Billy Preston, appears on some of the cuts, in particular "Get Back" where he became the only non-Beatle to be credited on a recording. This Let It Be practice track is ideal for Beatle fans.
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There is an growing number of exercises and easy songs especially for new bass players here: Bass Practice Tracks for new Bass Players We've tried to give you commonly used patterns, and in many cases have indicated alternative positions on the fretboard to help you learn different positions. These exercises and songs use traditional notation, so if you are not familiar with reading music, or if you don't know the bass clef yet, these are ideal for you. Even if you don't feel you need to know how to read music, or if you just want to wing it, these will be helpful. There are certainly many times when knowing some music theory will help you out.
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