Do you know the musical alphabet is the building blocks of ALL musical theory? It is a guide to anyone that is trying to write original music or play someone else’s composition.
What is the musical alphabet? The musical alphabet is a reference point to the notes of your instrument. It acts as a means of communication between composers. These include A A# B C C# D E E# F F# G G# which LABEL the key and notes that form scales, chords, and arpeggios.
As you can see the musical alphabet is a great tool to have in your arsenal and it is used with EVERYTHINg you play! In this article, we are going to dig deep into this concept!
So, let’s jump right in!
1. What is the Musical Alphabet?
This musical alphabet is just like the English alphabet but a reference to the sound of notes rather than the sound of words.
But overall it is used to demonstrate the flow of notes in the form of letters, consisting of A, B, C, D, E, F, & and G then back to A.
2. Why is the Musical Alphabet Important?
What was the first chord that you learned? Mine was A minor as my dad was trying to teach me House the rising sun.
If we reference the musical alphabet it will tell us that A minor chord includes the notes A, B, C, D, and E.
Now, there is a lot of theory behind why A minor consists of A, C, and E. However, because of the musical alphabet, we can understand A Minor universally.
3. Sharp Notes
Different from the standard alphabet, the musical alphabet has sharp (#) notes. These are totally separate notes and added between the letters A to G.
However, not all notes have sharps. For instance, you will only find A#, C#, D#, F#, and G#.
With the exceptions of B and E., These do not have Sharps.
Sharp notes are used to demonstrate the key or pitch of the notes and are a semitone higher than the pitch before.
For instance, on the guitar, the 5th string played open is an A, which means the 1st fret of the 5th string is where the A# is located.
This applies to other notes, too.
On the 2nd fret of the 5th string is the B and after that is the C on the 3rd fret, since B# does not exist.
This pattern will continue all the way to the 12th fret, where another A is located. The A note on the 12th fret is the same as the open string A note but it is one octave higher. This, too, is applicable to other strings as well. In other words, at the 12th fret of the 6th string is a higher E, of the 4th string is a D, and so on.
4. Flat Notes
Along with sharp notes, which indicate half a step higher in key, there are also flat notes (b).
Contrary to sharp notes, flat notes are used to demonstrate a semi-tone (half a step) lower than the notes they represent.
For this reason, flat and sharp notes are fundamentally the same. For example, and A# can also be referred to as Bb.
It is also important to note that because there are no B# and E#, technically Cb and Fb also do not exist. However, this rule is not concrete, because even though Cb and Fb do not technically exist… Music theorists will understand Cb and being B, and Fb and being E.
5. How to Use Sharp & Flat Notes
The main difference between flat and sharp notes lies in how they are used.
As sharp notes indicate higher key while flat notes represent lower key, musicians use them to present the flow of notes, for ascent (A to G), they will use sharp notes while for descent (G to A), flat notes are preferred.
6. Easily Navigate By learning Open Strings
Learning and memorizing the notes of the Fretboard can be difficult if you have just picked up the guitar for the first time.
However, there is a trick to navigate the fretboard easily if you know the musical alphabet.
All you need to do is navigate the SIX open strings.
E A D G B E
By memorizing the SIX open strings as shown above. You can memorize the entire fretboard.
This is because by knowing the open strings you can quickly work out the rest of the fretboard simply by following the musical alphabet.
7. Memorise the Entire Fretboard
Memorizing the entire fretboard is very difficult.
Following the previous section, to work out all the notes on the fretboard is easy once you know the open strings and the musical alphabet.
As you can see from the image above the frets simply follow the musical alphabet. Once you remember your starting point you work out ALL the notes after that point.
8. Instant Fret Recall
When you first start learning the guitar you at an advantage when you can remember the open strings and can recall the musical alphabet.
- Open Strings: E A D G B E
- Musical Alphabet: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#
Remembering the above is pretty EASY but it is powerful because you can recall 140 Notes on the fretboard!
Once you have got your head around memorizing the open strings you can then move onto memorizing the marked frets. This way instead of counting from the open string each time you can build speed by additionally counting from the 3rd fret.
9. Use Tape if you struggle to memorize the frets
You can start by marking out notes on the 3rd, 5th and 7th frets, simply use write the G, A and B notes respectively on pieces of tape (or sticky notes) and put them on the guitar neck, above the frets.
Now, you can be reminded of these notes every time you pick the guitar. However, be careful not to write directly on the guitar neck so as not to damage the wood.
It is recommended to start with the 5th string and name every note loudly as you play. Since the 5th string starts with the A, it is easier to keep track of the notes and memorize the flow.
10. Navigating the Low E STRING
While learning all of the notes is not usually required for a beginner, it is crucial to memorise the notes on the 6th string. Because, for an intermediate player, they are expected to pull out the right notes on the 6th string to form chords and scales.
Luckily, these notes are easy to memorize following the tricks we have learned prior to this.
Every guitar neck is usually marked with dots on the 3rd, 5th and 7th fret, for the 6th string, these are the locations of the G, A and B notes, respectively. We will use these notes as footholds to locate other notes across the fretboard. For instance, to find the C on the 6th string, we use the 7th fret as the anchor, knowing that at the 7th fret is the B and C is immediately after, we can locate the C on the 8th fret.
11. Navigating the A String
To navigate on the A string, we can use the same trick as the E string above it. On the A string, 3rd, 5th and 7th frets are the C, D and E notes. We will use these notes as anchors to locate other notes on the same string. F note, for instance, is located immediately after the E note. Using musical alphabet, we can conclude that F is located on the 8th fret, one fret higher than the E note.
Similar to the E string, notes on the A string can be used as root notes for guitar scales. This is crucial knowledge for lead guitarists to identify the correct chords and scales as the root notes are always the starting points. Barre chords are also applied using this theory. The A chord shape, for example, is movable and can be transformed to other chords depending on the root notes.
Expectedly, all theories are difficult to understand at first but with time and regular practice, anyone can learn them effortlessly. Plus, the payback is worth the toil. The musical alphabet is one of the most fundamental universal musical theory, it is essentially the foundation for almost everything you will encounter. A high command on this theory effectively promises a pathway to immensely improve your skills and progress as a musician. In fact, to be considered an intermediate guitarist, you must be able to look at the fretboard and pull out the exact notes, chords and scales.
12. Locating the Root Notes
On a larger scale, these notes are used to locate the chords and the root notes of scales.
For instance, guitarists need to complement a melody on A minor scale, they first locate the A note, which are the 5th fret of the 6th string, and start applying the minor scale pattern there. And not just the A minor scale only, on guitar, scale patterns are movable, knowing where the root notes are located allows guitarists to play any scale they want as long as they remember the pattern of the scale. Guitar chords are also located this way.
Barre chord shapes, such as the E shape, are movable and are used to form other chords. For instance, to form the F chord from the E, we move the entire E chord shape one fret higher, or to form the A chord, we can move the chord to the 5th fret, where the A is located on the 6th string.
It can be quite a chore to memorize all of the notes and their location on the fretboard.
As such, incorporating the alphabet to your casual practice and playing is most encouraged.
For beginners, this theory can be quite confusing since they are separate symbols but can be used interchangeably. Thus, beginners are recommended to stick with sharp notes at first in order to familiarize themselves with the theory.
In time, once they have the hang of the basis musical theory, the flat notes should come to them naturally. Interestingly, while flat notes and sharp notes are universally interchangeable, guitarists often mix both of them in the flow, hence the flow: A Bb B C C# D Eb E F F# G G#.
Once this is achieved, combining the open strings, we can learn approximately 144 notes across the fretboard without having to memorize each point.
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