Naming And Finding Notes On The Guitar

Here is the third piece of the puzzle to this course in reading music. As I have said before, music reading can be thought of as three smaller and separate skills: naming notes on the musical staff, planning the correct rhythm of those notes and finding those notes on the guitar. In the popular and store-bought method books of our day, the approach is to teach all three of these separate, fundamental skills in tiny little dribs and drabs at the same time. As a guitar student and later as a guitar teacher, the results this approach got me were far less than satisfactory. When I got to music school, I really needed to step my reading up in a hurry so that's when I developed my theory of the 'three easy pieces'. I developed a three-step process I use for practicing for practicing every new piece of music I received. First, I would go through the piece and quickly gave a letter name to all of the notes. Next, it came to sounding out the rhythms with my voice using a simple single syllable such as 'LA'. Finally, I went through the piece once just by naming the notes and simultaneously finding them on my guitar, not even worrying about the rhythm. After you develop the habit of performing this three-step process your music reading ability will improve in great leaps and bounds.

Our focus here is quickly and accurately naming notes on the staff and then finding the corresponding note on your guitar. There will be no counting of time or rhythmic constraints of any kind in this lesson, just naming notes and finding notes. At the core of this lesson is one simple idea, memorizing eight easy facts: the names of any natural notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) on the first three strings of your guitar and the locations of those notes on the musical staff. Most people discovered that finding the correct note on the guitar is by far the most difficult aspect of learning to read music. I have found however that if you think about things in the way I am suggesting here, you will give yourself a fighting chance to learn well, and learn quickly, a very elusive and demanding skill. Below you see a graphic organizer, studying this illustration until you are comfortable playing and naming each and every one of the notes you see in the musical staff and TAB staff.

Guitar Neck graphic

After you have studied the diagram above, having carefully gone through everything with your guitar in hand, study the interactive illustration below. Learning any difficult skill such as reading music requires repetition and drill on the fundamental points.

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The String By String Method

When I learned to read music my experience was much like anyone else's. I started with a famed store-bought guitar book with and interesting and compelling title like “grade 1”. I tried to make the best of it for a few weeks but I just couldn't get anywhere with that little blue book! When I discussed this with my teacher, he gave me a new and better book. Excitedly, I rushed home to open the new and better book and when I did I found the exact same material, only mixed up and reordered a little bit. It was then that I realized the value of doing original lesson plans and having something unique to say about the subject.
Nevertheless, those beginning reading manuals all stress what I'll call the “string by string” method: playing and reading musical passages using only one string in a time, focusing on the two or three notes found on each string in the open position. With modification, this idea is one of the things I really like about the slant of old-school guitar reading methods. Below are illustrations and graphic organizers which will enable us to use the “string by string” method here in this lesson plan which focuses only on naming musical notes on the staff and then finding the corresponding mount on the neck of your guitar.

The Principle Of Zero Mistakes

Next I'm going to introduce you to a highly effective practicing technique I call the “principle of zero mistakes”.  In the previous video I explained to you the method by which you are learning to name notes on the staff and simultaneously locate them on the neck of your guitar -slowly and methodically, taking your time and making good observations while you are training and studying.   
Here in this method, for this lesson there are no time constraints or rhythmic considerations whatsoever. The three illustrations below are meant to be done in the exact same way as I have described in the video, except this time I don't want you to make any missteps, miscalculations or make any mistakes by hitting any wrong notes for the entire duration of each one of the three exercises. Obviously, the way to achieve this is to slow your practice speed down to whatever tempo enables you to achieve zero mistakes as you say the name of each note and play it on your guitar at the exact same time.  Repeat these exercises, in the manner described, until they seem ridiculously easy.

neck picture


Music, in the real world is full of repetitious patterns and ideas. These exercises or playing the notes in a stepwise manner, in alphabetical order, with no skips.  As you are practicing in reading through these exercises try to see more than one note at a time, try to see and describe the patterns written here.


neck picture


Remember to say the name of the note out loud, giving it a letter name, while playing each and every note on your guitar. In this exercise, there are only two notes to study on the G string: open “G” and fretted “A”. When things seem too easy, it's a good opportunity to work harder and apply extra thought, to challenge one’s self in new ways.


neck picture

On Putting Pencil To Paper

To conclude this lesson on naming in finding notes you are going to be putting pencil to paper.  Simply print out the exercises you see below and label each and every note with the letter name. Throughout my journeys in musical education, I have heard countless music teachers referred to this practice as a big huge mistake and waste of time. It's pretty much common knowledge that music students should not write the name of the notes on music paper, right?  Strangely however, I have never heard one decent explanation as to why this is such a bad idea. What is so wrong with a little extra mental practice, thinking, drilling and repetition? As a boy, I was in this writing habit and I found it extraordinarily helpful. In my career as a guitar teacher my students have always been known for being excellent readers in each and every one of them was taught how to need notes on the staff by putting pencil to paper. It's a great idea and it definitely works!

String Three

staff paper


String Two

staff paper


String One

staff paper

Print out a few copies the three examples above and spend time filling them out and saying the note names in your hand when you do.  When these exercises seem ridiculously easy, you have learned what you needed to learn and you should progress to the next lesson.

End Of Lesson 4