The Guitar Fretboard Exercise

The Shortcut to Fretboard Familiarity.

Recently I have realized that a very important piece of information in the guitar category was missing from this blog, and that is fretboard familiarity to its fundamental element - knowing the note names on the fretboard. It is so vital that I would say this is THE ability required to making music consciously on guitar. Thus I wish to share it with you!

I believe the origin of this exercise was from Joe Satriani’s Column in GUITAR For The Practicing Musicians magazine, which was collected into a book called the Guitar Secrets.

The idea behind this exercise is that, instead of memorizing the fretboard to the notes (i.e. 6th fret on fifth string is an E flat), we should memorize the musical notes to the fretboard (i.e. D is on 7th fret of the third string), since us musicians more often think in some sort of musical notation (pitch and rhythm) rather than fixed guitar fretboard.

Here’s how to do it

  1. Turn on a metronome and set tempo to 60 BPM, slower if you are new to this whole guitar thing.

  2. Start with C. Find every C on the sixth string. Play one note per beat. If you miss, then wait for another beat. DO NOT RUSH! Keep your cool if you make any mistake. Once you found all Cs on the sixth string (8th fret and 20th fret if your fretboard reaches that far), move up to the fifth string, then fourth, until you covered every C on the whole fretboard.

  3. Select another note. I like to go counter clockwise of the cycle of fifth, so the next note would be F, then Bb, Eb, etc.

Keep going up the cycle until you go back to C, so you can cover all of the twelve notes classes.


  • You can limit your upper fret position to the 11th fret, so you will only be playing one note on each string without any hand stretching.
  • You can even limit your note selection to only natural notes with no sharps and flats at the beginning of your exercise.
  • You can use a print out of all the notes on fretboard at the beginning. Doesn’t matter, it will become a distraction shortly after.
  • You only need to practice the routine once everyday. It takes me about a minute and half for the whole run.
  • Once you get a basic sense of the fretboard, you can practice this exercise without a guitar. Simply imagine your fingers placing onto the correct position. The movement speed in your mental visualization will determine your actual physical playing speed.