Quickly memorize notes on the fretboard

Helpful mnemonics for remembering the note names at key locations on the fretboard, and some tricks to quickly deduce the rest.

Why learn notes on the fretboard?

It’s useful for guitarists to be able to identify the names notes on the fretboard for several reasons.

  • Navigation and orientation. Learning the notes lets us navigate the fretboard more easily. We can find the right positions to form chords, play scales, and create melodies. Even with fret markers, it’s easy to lose track of where we are in the grid of strings and frets. If we’re playing by ear and get a little lost, identifying some of the notes helps us get oriented and recognize exactly where we are on the neck.
  • Communicating with other musicians. When we know the names of the notes, we can communicate effectively with other musicians. We can talk about what we’re playing, and we can read and write it down.
  • Understanding patterns and relationships. Although the best way to understand harmony in general is by intervals and scale degrees, it can be clarifying to think in terms of note names when reasoning about harmony in a specific key.

We don’t have to memorize all the notes

There are a lot of notes on the fretboard. There are 72 notes in just the first 12 frets. Fortunately, we don’t have to memorize them all. If we know the note names at a handful of key locations, we can actually infer the rest of them pretty easily.

For example, if we know the location of a natural note, we know that the sharp note is one fret higher, and the flat is one fret lower. Similarly, by knowing that there’s a semitone interval between B-C and E-F, if we know where a B or an E is located, we know there’s a C and an F one fret higher.

What are mnemonics?

Mnemonics are clever memory techniques that help us remember information by associating it with something else. In this case, the mnemonics are short phrases, where the first letter of each word is the name of a note.

They may seem silly, but they can be remarkably effective.

To make them even more memorable, we’ll pair the phrases with a related image. This is called “multimodal” memorization, and it helps us remember things longer and recall them more quickly.

Notes on open strings

Knowing the notes of all the open strings lets us tune the guitar. This is a well-known mnemonic; I don’t know who first came up with it.

Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.

Notes on the bottom two strings

Knowing the notes on the 5th and 6th strings helps us play every chord using the most common movable chord shapes. For example, if I want to play a C major chord and I know some major chord grips, I can just place the root of a major chord shape on any C note.

Start by memorizing the notes at the 3rd, 5th, and 7th frets.

These are the first three fret markers on the fretboard. Also notice that the C and F on the 8th fret are just one fret higher than the B and E on the 7th fret. We don’t have to spend any effort memorizing those, since they are easy to identify if we memorize the notes at the 7th fret.

I learned the mnemonics for these six notes from Justin Sandercoe over at justinguitar.com. I tried to locate his video about it, but I couldn’t find it. It was probably at least 15 years old. (If anyone knows where to find that video, please contact me and I’ll post a link to it.)

3rd fret: G and C

3 Gay Cats

5th fret: A and D

5 Able Digits

(Digits are fingers.)

7th fret: B and E

7 Beautiful Elephants

It’s a long way between the 7th fret and the 12th fret where we have the next notes memorized, so I found it helpful to add one more mnemonic, for the notes at the 10th fret.

(Notice that the 10th fret does not have a fret marker on guitar.)

10th fret: D and G

10 Decades Gone

I think of the years flying by. 10 is easy to remember because a decade is ten years.

The notes at the 12th fret have the same names as the open strings, because the 12th fret is where the octave repeats.

Notes on the top three strings

Next we’ll memorize the notes on the top three strings. It’s useful to know these when soloing because that’s usually done on the upper strings. It’s also important for playing treble triads. 

The mnemonics for the top three strings are given in descending order, because the Fretboard Foundation method starts by focusing the highest string, and descends from there to build out chords and scales.

For example, while the mnemonic for all the open strings is “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie”, a mnemonic for the top three open strings, in descending order, is Eddie Be Gone.

The mnemonics for the top three strings all begin with the same word as those for the bottom two strings. This is because the notes on the 1st and 6th strings are the same, and it builds on our memorization of those mnemonics with the least possible confusion. We can distinguish between the mnemonics for the top and bottom strings because those for the top strings have three words, and the bottom strings have two words. 

3rd fret, descending: G-D-Bb

3 Gay Dogs “Be flat

The Bb mnemonic is a bit of a stretch, but I find it memorable. The dogs are lying down flat, get it?

5th fret, descending: A-E-C

5 Able End Calluses

Our 5 able digits have calluses on the ends of the fingers.

7th fret, descending: B-F#-D

7 Beautiful “For sure” Daisies

I know, I know. It’s hard coming up with mnemonics for flats and sharps. But it’s memorable, right?

10th fret, descending: D-A-F

10 Decades Are Flying

The decades are still flying by.

Using octaves to find notes on the 4th string

What about the 4th string? I find it’s easiest to identify notes on that string by using octave shapes to find the matching notes on the 1st, 2nd, or 6th strings. That’s because it’s also useful to think in terms of those octaves when building chords with a root on the 4th string.

A note on the 4th string is the same as the notes on the 1st and 6th strings, two frets lower. (That’s used in the E shape barre chord.)

It’s also the same as the note on the 2nd string, 3 frets higher. (That’s used in the D shape CAGED chord.)


Start by committing the mnemonics to memory, first on the bottom two strings, and then on the top three strings.

Practice them in two ways:

  • Given a location on the fretboard, identify the note.
  • Given a note, find it on the fretboard. This is a bit harder. You’ll know you are making progress memorizing the notes on the fretboard when this exercise gets easier.

A good way to practice is to choose a single note, and find it everywhere on the fretboard. Use the diagrams from Appendix A: Notes on the Fretboard from the Fretboard Foundation book to help with this. Here’s an example:

Eventually, as we practice we’ll actually end up memorizing the other notes automatically. But we can begin by memorizing just these few.