+/- 5 Rule For Finding Notes

Getting familiar with your fretboard is hard because the notes always feel so scattered. Luckily there are certain things that can help us. One way is using the dots, another way is using octave patterns. This is another cool way to start making sense of it all (yes it does involve math, but don’t worry it’s math even a music major can grasp 😉 ).

Going to lower strings = +5!

To find the same note on a lower (lower in pitch) sound all you have to do is add 5 to the fret number it’s on and you’ll find that note. Look at the tab below.

I start with A on the 3rd string 2nd fret. If I want to find that exact A on the 4th string, I add 5 to 2 (… 5+2=… … 7 see I told you it wasn’t that bad) and we find A on the 4th string 7th fret. How about on the 5th string? 7+5 = 12. We’ll find that same A on the 5th string 12th fret. 12+5 = 17 so even the 6th string is found this way.

Going to higher strings = -5!

How about reverse? Yup, -5! That same A that’s found on the 17th fret 6th string is then found on the 12th fret on the 5th string (17-5=12).

This is a concept not too far away for some players… if they’ve ever tuned their guitar using the old fashioned, pre-Snark, days. You can tune your 5th string to your 6th string by comparing the 5th fret 6th string to open on the 5th string. Then 5th string 5th fret to 4th string open, then 4th string 5th fret to 3rd string open.

If you have tuned your guitar this way you know what’s next. If not, be prepared…. this is the stupid part of guitar:

3rd-2nd or 2nd-3rd is +/-4.

Why? Because whoever came up with Standard Tuning apparently liked to keep people on their toes. I have no good insight, but I’m sure someone out there knows. All I know is we have to be aware of our 3rd-2nd or 2nd-3rd movements. This is why in my earlier example I started with an A on the 3rd string. Now that we have the “bugaboo” strings out of the way, let’s look at an open E on the 1st (High E) string.

See 0+5 = 5, 5+4 (almost got ya!) = 9, 9+5 = 14, 14+5 = 19, 19+5=24 (if you have that many frets).

One way to help with this is to slide up the appropriate frets. While it’s important to understand what we’re doing, in playing guitar, the less I think (especially about math) the better I tend to do.

“But Garret, there are so many ways to learn the fretboard, will I ever just ‘get it’?”

Yes you will. The only secret I have is to USE everything. I’ve seen people say something like “choose a note a day and play it all over the fretboard”, and while that’s cool… it never clicks with me until I use it… ALL THE TIME. So if you’re a beginner and are using barre chords, think of those dots I went through as checkpoints and play every song you can using ONLY those checkpoints as reference. Once you get used to the 6th string roots, start anchoring your barre chords to the 4th string roots… in the same chord shape! You’re not playing anything differently, just thinking differently. If you’re soloing, try starting your scale/solo/lick on just the 3rd string, or the 2nd string root of the scale. It will take forever if you treat it like a test and it’ll never sink in.

Whatever you do, never count up fret by fret. If you’re looking for a D note on the 6th string it’ll take you forever and remember guitar teachers charge by the half hour. 😉

It’s the journey. Not the destination. Dig.