Do Guitarists Know Every Note? [Explained]

On a guitar, there are 12 unique notes. In theory, this sounds and is easy to memorize. Although, all of the notes repeat at different octaves which creates a larger catalog of note frequencies or tones that can be played.

Do guitarists know every note? The average guitarist does not know every note on the fretboard. Professional and performing guitarists often do know every note on the fretboard because it is a masterful knowledge base to have when writing songs and improvising during shows.

Continue reading to find out if you truly need to know every note on the fretboard and the song you are learning, what guitarists do, and how long it would take to memorize the fretboard.

do guitarists know every note

Do I Need to Know Every Note On the Guitar?

To play guitar, you do not need to know every note on the guitar. Learning every note on the fretboard can become a mundane and tedious task that discourages motivation actually to play. Instead, focus on learning the root notes for your preferred keys to play in.

When I first started learning guitar, I had an in-person teacher. This lasted about 2 months… Anyway, this teacher insisted I learn every note on the fretboard. He would quiz me each week by fretting a note and asking me what it was. To his and my dismay, I often got it wrong. This school-like approach to learning guitar did not work for me and I quickly found the guitar to be just another boring task.

I quit.

My teenage disdain for how I thought everyone learned guitar quickly faded and I realized I do not need to know every note and I picked up the guitar again.

To bring this back to the topic at hand, no you do not need to know every note on the guitar. On average, most guitarists do not know every note and can play just fine without.

If you are looking to write your own music or improve your improvising, then I suggest dabbling in learning the fretboard in and out. Although it is not necessary if the process seems too mundane for you.

Do Guitarists Know Every Note

The average guitarist does not know every note on the fretboard. Professional guitarists often know every note on the fretboard. Professional guitarists are skilled improvisers and can construct complex chord patterns via their knowledge of the fretboard.

On The Fretboard:

Professional guitarists will likely know every note on the fretboard. This is especially the case for guitarists who write their own music or improvise heavily.

There are many benefits to learning each note on the fretboard when you are at this level of guitar playing. Forming various chords around root notes, not having to rely on traditional “shapes” for solos, easier flow between major and minor, etc.

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If playing in the key of C, it is helpful to know where your root notes are as well as the root notes of the chord progression you are following. When playing in multiple keys throughout your guitar journey, you will find it helpful but not necessary to know the notes on the fretboard in totality. Mostly an ease of access standpoint when playing.

On a Song – Do Guitarists Memorize Songs:

So do guitarists memorize songs? Specifically, I am going to talk about professional and performing guitarists.

Guitarists often memorize the chord patterns and notes accompanying a song. The chords themselves are up for interpretation. Lynyrd Skynyrd was famous for playing every song almost exactly as it sounds on the record when playing live. This includes the solos as well. For them, they memorized songs. And yes, this includes the long and detailed solo to Free Bird.

Other bands like Grateful Dead and Dead Company were almost the opposite. They would know the chord patterns and general flow of the song, but the majority of their concerts are improvisational and not memorized.

So there are two sides of the spectrum to this question that exists. A band that improvises vs. one that does not. Jerry Garcia did not know every single note of the songs he played nor did he memorize the song. Lynyrd Skynrd did know every single note on their live songs and did memorize them.

How Long Does it Take to Memorize the Fretboard?

To memorize the fretboard via the applied method of playing while memorizing, it will take 1-2 months. To memorize the fretboard via the paper method will take 1 week.

Two different paths can be taken to memorizing the fretboard, each with different timetables.

The studious approach (also known as the paper method) is simply memorizing it as you see it on paper. This is much like school where it does not get applied until after memorization occurs. This involves printing out a diagram of the fretboard with each note labeled and memorizing it. The first part of memorizing the fretboard on paper can be done fast, roughly one week if proper time is allocated.

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The second path is applied learning. Which is what I much prefer. This means learning the fretboard as you play. Studying the different notes and then playing them until it becomes second nature. This path takes much longer to memorize the fretboard as the upfront learning is more drawn out. Although, this path is much better in the long run as your understanding of the fretboard will translate to playing much more easily. Through consistent practice and learning, the applied path of memorizing the fretboard will take 1-2 months.

Best Way to Learn the Fretboard

The best way to learn the fretboard is by learning each note for each string, one at a time. Follow the string up each fret and say the note out loud. Memorization will occur but most importantly, an understanding will be established.

Understand why some notes skip a fret and become a sharp note in between the skipped note.

Do this for each string. Only go on to the next string once you fully know each note of the current string. After an understanding of all strings is accomplished, start picking out random spots on the fretboard and naming the note.

Remember to play chords around these notes to establish a better understanding of how these newly learned notes are applied.

A great video to watch is linked here.

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