Learning the Fretboard

One thing that confuses some guitar beginners is that many of the same chords and licks can be played in more than one position on the fretboard. Unlike the piano, where there is only one key for each note in the different octaves, the guitar has potentially five different positions for the same note, or set of notes – this obviously depends on which note/s are under consideration.

The following example shows the five different positions for playing middle C on the guitar (the guitar is a transposing instrument and sounds an octave lower than written).

Middle C

A set of eighth notes, such as the following

Eighth notes

can be played with the same fingering (except for the final set). Or, it can be played with different fingerings for some and the same for others

Eighth different

Once the five positions of middle C have been established on the fretboard, its location can be used as an aid for learning the other notes on the neck.

Likewise, this C major triad can be played across the five positions


The first position must be played as a second inversion as there isn’t a G note above the E in this position. The other four positions produce familiar shapes for major triads with their roots on the low E, A, D, and G strings respectively. These shapes are the same for all major triads with their roots found on these strings.


With this knowledge the fretboard starts to become more familiar, and other chord shapes can be practised; such as minor triads


The first position is not usable for minor triads because there isn’t an E flat available. Like the major triads, however, these minor triad shapes are the same in all keys, when the roots are on the respective strings.

Diminished triads


As with the minor triads, the first position is  not usable for the diminished triads, but their shapes are the same for each string group (the diminished triad can potentially have three different root notes because of its symmetrical shape).

Augmented triads


The first position is also not usable for the augmented triads. And, like the diminished triads, augmented triads have a symmetrical construction which gives them the potential to have three different root notes.

Don’t forget the octave duplications for all the chords across the entire fretboard. For example, the other octave positions for the C major triads are as follows


With a bit of investigation, it will become apparent that the lowest note on the fretboard which has multiple positions is the A on the fifth fret, low E string, which is the same note as the open A string

low A


The A major triad and its octave positions would look like this


A large part of the fretboard may be mapped using the idea of multiple positions. And if different triad shapes and complex chord shapes are constructed in each position, for all twelve keys, the fretboard’s logic will soon become easier to see.