Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt
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Douglas Niedt's
Ultimate Note Recognition Trainer

and
Introduction to Music Notation


The Most In-Depth Note Recognition Course
on the Planet. And it's FREE!

Begin your journey on the road to Guitar Fretboard Literacy.
Learn to recognize the notes on the musical staff.


Douglas Niedt's Guitar Fretboard Literacy Project

The Ultimate Note Recognition Trainer and Ultimate Fretboard Trainer
are parts of Douglas Niedt's Guitar Fretboard Literacy Project.

Yes, you can learn to play the guitar by only reading tablature or playing by ear. If your knowledge of the fretboard is weak, you can limp through. But when you confidently know the notes on your fretboard and know what they look like on the musical staff, your musical life will be far richer.

Fretboard Literacy will open the doors to your full development as a guitarist, musician, or artist. Learning the fretboard will enhance your ability to successfully explore countless music styles and provide a deeper understanding of the pieces you learn. You will learn songs more quickly, easily, and play them much better.

Learning the notes on the fretboard and what they look like on the musical staff is fun and rewarding. Fretboard Literacy will make you more confident in yourself and your musical abilities. It will help you make the most of the musical opportunities that come your way. Fretboard Literacy is also the first step toward complete musical literacy.

The Ultimate Note Recognition Trainer
and
Introduction to Music Notation

For Serious Guitarists Only

This course is for guitarists who are serious about learning to recognize the notes on the musical staff. It is not just one software app. You will learn the basics of music notation, do writing exercises, and use the trainers to apply that knowledge. Ten separate trainers will test and reinforce your note reading skills.

THE COURSE IS FREE. The software trainers are safe with no malware or advertisements and work on any browser on your computer, iPad, tablet, or phone. It doesn't matter if you are on Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS. They are browser-based, so you must have an internet connection.

This course and the trainers only teach you to read the names of the notes on, above, and below the staff. They do not cover rhythmic notation, time signatures, key signatures, and other elements of music notation.

The Staff

The staff is the most basic of all musical symbols and the foundation for everything that follows. The staff is an arrangement of five parallel lines and the spaces between them. For reference purposes, we number the lines and spaces. We count them from the bottom to the top of the staff.

Music staff with numbered lines and spaces

Our musical alphabet consists of a repeated sequence of seven notes: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Each of those lines and spaces will represent a letter or note of the musical alphabet. But how do we know what letter to assign to which line or space? A symbol called the clef will tell us that.

The Treble Clef

There are several different clefs, but the one that applies most often to guitar music is the treble clef. It is a fancy cursive symbol, an ornamental Latin letter G:

The Treble Clef

We place the clef at the left end of the staff. If we set it in place as shown below, we call it the G clef.

Music staves with treble clef

We call it the G clef because the inner swirl of the symbol wraps around staff line #2, defining that line as the location of the letter or note G.

The treble clef defines the second staff line as G

Therefore, if our G clef defines line #2 as G, we can assign the rest of our musical alphabet letter names to their appropriate line or space, keeping in mind that the note sequence moves alphabetically up the staff:

The treble clef determines the names of the lines and spaces of the staff

Therefore the five lines from the bottom up represent E-G-B-D-F. The five spaces represent F-A-C-E. We can use mnemonics or word cues to help us remember the names:

We use mnemonics for the staff lines and spaces

Note Symbols

In music notation, we place graphic note symbols on the lines or in the spaces in place of the letter names.

The notes on the lines and in the spaces of the staff

Here are all the notes on the staff in sequence:

All the notes on the staff in sequence

By the way, notes placed lower on the staff are lower in pitch than those placed higher on the staff. You also may notice that there are two Es and two Fs on the staff. I will explain more about that later. For now, remember that although they have the same letter name, they are in two different locations.

IMPORTANT! Practice writing the notes that fall on the staff.

One of the best ways to learn the notes is to write them out on a sheet of manuscript paper. Do not try to learn too many in one sitting. Write them out over several days until you know them with 100% confidence.

  1. Before going on, download some blank manuscript staff paper here and in pencil, practice writing out the notes that fall on the staff LINES. Use the open oval notehead symbols shown above. You can use the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine" to help you remember the location of each note. Practice writing them in forward (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and reverse (G-F-E-D-C-B-A) sequential order. Then write them in random order.
  2. Next, practice writing out the notes in the staff SPACES. You can use the word "face" to help you remember the location of each note. Mix them up randomly.
  3. Finally, write out all the notes on both the lines and spaces. Write them out in forward and reverse sequential order and then randomly.

The Anatomy of a Note Symbol

Individual note symbols are a combination of up to three elements: the notehead, the stem, and flag(s).

The notehead is an oval shape that is either open (white) or closed (black or solid). Either can be on a line or in a space:

open and closed noteheads

The stem is a thin vertical line that is attached to the notehead. When the stem is pointing up, it joins on the right side of the notehead. When the stem is pointing down, it touches the notehead on the left side. The direction of the stem does not affect the note, but it makes notation easier to read and less cluttered.

Open and closed noteheads with stems

These are the rules on stem placement:

  1. If the notehead is below the centerline (line #3): The stem points upward with the stem on the right side of the notehead.
  2. If the notehead is on or above the centerline: The stem points downward with the stem on the left side of the notehead.
Rules on stem direction and placement

A flag is a curved stroke attached to the end of the stem of a closed notehead. Whether the stem points up or down, we always draw the flag to the stem's right.

Adding flags to a stem

For easier reading, sometimes we use note beams to join together two or more flagged notes:

Joining two or more flagged notes with beams

We can add additional flags or beams to a stem to indicate shorter (faster notes). As you read to the right, the duration of the notes is shorter (the notes are faster) than those to the left

Mix of 8ths, 16ths, 32nds, 64ths with flags and beams

These different varieties of notes have specific names that indicate their rhythmic duration. In the following example, as you read to the right, the duration of the notes is shorter (the notes are faster) than those to the left.

Names for the rhythmic value of the notes

In the example above, I use the note "E" to illustrate the whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. However, any pitch (letter name) can be a whole, half, quarter, or eighth note. We combine pitches and their rhythmic duration in countless ways. They are the building blocks of standard music notation.

However, for our purposes of learning the names of the notes, for now, these names are not important. But knowing these will be necessary as you learn to sightread and learn how to count rhythms.

IMPORTANT: It does not matter if a note is open or closed, has a stem, has a flag(s), or is part of a beam(s)—the note name (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) is the same.

Only the position of the notehead on the different lines or spaces determines the name of the note.

These are all the same note

By the way, for ease of reading, both the Ultimate Note Recognition Trainers and Ultimate Fretboard Trainers only use closed noteheads with a stem (quarter notes):

Note with closed notehead and stem which is a quarter note

Also, although you will usually see the standard treble clef used in published guitar music, guitar music sounds an octave lower than written. Therefore, technically, the correct clef to use (and the one used in the Ultimate Note Recognition Trainers and Ultimate Fretboard Trainers, is the octave treble clef:

Octave treble clef

The little "8" below the clef indicates the notes sound an octave lower than written. But again, most publishers use the plain treble clef.



IMPORTANT! Practice writing all the notes on the staff as quarter notes.

Download some blank manuscript staff paper here and in pencil, practice writing out the notes on the staff again. But this time, write them in quarter notes (a closed or solid oval with a stem).

Remember to follow the rules on stem placement:

  1. If the notehead is below the centerline (line #3): The stem points upward with the stem on the right side of the notehead.
  2. If the notehead is on or above the centerline: The stem points downward with the stem on the left side of the notehead.

Write the notes in forward and reverse sequential order. Then write them out randomly.





Accidentals

In Western music, we place signs called sharps or flats to the left of a notehead to raise or lower the pitch by a half-step (also called a semitone), which on the guitar is one fret. Sharps and flats belong to a class of symbols called accidentals.

The symbol that looks like a pound sign or hashtag is a sharp sign. It indicates that we should raise the note one fret (half-step or semitone). Here are a few examples.

Examples of sharps

The symbol that looks like a lowercase "B" (b) is a flat sign. As its name suggests, this symbol indicates that we should lower the pitch by one fret (half-step or semitone). Here are a few examples.

Examples of flats

You will also encounter an accidental called a natural sign. This sign cancels a sharp or flat note, restoring it to its standard pitch.

Examples of naturals

Enharmonic Notes

Two notes that are the same pitch (they sound the same) but are "spelled" differently are called enharmonic notes or enharmonic equivalents.

For example, F# and Gb are the same pitch—they are both located on the guitar at the 2nd fret on the 1st string.

Enharmonic note examples

We are getting ahead of ourselves, but you can see numerous examples of two letter-names at the same fret in the diagram below. Likewise, on the staff diagram, you see examples of a sharp note and a flat note at the same fret. These are all enharmonic notes.

Fretboard and staff diagram

You may wonder, "How do I know whether to call an enharmonic note a sharp or a flat?" Generally, if we move up a scale, melody, or up the fretboard toward the 12th fret, it makes sense to call the note a sharp because when we move up one fret from the standard pitch, we are sharpening that note. Similarly, if we move down a scale, melody, or down the fretboard toward the 1st fret, it makes sense to call the note a flat because when we move down one fret from the standard pitch, we are flattening that note.

Octaves

I mentioned earlier that we have two Es and two Fs on the staff. Sometimes, notes have the same letter-name but are located in different positions on, above, or below the staff. They also sound different. We call these octaves:

E and F octaves

Here are all the octaves of the natural notes on the guitar:

All of the natural notes and their octaves

You are familiar with the notes on the staff. But as you see above, there are also notes above and below the staff with short horizontal lines. The short lines are called ledger lines.

Ledger Lines

Notice that I said we have notes on, above, or below the staff. Although the musical alphabet only consists of seven letter-names, and we have only nine notes on the staff, there are far more notes than just those. And, we have six open strings and more than twelve frets on the classical guitar, so we have more than 80 notes. Where are all those notes?

Part of the answer is that the sequence A-B-C-D-E-F-G repeats over and over and that each note can also be a sharp and a flat. The other part of the answer is that we add short, evenly-spaced horizontal lines called ledger lines to extend the staff upward and downward.

Ledger lines extend the staff up and down

We use these ledger lines to notate pitches above and below the staff. These notes follow the same order (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and naming pattern as the notes on the staff.

Ledger lines continue the same space-line order

We write ledger lines as short lines covering the span of the notehead to help you see the lines and spaces.

Ledger lines extend the staff upward
Ledger lines extend the staff downward

As with the notes on the lines and spaces of the staff, we can use mnemonic phrases to learn the ledger lines and spaces.

Mnemonic phrases for ledger lines above the staff

Or we can reuse the traditional "Every Good Boy Does Fine" (this time for the spaces) and "face" (this time for the lines) to remember the notes.

Traditional mnemonic phrases for ledger lines above the staff

The Note Recognition Trainers use the phrases "All Cows Eat Grass" and "Grizzly Bears Don't Fly Airplanes" as the mnemonic phrases of choice.

Important! Practice writing the notes of the ledger lines and spaces ABOVE the staff.

  1. Before going on, download some more blank manuscript staff paper here and in pencil, practice writing out the notes that fall on the ledger LINES. Use closed (solid) noteheads with a stem on the left side of the notehead pointing down (quarter notes). You can use the phrase "All Cows Eat Grass" or "face" to help you remember the location of each note. Practice writing them in ascending and reverse sequential order. Then write them in random order.
  2. Next, practice writing out the notes in the ledger SPACES. You can use the phrase "Grizzly Bears Don't Fly Airplanes" or the traditional phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine" to help you remember the notes. Practice writing them in ascending and reverse sequential order. Then write them in random order.
  3. Finally, write out ALL the notes on both the lines and spaces. Write them out in forward and reverse sequential order and then randomly.


The Note Recognition Trainers use only the ledger-line notes shown below. These are the ledger-line notes you will see most frequently in beginning and intermediate guitar music.

Ledger line notes common in beginning and intermediate guitar music

The trainers do not use these ledger-line notes. Usually, you will only see these notes in advanced guitar music.

Ledger line notes used in advanced guitar music


We can also use mnemonics to learn the ledger line notes below the staff.

Mnemonic phrases for the ledger line notes below the staff

Important! Practice writing the notes of the ledger lines and spaces BELOW the staff.

  1. Before going on, download some more blank manuscript staff paper here and in pencil, practice writing out the notes that fall in the ledger SPACES below the staff. Use closed (solid) noteheads with a stem on the right side of the notehead pointing up (quarter notes). You can use the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine" to help you remember the location of each note. Practice writing them in ascending and reverse sequential order. Then write them in random order.
  2. Next, practice writing out the notes on the ledger LINES. You can use the word "Face" to help you remember the notes. Practice writing them in ascending and reverse sequential order. Then write them in random order.
  3. Finally, write out ALL the notes on both the lines and spaces. Write them out in forward and reverse sequential order and then randomly.




More About Octaves

Now that you know the notes on, above, and below the staff, it is time to practice recognizing octaves:

All the natural notes and octaves on the guitar through the 12th fret

Important! Practice writing the octaves of the natural notes.

Before going on, download some more blank manuscript staff paper here and in pencil, practice writing out the octaves of each natural note: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Use closed (solid) noteheads with the stems placed correctly, as in the example above. Practice writing them in ascending and reverse sequential order. Then write them in random order.





The Final Frontier

Congratulations! Now you know ALL the names and locations of the notes on, above, and below the staff that you will encounter in beginning and intermediate classical guitar music.



Try the Note Recognition Trainer for ALL THE NOTES on, above, and below the staff.

For desktop-laptop-iPad, tablet:

Test your knowledge of ALL the notes on, above, and below the staff.


For phones only:

Test your knowledge of ALL the notes on, above, and below the staff.



Once you are confident of the note names and their locations on, above, and below the staff, proceed to the Ultimate Fretboard Trainer.