How Many Notes Are On a Guitar?

Updated August 15th, 2023 . 

Published Categorized as Basic Techniques, Reading Music and Tab

Are you just taking those first crucial steps from the womb of ignorance into the world of guitar mastery? Are you, thus, looking to expand your knowledge of the guitar with some precise and ardent learning for your ever expanding mind and your ever palpitating passion for the guitar? Are you simply looking to brush up on a few key things that you hope to get you out of the instrumental rut you might have found yourself in?

Then look no further, for today we will be answering your cries and elucidating for you about just how many notes there are on a guitar and how best to go about judging for yourself how many there are on your own guitar.

how many notes are on a guitar

Open Guitar String Notes

Where better to start than with the open guitar strings themselves. All the notes laid before us in this way, if tuned to a regular tuning like standard tuning, will almost always be the same (unless of course the tuning is done to a slightly different temperament, as is the case for an artist like Mac Demarco, who uses a standard tuning that is slightly detuned to give his music an aged and nostalgic feeling).

But what exactly is standard tuning, and how to use a guitar tuner?

Well, for most, standard tuning means tuning the open strings to E – A – D – G – B – E in order of the lowest string E to the high E string. There are some memorable acronyms and pneumonics for remembering the open strings. A classic is Every Adult Dog Growls Barks Eats, corresponding from the lowest pitch upwards as before.

My own creation, fond as I am of nonsensical flights of fancy through the logic of the subconscious, goes something like: Eat Apples Dressed Gold Before Evening. Hopefully, the stark difference between these two creations goes some way to illustrating just how open this part of the learning process is to the involvement of the aspiring guitarist in question.

So, if the guitar is tuned to standard tuning, then all the guitar fretboard notes will be the same, regardless of what the guitar or where it is from, etc.

Notes on a guitar are best learned and absorbed through the user’s own means, and so it would be much better for them at this early stage to involve their own cognitive abilities and subconscious leanings in the process of learning as much as possible.

This can create a healthy and righteous precedent for the absorbing of information like this in the future, or even the use of this information in real world contexts such as exploring the 6th string on the guitar, without much forethought and through muscle memory and the like.

Up to the 12th Fret

The surface of a fretboard sure can look overwhelming at first. There is a whole host of seemingly nameless and faceless bars and trenches laid out before you, nowhere really to hold onto. At least on a piano, there are repetitions of some of the shapes and colors! There must be hundreds of different notes on this fretboard, how is anyone supposed to get the hang of this!?

In actual fact, the guitar fretboard and the first 12 frets are a piece of cake once you get your head around them. For one, there are nowhere near as many notes as might first appear. Though the ceaseless rows of the same shape give the impression of a relentless horde of approaching soldiers, there are plenty of repetitions within the roster for you to hold onto, both sharp and flat notes (and natural notes too).

In western theory, there are only 12 chromatic notes in an octave chromatic scale, going from one pitch to the same pitch but in a higher octave. So, if we take the lowest note on the lowest string (E) as our first note and go up in pitch, it will only take 12 ascensions before we reach the same pitch again, though this time in a higher pitch.

Within the first 12 frets of the guitars, there are only opportunities for three octaves of guitar notes. Taking that same low E and ascending upwards, it will take three octaves to reach the E pitch as represented on the highest E string on the 12th fret, meaning that there are a total of 36 or 37 notes within the first 12 frets of the guitars (depending on how you look at it).

Though this seems to be uncorroborated by the sheer amount of frets on the guitar fretboard, even within the first 12 frets, it is completely true, and something that sheet music seems to validate considerably, for it has no place for the representing of note placement, and technically a person could place a note on sheet music wherever they chose to or wherever was most convenient.

12th Fret & Beyond

So, conceivably, if there are repetitions in the pitches within the bounds of the first 12 frets, it stands to reason that this same logic will persist once we breach the borderline, and if you are presently surmising like so, you would be right!

However, this is where things get a little murkier, more nebulous. For, though we can depend on just about every guitar having notes up to 12 frets, it is from here that there can be next to no certainty. There is little regularity nor average and mean amounts of frets on guitars, both electric and acoustic.

Some guitars, for example, have 12 more frets after the octave 12 fret boundary, going all the way up to the 24th fret and into the guitar’s body. These kinds of guitars are built accordingly to accommodate for this extra expanse of pitch and octave.

Likewise, and in a particular example, my own acoustic guitar, a parlor guitar by those wizards over at Takamine, has around 21 frets, but is inhibited considerably by the shape.

The typical dreadnought shape is built so as to accommodate explorations of the upper echelons of pitch, allowing plenty of room for the guitarist in question to move and to explore as they wish via a mellow and rounded cutaway on the underside of the body near the fretboard.

A parlor guitar shape, by contrast, does not have any such cutaway shape, meaning the body begins to encroach on the freedom of the guitarist in the upper echelons of pitch from around the 12th fret mark. This makes progressing past this point far more difficult than it might otherwise be, unless you intend to become a contortionist of sorts.

Thankfully, this lack also works in my favor, for the guitar is constructed in such a way as to lean far more towards mid range frequencies, which works amply below the 12th fret mark.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully you are now feeling much better able to navigate the otherwise daunting and faceless rows of notes on the guitar fretboard, safe in the knowledge that they are more or less just the same 12 chromatic notes repeating like a delay tail off into the upper echelons of pitch and into the outer void of tonality and timbre. Peace!

FAQs How Many Notes are on a Guitar

How many notes there are on a guitar?

There is no ubiquitous one size fits all number of notes on a guitar, and I think this is a good thing, otherwise all guitars would have to accommodate for it, meaning there would be far less freedom of expression even in the construction and manufacture of guitars. Most guitars can, however, be relied upon to have at least 12 frets, which, if tuned to standard tuning, is equivalent to around 37 notes, wherein the low E is repeated 3 times in 3 octaves before reaching the 12th fret of the high E string.

What are the 12 notes on a guitar?

The 12 notes on a guitar, as on almost any instrument constructed within the bounds of western musical philosophy, are: C – C# / Db – D – D# / Eb – E – F – F# / Gb – G – G# / Ab – A – A# / Bb – B. At the end, the notes repeat again, ever increasing in pitch until more or less inaudible except by certain animals with exemplary hearing e.g. dogs, cats, etc.

How many C notes are in a 22 fret guitar?

If tuned to standard tuning, there would be 5 middle C’s, meaning that there are a whole bunch more C’s littered around the fretboard for your discovering. This is only withing the bounds of standard tuning, however, for there are a whole bunch of other tunings that would drastically alter the course of one’s pitch explorations and such. If, for instance, the guitar was tuned to C standard or drop C, then the answer would be a wholly different story.

How many notes are there on a guitar fretboard?

There is no ubiquitous one size fits all number of notes on a guitar, and I think this is a good thing, otherwise all guitars would have to accommodate for it, meaning there would be far less freedom of expression even in the construction and manufacture of guitars. Most guitars can, however, be relied upon to have at least 12 frets, which, if tuned to standard tuning, is equivalent to around 37 notes, wherein the low E is repeated 3 times in 3 octaves before reaching the 12th fret of the high E string.

Is guitar easier than piano?

This is ever a point of contention between staunch instrumentalists on either side of the great divide, though it is my own understanding from talking to members of both sides that they are rather difficult to compare and that the whole exercise of doing so is almost entirely futile anyhow. They both offer different things, so it would probably be best to weigh these differing factors up rather than to judge which is easier than which. A guitar, for example, is going to offer more freedom of expression and less of a barrier between the user and the instrument, for the musician’s fingers are touching the strings directly. The harmonic possibilities on a piano, however, are likely to be more advanced, if only owing to how it is easier to extend harmonies on a keyboard.

What are the 7 notes on a guitar?

On a guitar, as with any instrument calibrated and manufactured to work within the bounds of western musical theory and tonality, there are 12 chromatic notes within an octave. 7 of these notes are natural notes, meaning that they are not altered in any way, not augmented (sharpened and raised in pitch), or diminished (flattened and lowered in pitch). These 7 notes often form the basis of much folk music and is oft called the diatonic scale.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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