Note Names on the Bass Guitar Fingerboard

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Note Names on the Bass Guitar Fingerboard

Don't be intimidated by all of the frets on the bass neck!  This instrument is actually laid out very logically, and I'd like to show you how easy it is to figure out the name of any note on your fingerboard.

The musical "alphabet" uses only the first seven letters A-G, and a few "in-between" notes, which we call accidentals.  Here's what you need to remember: There is always an accidental in between each two letters, except between E-F and between B-C.  

In other words, the note D is two frets up from C. Then E is two frets up from D.  But F is only going to be one fret up from E (no accidental in between them).  Then G will be two frets up from F, and so on. 

This is true everywhere on the fingerboard, all of the time.  So if you know the names of the starting points, the open strings, then you should be able to work out all of the other note names up from there.  

By the way, the accidentals can either be thought of as raised notes ("sharps" symbolized by #), or as lowered notes ("flats" symbolized by b).  So here are the notes on the first seven frets of the E string:

E string notes

Notice that there is no accidental between the open E and F on the first fret.  I've written all of the accidentals in the above fingerboard diagram as sharps.  Of course, I could also think of them as flats:

E string notes flats

Whether to indicate sharps or flats depends on context, mainly determined by the key of the song.  For now, learn all accidentals by both names.  Let's move on to the A string:

A string notes

Can you name all of those A string notes using flats instead of sharps?  Answer: A-Bb-B-C-Db-D-Eb-E

Okay, let's move on to the D string.  This time, you tell me the last three note names:

D string notes

Answer: G-G#-A  Of course, again the sharps could be renamed as flats.

And finally, the G string notes, using flats this time just for kicks.  You get to name all the notes above A:

G string notes

Answer: Bb-B-C-Db-D

You can continue on beyond the 7th fret in this way, all the way up to the highest fret on your bass neck.  Check your accuracy by seeing if you arrive back at the starting note name at the 12th fret.  In other words, the note at the 12th fret on any string should have the same name as the open string where you started.

The same principle applies to learning notes on the low B or high C strings for a five or six string bass.  It will take awhile for all these notes to become thoroughly familiar, but now you know how to figure them out.  As I mentioned before, all you need to remember are the open string names, and the simple rule: There is always an accidental in between each two letters, except between E-F and between B-C.

© Doug Ross 2014