The guitar is a magical instrument with a wide range of possibilities from classical to classic rock along with pop, country, blues, metal and a plethora of other genres. But, if you’re new to the art of playing this kind of instrument, you should know the ins and outs about the notes it produces.
Specifically, have you ever wondered how many notes are on a guitar? In short, there are a total of 37 or 49 notes depending on if it has 22 or 24 frets, respectively. This is because there are only 12 unique notes per octave. So, 22 frets has three octaves and ones with 24 have four.
However, due to the guitar being a two-dimensional instrument, some notes are redundant. What can add to this confusion is that guitars can have more or less strings and/or frets. So, for the purposes of simplicity, we will only refer to six-string guitars with either 22 or 24 frets.
Number of Notes on a Guitar
The number of notes on a guitar impinges on how many total frets the guitar has. If there are 22, then there are 37. If there are 24, then there are 49. For newcomers, the math may seem awkward. If there are three octaves on a 22 fretted guitar, then that means it’s 36, not 37, right?
The extra number indicates the first note played without touching the strings on the neck. These are the open values for notes, which we will discuss more later on.
All guitars have seven basic notes, also known as natural or primary notes, per string per octave. These are A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Most of these notes, not all, can also express as sharp or flat. You’ll see these written in music as ♯ for sharp notes and ♭ for flat notes.
To understand the increase of octaves in relationship to frets, you count to the 12th fret from the sixth to the first string. When you count beyond the 12th and go to the 24th, this adds another octave.
So, because guitars with 22 frets have three octaves, this means it can produce up to 37 notes. For 24 fretted guitars, you can create 49 different notes. Theoretically, the more frets and/or strings a guitar has, the more notes it can produce.
- 12 notes x 3 octaves + open value = 37
- 12 notes x 4 octaves + open value = 49
Some Terminology Clarification
The uninitiated may not know what an octave is or the difference between natural, sharp and flat notes. To understand the total number of notes and the ability to find them on your guitar, it’s imperative to understand this terminology.
Octaves are musical pitches that describe the distance between eight notes within a scale. Coming from the Latin word for “eighth,” these intervals (also called frets, semitones or half steps) double in frequency for the notes between A and G. These intervals divide into the 12 unique notes discussed above.
Sharp notes increase a prime note’s pitch whereas flat notes decrease it. Which one you use will depend on the key you’re playing in and the direction you’re moving on the neck. For a general guideline, select sharp notes going toward the headstock and flat notes for moving toward the body.
Finding the Notes on a Guitar
To find all 37 or 49 notes, you must know where the starting points are for each string. The starting point is the central playing area on the main body of the guitar. Also known as the open value, there is one string each for: E (low) – A – D – G – B – E (high).
On the neck, the notes start at A with two frets between each note that comes after it. However, when you get between B and C as well as E and F, there is only one fret. This reason for this is simple: these sharp and flat notes don’t exist.
The Low E String
To illustrate, go to the thickest string, the low E. Begin hitting it at the starting point and work your way up the neck to the headstock without stopping. However, only hit the natural notes, don’t bother with sharps or flats yet.
Now, do this with each string. You soon begin to notice how the notes A through G repeat for every octave until there aren’t any more frets on any given string. Tinkering around like this makes it easier to see how sharp and flat notes work to fill in the gaps of the natural notes.
In the process of hearing all the notes between A and G, the pitch will increase as you reach higher octaves and decrease as you approach lower ones. You’ll also notice how some notes repeat. Therefore, the same note could be both sharp and flat. The rule here is that you must pick one, as we will soon demonstrate.
A Visual Representation
The visual representation below lays out the notes in chronological order. Here, you can see the placement of sharp and flat notes. The backslash indicates which one to pick depending on the direction of movement and the numbers count all possible unique notes.
2. A♯ / B♭
5. C♯ / D♭
7. D♯ / E♭
10. F♯ / G♭
12. G♯ / A♭
But, we don’t read music vertically, we read it horizontally. So, it may be better view it as:
A – A♯ / B♭ [2 frets] – B [1 fret] – C – C♯ / D♭ [1 fret] – D – D♯ / E♭ [2 frets] – E [1 fret] – F – F♯ / G♭ [2 frets] – G – G♯ / A♭ [2 frets]
Understanding the Visuals
Both the vertical and horizontal visualizations symbolize a single octave layout on a guitar. To better explain the horizontal one, the dash (-) separates each note.
After every natural note, you can see sharp or flat notes separated by a backslash because they are the same note. The number with “frets” in brackets indicates the location of the fret on the guitar.
In reading left to right, you’ll select the sharp note to increase scale tonality. But, if you read from right to left, then you’ll select the flat note as a means of decrease. When you move toward the headstock, the sound gets noticeably lower and going toward the body will produce a higher sound.
Using Octave Patterns
One of the best ways to see how these notes sit on a guitar is to learn and practice octave patterns. Basically, locate all the patterns that produce a C note on your guitar and study each one. Some will use two frets while others will require three.
The ones that use two frets will need your index and ring fingers to produce the notes. For the three fret ones, it will be your index and pinky fingers. When you find each C pattern, play it. Once you have all of them, play them all the way through. These will repeat until you run out of frets.
However, to describe the process here in text format is a little difficult to convey. Plus, it’s imperative to understand and memorize where all the notes are, which is more important than recalling the total number of notes.
So, it’s advisable to watch, listen and pay close attention to someone doing this so you fully understand how it goes.
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Are there any guitars with more than 24 frets?
It’s unusual, but there are guitars with more than 24 frets. Ibanez produces a few:
MX4: 29 frets, only produced in 1989
XPT700XH: 27 frets, discontinued in 2014
RGA622XH: 27 frets, introduced 2023
Does memorizing the notes or number of notes on a guitar make it easier to play?
The answer to this will completely rely on everyone’s individual learning style. However, it stands to note that when in the middle of playing a song, you’re not necessarily thinking about the number of notes your guitar can play.
Rather it’s about the notes you intend to play. Therefore, memorizing the location of the notes will make it easier.
Final Thoughts on How Many Notes Are On A Guitar?
The number of notes on a guitar will depend on the strings and frets it has. However, for the sake of simplicity, we only discussed six-string guitars with either 22 or 24 frets. This means the maximum number of notes is either 37 or 49 because there are three or four octaves, respectively.
Additionally, the notes A through G will repeat with each octave, but sound higher or lower depending on the direction of travel on the neck. Doing this on a single string indicates a scale. But the only way to remember any of this is by memorizing the position of the notes.