Let's begin by discussing the proper naming of guitar strings.
It is important to note that the thickest string is considered the "lowest" string in terms of pitch, not physical placement on the guitar.
This can sometimes be confusing for those who are just starting out. They may mistakenly believe that "lowest" refers to the string that is closest to the ground.
The lowest string is referred to as the "E" string, and the highest string is also labeled as an "E". If you start from the 6th string (low E) closest to you, the guitar strings are named in the following order:
6th String: low E
5th String: A
4th String: D
3rd String: G
2nd String: B
1st String: high E
Seems like a lot to remember right?
It’s not that hard if you take a little time to memorize it… and it’s important. It really is helpful for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is to make it easier and faster when someone is explaining where to put you fingers on the guitar neck.
It's the difference between “put your fingers there and there… no, not there… THERE”, and “put your first finger on the B string, second fret“.
Let's talk about some ways to memorize the guitar string names.
How to Memorize the Guitar String Names
So one way to learn string names on guitar is to quiz yourself a little bit at a time. Start by naming a string, then identify it. You can also try breaking it up into groups. I don’t expect you remember it yet.
Try it now! Pluck your strings, and say their name. Try going 6th string to 1st, and 1st string to 6th.
(1st to 6th) E – B – G – D – A – E
(6th to 1st) E – A – D – G – B – E
If you do this a little bit each day for a week, you’ll have it down in no time. At some point, try quizzing yourself on all of the strings going up and down.
Another aspect of this is that some people refer to the strings by numbers. So instead of calling the strings “A” or “low E”, they’ll refer to them as “5th string” or “6th string”.
Another way the memorize the guitar string names is to use a mnemonic… a phrase as a crutch. One popular one is Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.
Even though it's a little tedious at first I find the repetition method I described above more effective. Like training wheels on a bicycle, you have to know when to let go of the crutch to gain real facility.
There's no reason you couldn't use both methods.
Numbering Systems: the Fretboard
Now that you know your guitar string names (and numbers), it’s time to learn about the other numbering system: the frets.
The first fret is the space between the nut and the first metal bar on your fretboard; then count up from there.
Some guitars have dots on the side of the neck and on the fretboard to help you see when you’re playing. Normally on an acoustic guitar there are dots on the 3rd, 5th, 9th and 12th frets.
If you have them, great, if not, don’t really don't worry about it. You’ll memorize where they are soon enough.
Know Your Finger Numbers
Next we want to number the fingers on your left hand. Your index finger is the “first finger”, middle is second, and so on.
Your fourth finger is sometimes just called your little finger, or pinky. First, second and third fingers are the most common that you’ll see for numbering.
This is particularly helpful when you’re making chords. For example, you can just say, “fourth finger, 3rd fret, 2nd string”.
Try one now! Let’s try the D chord…
First put your 2nd finger on the 2nd fret of your 1st string.
Then put your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret of your 2nd string.
Finally put your 1st finger on the 2nd fret of your 3rd string
Time to Practice
I encourage you to practice a little bit of this everyday. Go through the names of guitar strings, the numbers of the strings and give yourself a little test.
Name a string and a fret and a finger to use and see if you can place it, or ask a friend to quiz you!
In the next lesson I’ll go over some very practical ways to help you to hold the guitar properly. Head on over to… >> Lesson #4 How to Hold A Guitar
See you then!
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