SMG Guitar Lesson #3: The Range of the Guitar

GUITAR FUN FACT!

The guitar has a four octave range, starting with Low E on the open sixth string and moving up through Middle E on the second fret of the fourth string, High E on the open first string, Upper E on the twelfth fret of the first string, and through the upper notes beyond the twelfth fret. Here’s an illustration of what this looks like on the music staff using the natural notes.

HOW TO PLAY THAT NOTE

Most guitars only have 22 frets, but on a guitar with 24 frets, you can even reach the upper upper most octave of E on the twenty-fourth fret of the first string.

So from Low E to Middle E, Middle E to High E, High E to Upper E, and Beyond Upper E, that’s four whole octaves. This even gives the range of the piano a run for it’s money!

Now, here’s the most interesting thing about the guitar that makes learning to read guitar music notoriously challenging; Unlike the piano or most any other instruments, there is often more than one way to play each note on the guitar. In fact, there is sometimes as many as four or five ways to play the exact same note! There’s a lot of duplicate notes on the guitar. So even if you know how to read music and see a note on a page of traditional sheet music, that still doesn’t necessarily tell you which string or fret you’re supposed to play. That’s why we have “Tab.”

“Tab” is short for “table of numbers”, and is an age-old system that’s been handed down ever since it was invented by lute players in the renaissance.

It’s kind of mind-blowing when you think about how many people spent their entire lives perfecting the systems we use today over the course of hundreds of years…. just so you can learn in a short while what might have taken some poor lute player in the middle ages his whole life to figure out. Plus the guitar is way cooler than the lute, so sometimes I can’t help but feel sorry for those guys…So we have a lot to be thankful for.

Anyway, back to learning the layout of the guitar.

With the duplicate notes included, the layout of the guitar looks something like this:

So the next time you find yourself stuck in your comfort zone, just remember, there is a lot more room to push the envelope than meets the eye.

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  • Johnny Lee (No BS Guitar)

    LOL… some poor lute player spent an entire lifetime figuring out TAB. Yeah maybe… But you are right about one thing. We sure as hell take for granted the highly complex (and optimized) systems that are required to play the guitar. The weird EADGBE tuning itself is one prime example. It’s designed to be moving in Fourths from string to string, but skips that between G and B to prevent a tritone. Now when you think about that, it’s kinda cool. And furthermore, you’ll realize that not only is it genius, but it’s what allows us to have an easy way of holding every possible major and minor chord there is. A different tuning might be the difference between being able to hold an F major barre chord and not being able to do that at all. Insane when you think about it. Anyhoo… Great lesson.

    ~Johnny

  • JoeS

    The lute got a lot cooler since Sting started playing it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcvF6SI0A8s

  • And then there’s the new Ibanez guitar that goes up to 30 frets and adds an extra half octave…

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