First Notes – The High E String

We’ve learned a little tablature. Today, we start notes. Actual, real notes. There are a few prerequisites to learning notes, so let’s get acquainted, shall we?
First, let’s look at the notes themselves:
Notes consist of up to three parts: Head, stem and flag (or beam.)
All of these parts go together to give us a complete note. The note head can be “open,” like a doughnut, or “closed,” like a balloon. An open note head with no stem or flag is called a Whole Note.
A whole note gets four beats. So if we go back to our metronome (yes, that means turn it on…) we hit the whole note on the first click and let it ring through the second, third and fourth clicks.
Half notes have open note heads and a stem.
Half notes get two beats. With the metronome still click-clacking away, hit the note on the first click and hold through the second click. A half note rest also gets two beats.
In tablature, there are six lines – one for each string, assuming you haven’t broken any yet. In standard notation, there are five lines. These lines do not necessarily correlate to any particular strings.
I can just hear the protesting. I know there are many people on the internet claiming that you can play the guitar without ever learning a note. I have two questions: Do you think those individuals can read notes? Are they offering to help you talk to your keyboardist or vocalist?
Anyone who can offer you a shortcut has that shortcut because of standard notation and music theory. The CAGED method is one you’ll see floating around a lot. “Learn to play the guitar by shape! Never learn another useless piece of music theory!” Um…doesn’t work. I tried teaching the CAGED method without music theory once. Just once. Seems you need a little knowledge before you can unlock the true power of the CAGED method.
There is a reason it’s called “standard notation.” Because it’s the same on every instrument. That means if you learn notes, you can play anything you want, even if it was written for piano or sax.
The point is there is no shortcut to being a great guitarist. There are a ton of tools that can make learning easier – but you still have to master certain principles to master the instrument.
So – back to those five lines, which, if you’re interested, go together to make a staff.
To the very left of the lines is something resembling a backwards “S.” That’s called the Treble Clef. There are different clefs and each one designates a different set of notes to be used. The Treble Clef basically says that the notes on the lines are E – G – B – D – F (Every Good Boy Does Fine) and the spaces in-between the lines are F – A – C – E.
What exactly does that mean? Well, it means if the note head is on a line (with the line seemingly piercing the note) then that note is a line note and can be any one of the five line notes on the staff.
Line-Space Notes
If the note head is in-between the lines, like a sandwich, it’s a space note and can be any one of the four space notes on the staff:
If the line note is on the very bottom line, it’s an E. The second line up from the bottom is G, etc. Likewise the bottom space is F and the second space from the bottom is A, etc.
Next to the clef, we have the Time Signature.
The Time Signature consists of a top number and a bottom number, kind of like a fraction. The top number (4) is the total number of beats in each measure. The bottom number (4) is the type of note that gets one beat – so in this case we have 4 beats to a measure and quarter notes get one beat.
A measure is a sort of musical organizational tool. Measures are separated by bar lines and each measure holds a certain number of beats. All that does is make the music easier to read. A double bar line represents the end of a section and a thick double bar line represents the end of a piece (or song.)
Right now, we are concerned with the very top string (the skinny one) which we will be calling High E from now on. When the note head is in the top space, we play the High E string without holding any frets down. This is called an “open” string.
These are whole notes, so remember to start your metronome, pluck the string on the first click and let the High E string ring through beats 2, 3 and 4.
If we press down the first fret on the first string (with the first finger, of course,) we get the note F and it sits on the very top line.
And for the last note we’re covering on the High E string for today, pressing down the third fret with the third finger, we get a G. Notice that G is actually sitting on top of the top line.
Let’s try putting that all together. Don’t forget your metronome!
Until next time…Play in the Key of YOU!

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