What note is that string suppose to be?

I have decided to begin my guitar adventure using a set of courses though YouTube. They are offered by a channel called Andy Guitar. I discovered him a couple of years ago through my own personal exploration of piano-based channels. Andy offers a sister channel Andy Piano, which offers similar services (lessons, basics, and some classic songs).

Now, I began with what Andy describes as his level zero course. That’s right, he doesn’t even consider these basics part of his level 1 beginner course. While working through this playlist, I realized that I have forgotten most of my Guitar 9 knowledge, and that maybe I should have been listening a bit better all of those years ago. None-the-less, I watched lessons regarding how to use a pick, tune the guitar, and what notes the strings should represent (in a standard tune).

On the left, you see the “pencil”/”hotel card” way of holding a pick. On the right, you see the “Mic/Ice Cream” way of holding a pick. Notice the slight offset of the pick’s rotation in the right picture.

So first, how to use a pick. A pick is this small, odd looking, almost triangular piece of nylon, plastic, or other hard but flexible materials. It is used for strumming the strings of the guitar. Some people prefer to use their fingers (I actually used them for the few times I played in the video). Other people use their finger nails, and Andy pointed out that artists like Ed Sheeran have made this trend explode. However, whether you are learning Ed’s style, or just starting, a pick will make this sharp professional sound without sacrificing your flesh to the pain of blisters and cuts.

To hold a pick, most people initially just pick it up, and almost hold it like a pencil or hotel key card. You could do it this way (it is how I played in grade 9), but Andy gives an alternative, and more proper way to use a pick. Your hand should be in the thumbs up shape, with a loser fist, and the thumb will simply drop overtop of the pick. Another way to think is this, is to pretend you are holding a microphone or ice cream cone. Then you drop the thumb and start gripping the pick, it should be pointed sideways, rather than straight out. This allows it to strum the strings with lesser resistance, and it requires less effort and energy to hold. You can reference the photo comparison from above for the comparison of styles of holding your pick.

Now, each string represents a different musical note. From the biggest string to smallest, these notes are E, A, D, G, B, and then E again (an octave higher). Andy introduced a mnemonic for remembering these stings: Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears. Another one I have heard is Every Adult Dog Growls, Barks, & Eats. I am currently working with these phrases, and my pure memory, to hopefully have these strings memorized by next week (Update: I learned it in time for the video!). It is good to memorize these string names for the use of note referencing, and even simply knowing what to tune the strings to.

Next we moved onto tuning, which was a bit easier for me with my musical background. With a tuner or piano it is easy to tune the note to match the pitch, or the tuner. A cool trick Andy showed was to tune the low E string, and then to tune the A string using the pitch from the E string’s 5th fret (which is apparently an A). This works for most of the strings as a way to almost self tune independent of technology and equipment (though your “tune” might not match other people if you play in a group or duet). In terms of the mechanism, turning the nut’s at the head of the guitar (called tuning pegs) would change the frequency/pitch of the string. Counterclockwise increased the frequency, making the note sharper. Clockwise lowered the frequency, making the note flatter. You increase/decrease the frequency of each string until you are happy with the pitch. In practice, this is fairly easy for both music and non music students to do, with the help of a tuner. The music students only get an advantage in that they might be able to audibly fine tune the pitches by listening closely with more experienced ears.

This shows a side by side comparison of traditional sheet music, and its related tabs positioning. – Credit: By Hyacinth at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Lastly, Andy taught us how to read chord symbols, and the guitar specific sheet music system called TABS. In terms of chord symbols, they visible show the neck of the guitar and use dots and bars to describe what strings and frets to hold down for that chord. Tabs on the other hand looks like your average sheet music, except it has 6 lines instead of the traditional 5. Each line represents one of the 6 guitar strings, with the top line as the thinnest, high E string, and the low line being the thickest, low E string. Instead of music notes, TABS will show a number on each string line. This number stands for the fret to hold down.

As someone with traditional music background, this is definitely an entirely different beast, despite looking similar to classic sheet music. It will take time to get used to it, but at least I understand it now. The last thing Andy taught was how to play our first chord, the E major chord, using Tabs and Chord Symbols. This will be the first chord of many I learn as I continue through this journey of learning.

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3 thoughts on “What note is that string suppose to be?

  1. Hey Webster,
    Great blog!! I feel like I could stand a chance at learning the ‘zero-basics’ of guitar after reading this post. Although I have no musical background so maybe a little bit of a stretch, regardless great description of everything you’ve worked on/learned. I’m excited to hear what you come up with over the semester!
    Nicole

    Like

    1. Hey Nicole,
      Thank you for your feedback on my blog. I am also looking forward to this guitar journey. If you wanted to try it yourself, this level 0 course would be plenty to help you out. While they mention note letters, it really isn’t something that requires musical knowledge. Also, it looks like they are going to teach with chord symbols or tabs, both of which Andy teaches in the course, and both of which are really just a visual diagram of the guitar neck.
      If you are interested, I would highly recommend you checking out his youtube courses sometime (I have linked his channel in the blog). I think you would find them incredibly informative, and fairly easy to follow no matter your musical background 🙂

      All the best,
      Webster

      Like

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