Guitar Tip: String Names

String names is actually an interesting subject. I try to tell my students that the names of the strings are for more than just knowing “chords.” They are actually notes.

I mean, for many guitar players, there is only one practical use for knowing the string names. It gives them a way to know where to put their fingers. They might as well use the string numbers: 1, 2, 3, etc. You could build chords this way just as easily. Now, this is just fine as a start, but all you need to know is which finger, which fret, and which string.

In this case, the name of the string is irrelevant. We might as well call string 5 “Albert” from now on, and string 4, “Doug.”

Seriously. Not really.

The name represents the note

String names are important because the name represents the note. This may or may not seem obvious or important. In other words, The D-string is named as such precisely because it was designed to be a D note.

And, incidentally, the D string only goes in one place. When you install a string designed to be a G in the D-string position, it’s probably going to sound weird. Worse, when you put the D-string in the G-string position, it’s probably going to break. The D-string wasn’t designed to be tightened beyond a certain point, and when you try to tighten it up to the G note, it goes past its design tension.

String names orient the student to the notes that are being played when they are “open” (plucked without a finger pressed on it).

The names must alert the student more and more to the actual note. Then, when an ‘Em’ is played, they would know that the note being played on the A-string is actually a B note. Likewise, the note being played on the D-string is actually an E note. Therefore, the notes being played (strummed) are like this:

  • E-string (low):  E note
  • A-string:  B note
  • D-string:  E note
  • G-string:  G note
  • B-string:  B note
  • E-string:  E note

The Triad

This leads to something crucial. When you look close, there are only three different notes being played: E, B, G

This is hugely important because three different notes together is what makes a chord. It’s called a triad.

Test out any other chord and you will find the same thing: though the guitar has 6 strings, you will almost always be playing some version of a triad.

The Tip

To summarize, here’s my tip: Know that string names are notes. They are merely links in a chain; pieces to a whole. The bigger picture is the musical scale, moving two octaves from the open low E to the open high E.

Here’s how it looks on a piano:


If you know the piano keyboard, note that “middle C” is the C furthest to the right, just to the right of the B. Therefore, most of the notes are below middle C.

Memorize the string names, and know that they are actually notes!

There are many ways to memorize the string names, but several of my students made this up: Every Aawesome Dog Goes Bonkers Easily!

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