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Lesson 6: The Five Fret Pattern

Derek Trucks
Remember you can zoom in and out on the images in this post by pressing Ctrl + and –

I consider the pattern taught in this lesson to be one of the most important things you can learn in order to help your guitar playing. Once you understand this simple pattern your understanding of how the fretboard works will take a giant leap forwards.

One of the things guitar players struggle with when learning music theory is the confusing way in which numbers are used to describe different musical concepts. For example you may have seen how music intervals (the distance between two notes) are described with terms such as Major 2nd or Perfect 5th. As a guitar player it is confusing to relate these terms to the fretboard because they don’t describe the distance in fret numbers, something which you can easily count.

On top of that you might hear people use terms such as whole and half steps or whole and half tones. This is just another needless level of complexity that doesn’t provide any helpful insights. (In case you are wondering half tones and half steps are a distance of one fret and whole tones and whole steps are two frets distance).

In order to make things much easier to learn and help you understand the inner workings of the fretboard we are going to simplify things. By describing music intervals simply by counting the distance in frets between two notes you easily start to notice patterns that will help you learn chords and scales much quickly and you’ll be able to play them all over the neck with ease.

I call the pattern in this lesson the Five Fret Pattern. The pattern is found by placing your finger on any note on the fretboard, in this first example we’ll pick G# on the low E string. This will be our root note or zero point. Since we’re counting a distance we’ll count this as 0 (in the same way that the start of a ruler is 0 cm or inches).

Five Fret Pattern 1st String

So starting with your finger on the 0 in the white circle, count 5 frets along the string until you reach C#. Now you can also find C# on the 2nd string (the A string) where you see the number 5 in the white circle. The next string up, the number 10 in the white circle is the equivalent of moving 10 frets along the 1st string from the G# on the 1st string. So you can see how all the numbers in this diagram show fret distances from the starting point. Note how the number 24 in the diagram shows a C# but two octaves higher. (You get the next octave up every 12 frets. E.g. 12, 24, 36 etc).

As you can see moving up a string is the same as moving 5 frets along the string. This pattern is easy to remember because its easy to mentally count in groups of 5. The only thing you have to be mindful of is that because of the way the strings are tuned in standard tuning that the pattern on the highest two strings is shifted over towards the bridge by 1 fret.
In the below diagrams you can see what the pattern looks like when you choose your starting point on one of the other strings. Remember that this pattern appears the same way anywhere along the fretboard. All it does is show you relative fret distances.

Five Fret Pattern 2nd String

Five Fret Pattern 3rd String

Five Fret Pattern 4th String

Five Fret Pattern 5th String

Five Fret Pattern 6th String

How knowing the Five Fret Pattern can help you play chords and scales all over the fretboard

Now I’ll show you how this can help your guitar playing. If you know for example that the formula for a Major chord is 0, 4, 7 (0 is the root note plus a note 4 frets along and a note 7 frets along) then you can play Major chords all over the neck by simply placing your fingers on a 0, 4 and 7. (Or equivalents an octave higher. 0+12 = 12, 4+12 = 16 and 7+12 = 19).

Put your finger on a random place on the fretboard and see if you can visualise the Five Fret Pattern with the help of the diagrams. Now see if you can find a 4 and 7 or a 12, 16 and 19 that you can fret at once. Strum these notes and you will have played a Major Chord.

Now see if you can find chords using the Minor Chord formula 0, 3, 7 (Or on higher octaves 0+12 = 12, 3+12 = 15 and 7+12 = 19).

You can also use it to play scales all over the neck. Here is the formula for the Major Scale: 0 – 2 – 4 – 5 – 7 – 9 – 11 – 12. Choose a starting point and count the frets along the string (or on other strings using the diagrams) to find the notes in the scale. 0 is the root note, the next note is 2 frets along, the next one is 4 frets along etc.

Learning this pattern in conjunction with all the names of the notes on the guitar fretboard is one of the best things you can do for your musical education.