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Mnemonic Devices for the Guitarist

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World-renowned musicians Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Chrissie Hynde, to name just a few, make (made in Jimi's case) playing the electric guitar look so easy. Yet, in picking up a guitar many people feel overwhelmed, even if they have had piano lessons as a child. Here are a few strategies for understanding how to play the six-stringed1 musical-demon. Once you understand the basics well, then you may even find you have gained the confidence to carry off the poise and style of the greats.

Memorisation of the Strings

Easter Bunnies Get Drunk After Easter - EBGDAE - is an easy way to remember the names of the strings from first to sixth

Memorisation of the Notes on the Treble Staff

  • The Spaces: FACE is a word that spells the names, in order, of the spaces on the treble staff.

  • The Lines: EGBDF - Every Good Boy Does Fine - or as some prefer, Every Great Beatle Did Fab - are easy phrases to help you remember the correct order of the lines.

Visual Aids

One of our Researchers recommends that guitarists make their own Circle of Fifths. This is a wheel designed to automatically line a musician up with chords that relate to one another - every key signature can be at your fingertips.

It is worth every guitarist's while making one. Get a piece of card and cut out a disc about six inches (15cm) across. Divide it into 12, like a clock face. Write the chord names around the outside in the following order:

  • C G D A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F and back to C

  • Inside this, write the minor chord names, so that A minor corresponds to C.
  • Am Em Bm F#m C#m Abm Ebm Bbm Fm Cm Gm Dm and back to Am.

Now What Do You Do With It?

You will quickly find that all your favourite chords are clustered around one point on this disc. If you're playing C, you'll use C along with F on its left and G on its right... To play in a different key, just put a different chord at the top. The pattern of left and right will be the same.

The Circle of Fifths encourages novice guitarists to experiment to get a feel for where all one's favourite chords are.

Other Supplemental Aids

There are millions of guitar chord books out there. After seeing the magic of the Circle of Fifths, you might want to get a chart to show you how to play a C, F, and G - the most common chords in rock and roll. One in which guitar diagrams abound, they are easy to read and well-organised, is Hal Leonard's Incredible Chord Finder. Some guitar teachers require that all of their students purchase personal copies. Not crowded with too much information, it is an easy-to-use, valuable resource. In it you'll find three different positions for each chord, so that you won't be forced to leap from the ninth fret to the second - although this might look cool and impressive, a great rock and roll guitarist knows that it is wiser to preserve energy for other theatrics.

Find your Chords - then Practice, Practice, Practice

After a week or two of practice, you should feel confident enough to search the Internet for some music to work on. Keep in mind that these pages tend to be written in tablature - a musical notation indicating the fingering to be used. is a website that provides further helpful hints for the aspiring guitarist.

1Other-style guitars are outside the scope of this article.

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