Learning the Guitar Fretboard Using Anki Flashcards

Posted on November 5, 2012 by


Last week I committed to taking the first steps towards getting started with Anki and I am happy to report that I met that goal.  I am just getting started but I can already see that Anki and spaced repetition will  be a powerful tool for helping me learn the guitar.  Before I describe my experience using Anki I would like to quickly show you what you need to get started.

Getting Started with Anki Flashcards

I imagine most people will want to review Anki flashcards on their phone and there are apps available for both the Android and Iphone.  The Android app is free and is what I am using while the Iphone app costs $24.99.

After I downloaded AnkiDroid I thought I was good to go but it turns out that you need to setup an account on the Anki Website and you need to download and install the Anki Desktop application.

Once you have Anki Desktop installed you can search through all the decks that other users have  created and shared, download them and sync them with your web account and then with your phone.  It is a little convoluted but is actually pretty easy once you get everything downloaded and installed.

Here is a list of  the most downloaded decks:

Anki Flashcards Most Downloaded

Most Downloaded Anki Decks

Here is a list of the Anki decks with the most flashcards (facts):

Anki Flashcard Decks with Most Facts

Anki Decks with Most Flashcards

And here are the decks that show up when you search “Guitar:”

Anki Flashcard Decks for Guitar

Anki Flashcard Decks for Guitar

Learning the Guitar Fretboard Using Anki Flashcards

I decided to start with “Guitar Fretboard Strings 1-6, Frets 1-12.”  Learning the guitar fretboard is one of those introductory skills that most beginners (including myself) completely gloss over.  Most beginner pianists could probably tell you the names of all the keys because they are all in order and once you know the musical scale and where one note is you can figure out every other key.

The guitar is a little more difficult because each string (except for the 1st and 6th string which are both tuned to E)  are tuned to a different note.  In order to quickly find a note on the fretboard one needs to basically memorize where each note is.  Here is an example of a typical question card in the fretboard deck:

Anki Fretboard Question

Typical Fretboard Question

This deck structures questions in three different ways

  1. Gives you the fret and the string and asks you for the note (example shown)
  2. Gives you the string and the note and asks you for the fret
  3. Gives you the note and the fret and asks you for the string

When I am working on these flashcards I hold my my guitar and let my fingers move across the fretboard as I am figuring out the answer.  I say the notes out loud in my head as I am moving up and down the neck.  For the card shown in the example I immediately know that the 6th string is “E” and that the 1st fret is “F” and then that the 3rd fret is “G.”  Once I settle on an answer I hit the “Show Answer button and check whether I was correct.

Anki Fretboard Answer

Typical Fretboard Answer

After hitting the “Show Answer” button there are always 4 choices: Soon Again, Good, Easy, Very Easy.  The descriptions and the # of days listed seems to vary with some cards and whether it is a card you have reviewed before but the basic idea is that if you miss the card and select “Soon Again” then it will show up in your review deck again quickly.  If you select “Very Easy” then it won’t show up in your deck for a longer period of time.

Early Results Using Anki Flashcards to Learn the Fretboard

Each question forces you to approach the fretboard in a slightly different manner and I have already found myself making mental shortcuts to get to answers more quickly.  I have only been doing these decks for a couple days but I have already seen an improvement.

I have a mnemonic device to remember the order of the strings “Every Boy Gets Down And Eats.”  A week ago I would have had to say that in my head every time I needed to determine the note of a string.  After a couple days practice I have found myself immediately thinking of the correct note when the question references a specific string.

The notes on the open strings and at the 12th fret are the exact same.  I have been using that knowledge to help figure out the answers more quickly.  If the question references the 7th fret or higher I start at the 12th fret and word up the neck.  If the questions references the 6th fret or lower I work down the neck from the open strings.  I think it might make sense to memorize all the notes on the 6th or 7th fret because then I would only have to travel 3 frets max in either direction to find the answer.

Right now to answer the question of the example above I have to solve three intermediate problems: identify the 6th string as the E, remember that the there is a half step (1 fret) between the E and the F, and a whole step (2 frets) between the F and G.  I hope with continued practice I will be able to come up with the answer immediately without having to think about the intermediate steps.

Have you had any experience using Anki flashcards to learn guitar or any other musical instrument?  What are your thoughts on using spaced repetition to help learn a musical instrument?


If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:
Spaced Repetition: How to Learn Anything and Never Forget It
Pushing Through a Learning Plateau on Guitar
300 Hours of Deliberate Practice on Guitar
How to Practice Deliberately on Guitar

Posted in: Guitar, Learning