The fretboard on your guitar has patterns. Some of them are physical patterns and others are abstract. The inlays on your fretboard are probably either rectangles or dots. Some guitars have very fancy inlays. Many guitars also have tiny inlays (dots) placed on the upper edge of the neck, which are aligned with the fretboard inlays. Regardless of the shape, size, or color, inlays are more than merely decorative. They also help you to remember the abstract patterns on your fretboard.
Inlays are markers, a bit like the icons on your desktop. When you see an icon on your desktop for the first time, you might need to look at it consciously to determine which program or application it is associated with. Soon you stop thinking about it consciously and you click the location of the icon without having to identify the icon image. The inlays on your fretboard can serve a similar purpose because they can instantly provide a reference point for notes. If you think of inlays as icons or bookmarks, they will help you remember fretboard patterns and their relationship to the 12 notes of the scale. You will then be able to reconstruct and remember songs easier because you can make educated guesses about which note or chord comes next in a melody or chord progression.
On most guitars the inlays are placed on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th 15th, 17th, and 19th frets. Some have an inlay on the 1st fret as well. Once you get used to where the inlays are and the names of the notes that surround them, they will instantly indicate which fret and note you are playing. Eventually you will automatically know where any note is without having to think about it. You will create your own abstract patterns as you learn more about the note patterns associated with frets that have inlays and those that don't.
If you don't understand 4ths and 5ths and such, I suggest you read the lesson regarding SCALES before proceeding. Remember that the fret numbers mentioned below are not related to the scale numbers (intervals).
PLEASE NOTE THAT, BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF GUITARISTS ARE RIGHT-HANDED, ALL FIGURES AND IMAGES SHOWING FRETBOARD PATTERNS, AND SCALES ARE MIRROR IMAGES OF A RIGHT-HANDED PLAYER. THEY DEPICT WHAT A RIGHT-HANDED PLAYER WOULD SEE WHEN LOOKING AT THEIR FRETBOARD IN A MIRROR WHILE PLAYING. I APOLOGIZE TO LEFT-HANDED PLAYERS. I WILL TRY TO INCLUDE MIRROR IMAGES FOR THEM SOON.
Figure 11-1 shows the string names, or, more accurately, the notes heard if you play your strings Open when they are tuned to Standard tuning. You can also see the notes that result when you finger the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. The blue notes show the frets used for tuning. Notice that the B string is tuned using the 4th fret of the G string.
The top four strings in both frets indicate notes that are Major 4th's or 5th's of each other for adjacent strings. Notes on any one of these strings in a given fret is the 4th of the note on the string ABOVE it in that same fret. Any note on any one of the top four strings in a given fret is the 5th of the note on the string BELOW it in that fret. In other words, if you use the Sol-Fa for each of the notes shown on the top four strings, you will see that: D is the 4th of A and A is the 5th of D, E is the 4th of B and B is the 5th of E, C is the 4th of G and G is the 5th of C (marked in green on the G string)
For the top 4 string, those relationships and that pattern is consistent all the way up and down the neck. The notes will be different of course, but the relationships are the same. Keep in mind however that - due to the tuning of the B (5th) string - the pattern breaks at the 4th (G) and 5th (B) strings as indicated by the white X's. The notes in any of same frets on the 4th (G) and 5th (B) strings are NOT 4th's or 5th's of each other (they're actually a 3rd and a minor 6th apart), BUT, the -4th's and 5th's- pattern re-emerges on the 5th and 6th strings: E is the 4th of B and B is the 5th of E, B is the 4th of F# and F# is the 5th of B, C is the 4th of G and G is the 5th of C)
Like the top 4 strings, this pattern is consistent in every fret, up and down the fretboard.
There is another pattern to be found in the relationship between any of the notes in blue and red positions. The 5th of any blue note can also be found (other than being found on the string above and in the same fret) on the string below and two frets higher (a red note). The blue note in the 5th fret of the top (E) string is an A, and the 5th note in the major scale of A is E. You can find an E in the 7th fret (red) of the 2nd string. So, the pattern is: Move down one string and up two frets to find the 5th of any note on the top four strings. Conversely, if you move up one string and down 2 frets, you will find the 4th of any note (i.e. E is the 5th of A and A is the 4th of E). Once again the pattern is broken slightly due to the tuning of the B string. When you get to the 4th string you must move down one string and up FOUR frets to find the octave, but the original pattern returns when you reach the 5th and 6th strings. (See the blue E on the 5th string and the red B on your 6th string - i.e. B is the 5th of E and E is the 4th of B)
Figure 11-2 is a table showing all of the Major scales. Keep in mind that each of the Root notes is a 4th to the 5th note of their scales. (e.g. E is the 4th of B, and B is the 5th of E).