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I remember when I started to learn guitar and tabs. I could not figure out where to find the 0 on the guitar fretboard!? It was very frustrating. I will tell you right away that 0 on the fretboard is playing an open string. That`s it, it’s that easy! It is actually the easiest to play and it doesn`t matter which string you play. You can play a 0 on every string it just means that it`s an open string. Hope that makes sense.
What is the purpose of a zero fret on a guitar?
If you press down your finger at the first fret it is easy to understand that this is the 1st fret. If you press your finger down on the second fret this is the 2nd fret and so on. The nut functions as an invincible finger and is “fret 0”. Picture yourself pressing down above the 1st fret above the nut.
We could call the open string number 1 but when you go to the first fret then this would be the 2nd fret. So the first fret would be called the 2nd fret? Do you see how this would be even more confusing?
Instead of having one confusing fret (the 0 fret) you would have all the frets being confusing. Also the 0 fret is more logical since you use 0 fingers when you play it. So actually it is not that confusing if you think about it.
In order to keep the guitar in tune, the strings are locked resting over the nut on top of the fretboard. As you already know you turn the knobs to get the guitar in tune.
How do you play 0 on a guitar tab?
You probably know how to play 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. on guitar tabs. Now release your finger from the fretboard and play without pressing down any strings. You did it! You now know how to play 0 on guitar tabs.
I started out with playing using tabs. I highly recommend you learn how to play guitar by ear because there`s a lot of tabs out there that`s wrong. To develop a good ear takes time but I believe almost everyone that`s dedicated can learn it.
A good way to start is to listen to songs you like and try to figure out the notes, then check the tabs to see if you nailed it!
In other words..
To play a 0 on a guitar tab you pick a string (with a pick or with your fingers) without pressing your finger down on the string with your left hand if you are a regular guitar player.
The intro to Nothing Else Matters by Metallica is a good example of playing open strings or 0 on a guitar tab. The notes that are played are the open E (thickest string), G, B and e (thinnest string). Notice that the 6th and 1st strings are tuned the same but in different octaves.
What does Open String Mean?
An open string is to play a string without pressing your fingers against the frets. Picture yourself driving a car without holding your hands on the steering wheel (not recommended).
You pick or strum the strings and let it ring without pressing down any strings on the fretboard. If you hold the guitar with your left hand around the fretboard and press your finger down until the string reaches the fretboard, and strum the strings with your right hand you are “playing”, which is not an open string.
Now remove the finger from the string you are pressing down and strum or pick the strings with your right hand (make sure you still hold the guitar with both hands). Congratulations, you are now playing open strings!
What is the fretboard and why do we need it?
The fretboard of a guitar is the board underneath the strings. Its the upper side of the neck that you are holding with your left hand if you are a regular guitar player. Why do we need a fretboard? Well to make the guitar make different sounds.
If you have 6 strings on your guitar you have 6 notes if you play open strings. The regular tuning for guitars is E,A,D,G,B and e. These are 5 out of 12 notes you can play. Yes, there are only 12 notes you can play.
With these 12 notes, you can play every song ever made! When you press your fingers down on the strings on your fretboard, you change the vibration of the string and change the length of the string that is strummed or picked.
This gives you different sounds. The higher up you press on the strings, the lower the tones get. It s not intuitive! It s a little hard to grasp at first, at least it was for me. If you fret a string higher up on the fretboard the tones you are playing get`s lower (deeper).
The closer you play to the body of the guitar or lower down the neck, the higher the notes get. Try to sing like Beyonce and the tones are higher or feminine thus you move down the neck. Try to sing like James Hetfield of Metallica and the tones get lower as you move up the neck.
So when it comes to tones up is down and down is up, if that makes sense.
If there are only 12 notes why so many frets in guitar?
You can play any song using just one string moving up and down on that string. This would give you a very thin sound and it is very stressful to move up and down the string very fast to change notes.
Most people got five fingers and if your fretboard got between 22 and 24 frets it becomes a challenge to play all 22 or 24 frets with just five fingers.
Remember that 0 in the tabs are the same as playing an open string? Let`s say you move down the thickest string (E string) and count down to 11th fret. Now the next fret, the 12th fret is the same as the 0 fret or open string.
This is because there`s only 12 notes you can play in music. If you count the open string as 1 note and add the 11 notes starting from the 1st fret, you get 12 notes even though you only count 11 notes if you start at the 1st fret.
So the 0 in tabs are an invincible tab since you don`t use any fingers to play it.
Now remember that there`s only 12 notes in music. This goes for music in general and for all instruments. It is the same note just a different octave.
If you play a 0 or open string this is a deeper E (playing the thickest string closest to you). If you play the 12th fret on the same string you also get an E note but just an octave higher or the same note just that is sounds lighter.
So if you picture one string and start with an open string, then play the 11 frets down the string you have played all 12 notes. This is called chromatic. You play every note one after another.
How does an octave work?
Then if you continue down the string starting at the 12th fret and all the way down until the 24th fret, then you have played all the notes 2 times. This is the same as playing the same notes in two octaves.
One set of the notes are deeper in sound and the other set of the same notes are less deeper. Get it?
Note that not all guitars have 24 frets, some have 22 frets. It depends on your guitar. I believe most beginner guitars have 22 frets because it`s more challenging to play with more frets as they get smaller and smaller as you move down the neck.
It takes time to build up strength in your fingers and get control of your finger movements.
So how can you play in more than 2 octaves and why do we have more than one string?
As discussed earlier it is stressful to move up and down one string to get to the right note you want to play. We have also learned that there`s 12 notes in total.
So instead of moving up and down like a maniac on one string, we use more strings to make the pathway easier and this also allows us to play more notes at the same time and make chords.
We can agree about the fact that most people have five fingers so if you play the tabs 1,2,3,4 and your thumb is holding the guitar neck with all your fingers used, you can now chose to either move your first finger down to fret 5 and continue with the frets 6,7,8.
Or you can play fret 1,2,3,4 and instead of moving down on the same string you can move backwards to the next string. So the next string after the thickest E string is a A string.
So the 0 or open string of the A string is the same note as the 5th fret of the thick E string. So instead of moving your first finger down to the 5th fret of the first string, you can play an open A string which is the same note. Instead of playing the 6th fret on the first string, you could play the 1st fret on the 2nd string which is the same note.
That way you can play faster and also play notes that fit together and make chords to make songs.