How Many Octaves On A Guitar Are There?
Notes are easy. Scales are relatively easy as well. What’s not so easy is how they are located across each musical instrument. Let's do this!
A Little Bit Of Theory First. Just A Little Bit, I Promise
You may be surprised but music has in fact much less to do with art than most people think. It’s more of a precise science with its rules and formulas.
Any sound is essentially a wave, and every wave has a length and frequency. Therefore, all notes (independent of the instrument) have their own frequencies (see the picture taken from Wikipedia)
To put it simple terms, notes that have higher frequencies sound higher to our ears. Likewise, with the lower frequencies – they sound lower.
Musicians and scientists recognize 12 notes with distinct frequencies, spanning from 261.6 Hz to 493.883 Hz if the A440 pitch standard is used (see the picture above).
The first note is C4, where “4” simply means that this is the fourth key from left on a standard 88-key piano keyboard. The “♯” symbol is called “sharp” while the “♭” is called “flat.” They are added to the main note letter to signify a half-step raise (sharp) or decrease (flat) in the pitch from the previous note.
Therefore, there are seven notes called C, D, E, F, G, A, and B with a full step distance between them and five other notes in between called C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#, which makes it 12 in total. Remember this number.
Why there is no such thing as an E#? Because it’s the way things are in science, and you’re being too smart for your own good ;).
“But that doesn’t bring us any closer to the answer to ‘How many octaves on a guitar are there?’ question,” you may ask. “What happens if we run out of different frequencies and the next, 13th note has twice the same frequency as the first note?” This is when we get an octave.
What Is An Octave In Music?
Octave in music is an interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. This definition brings us to another assumption: octaves can go up and down. By now you should’ve realized what the C4 and C5 signs meant in that picture just a few paragraphs above.
C4 and C5 are essentially the same note C, but from different octaves (number four and five respectively). When two notes from different octaves are played together, it’s called unison.
Now you can tell for sure how many notes are in an octave – that’s right, twelve. Here’s a picture showing you how this knowledge is applied to a keyboard (only three octaves are shown, black keys are sharps/flats). Let's keep digging more on this matter of "How many octaves on a guitar there are," shall we?
How Many Notes In A Scale Does An Octave Span?
In musical theory, a scale is defined as any string of music notes ordered based on the pitch or fundamental frequency. Scales ordered in an increasing pitch are called ascending scales, and scales ordered in an decreasing pitch are descending scales.
To put it simply, scales are note patterns, ascending or descending by frequency.
Most common music scales are written using eight notes, the interval between the first and last note being an octave. For example, one of the most popular scales – C Major scale – can be presented as a combination of eight notes C D E F G A B C (seems somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?).
How Many Octaves On A Guitar Are There?
Now you know enough to find out how many octaves on a guitar there are. Before we proceed to the answer, we need to familiarize ourselves with how notes are spread across the fretboard on a typical guitar.
This picture (courtesy of Visualguitar.com) will definitely help us in this process. Here, take a look!
Before you jump to any further conclusions, let’s make an important assumption here:
We’re using a schematic six-string 12-fret guitar in a standard tuning (EADGBE).
If your instrument is a seven or eight-string guitar, you’ll have to apply the further described method accordingly.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the picture. If you noticed from the way the notes are connected with the staff, this schematic 12-fret guitar covers 3 full octaves (we’re not counting open strings). These octaves are marked green, light-blue, and dark-blue respectively.
If your guitar has 24 frets, you get another full octave which brings you to the total of 4 full octaves on your guitar!
Take whatever axe you have and try to apply this scheme to it. Remember: knowing where the notes are on the fretboard is quintessential to your guitar mastery.
Today we’ve learned a bit of music theory, what notes are, how they correlate with each other, what an octave is, and how many octaves on a guitar there are. I hope this knowledge helps you in your continuous guitar quest. Good luck!