Learning the name of each string seems like a beginner activity, but you’d be amazed how many people have been playing for years and can’t tell you the guitar string names past the first string or two.
Here I’m going to run you through a few mnemonic tricks to help you memorize the guitar string names and their order, and hopefully internalize them until it unlocks the fretboard for you, allowing you to use open strings without thinking.
Electric/Acoustic names and order
Both electric and acoustic strings have the same name and order, from low (thickest string) to high (thinnest string), they read E – A – D – G – B – E.
Strings are ordered from 6 for thickest to 1 for thinnest, so the number order is
- 6 – E (Thickest)
- 5 – A
- 4 – D
- 3 – G
- 2 – B
- 1 – E (Thinnest)
In this order, you can use the following mnemonics to remember them:
- Eat All Day Get Big Easy
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Elvis Always Dug Good Banana Eating
- Every Apple Does Good Being Eaten
- Every Amp Deserves Guitars/Basses Everyday
- Eat Apples Daily Grow Big Ears
- Eric And Dave’s Guitars Beat Everyone
- Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually
- Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Eat A Dog, Get Big Ears
- Even Average Dogs Get Bones Eventually
- Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually
- Eat All Dead Gophers Before Easter
Let’s go over the list again, but this time we’re going to use the following system to drill these letters.
Let’s take the first one.
- Eat All Day Get Big Easy
Read it out like this:
EADGBE – E Eat, A All, D Day, G Get, B Big, E Easy – EADGBE!
Now move through the list and do every one.
I guarantee if you do this once each and every day, you will learn the letters and the order of the strings of the guitar within a week.
Bass guitar string names and order
Because the bass shares the same first four strings as the guitar, we can use the same system with a couple of different mnemonics.
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Gross
- Eat All Da Grapes
- Every American Eats Gatorade
- Eat A Doughnut, Guitarists (if you can think of another word that starts with a D that works too!)
- Eventually Anyone Drums Good
- Every Apple Dies Good
- Elephants Always Do Good
- Eat Avocados Daily, Grrrrreat
And so just as with the guitar strings, you can drill these using the following method to learn them in no time (especially because there are only four strings!):
EADG – E Eat, A A, D Doughnut, G Guitarists – EADG!
Do this once a day, and within a week you’ll have it memorized.
But why are guitars tuned to EADGBE in the first place?
The short answer here is ease of use.
Most other stringed instruments (eg the cello, violin etc) have always been tuned in fifths (meaning the interval between each string is a perfect fifth).
The guitar on the other hand is a series of fourths and one major third.
- E – A: Fourth
- A – D: Fourth
- D – G: Fourth
- G – B: Major Third
- B – E: Fourth
The reason for this is two fold.
Firstly, having the guitar tuned in fourths means you have more notes available across strings, so it’s easier to play chords that have more notes in them, allowing more harmonies across the strings. If the guitar was all in fifths like other instruments, you would have less strings, so your chords would have less harmonic notes available.
Secondly, with the guitar’s longer scale (typically 25 inches) compared to say a violin (17 inches), it would be harder for the fretting hand to make connections between notes were the strings are tuned further apart. Keeping the guitar in a series of fourths means it’s easier to fret chords than if you had to cover a wider span with those fingers.
Plus think of the position you play a guitar compared to say a violin. The guitar is played sitting in your lap, with your fretting hand wrapped around the neck to get to the strings. The violin on the other hand is played extending from your chin, with very little wrapping of the wrist around the neck, giving you much easier access.
Now I’m not advocating for you to start playing with a Gibson Les Paul balanced under your chin, that could very likely end in disaster (does Dunlop make a strap for that?)
However, the standard tuning of EADGBE allows you to more comfortably fret the guitar, not having to stretch your fingers as a violinist does in order to get chords and passages from the instrument.
What about the third from G to B?
Were the third not in there, our guitars would be tuned E-A-D-G-C-F, which means the bottom and top strings would be tuned one step apart.
Can you tune a guitar in fourths?
My dude, you can tune a guitar any way you want!
Most books, tutorials, sheets etc are written to play the guitar in standard EADGBE, but there are some who play the guitar in fourths. Tom Quayle, maybe the most famous fourths player, picked it up early on from his guitar teacher, and has said that in retrospect he might not have played that way knowing what he knows now.
Hopefully this gives you an understanding of what the open notes are, why they are that way, and how to remember them.
Have another mnemonic I didn’t cover? Leave a comment below!