Reading Music: Part One

Among guitarists, the subject of whether it is important to be able to read standard music notation seems to create a lot of controversy. With most other music instruments, there is usually no question, if you are going to learn to play, you will have to learn to read music. But with guitar, learning to read standard musical notation is more of an option. I think this is because there is so much material available in tablature format that you can learn a lot without having to read music.

In fact, many guitarists are very proud of the fact that they can’t read music. It’s like a badge of honor. I’ve read countless interviews with great guitarists who proudly declare that they can’t read a single note. On the other hand, those than can read are also usually very proud of that ability. Being a good guitarist is quite an accomplishment either way, so I definitely feel that both groups have reason to be proud of their abilities.

So as a rather new guitarist who has only been playing a little over two years, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences about learning to read music. I am also hoping that people who read this article will leave comments with their thoughts and experiences about this subject. There is a place at the bottom of this article where you can leave comments and read the comments that others have written.

First off I want to say is that I’m certainly not a great at reading music. I really struggle with it. I think the reason it is struggle for me is because I don’t work at it consistently. I’ll be good for a while and practice it every day and then I’ll get distracted by something else I am learning and let the reading slide. Then when I get back to it, I’ll find I have to do a lot of review just to get back to the skill level I was at. So lately i’ve been making a real effort to be more consistent and to practice reading every day, even if just a little.

I feel it’s important to make this effort because I’ve gotten to a point where my progress would go alot quicker if I had better reading skills. The reason I feel this is true is because even though my reading skill isn’t that good, the benefits I’ve gotten from what I have managed to accomplish are great. More so than from other methods I’ve looked at. I’ll tell you what I think a few of those benifits are.

I think the biggest benefit of reading music is that it seems to be a lot faster to learn a song. I can sight read in open position fairly well, as long as I’m at a slow tempo, like 60 bpm. So I can take a new piece of music and play through it, from beginning to end, at a slow tempo. I’ll make a few mistakes or if some parts of it are giving me trouble I’ll just work on those sections a few times, then I’ll play through the piece again, a few times, still at a slow tempo until I’m not making mistakes. Then I’ll work on playing through it at slightly faster tempo, until I get up to the tempo it should be played at. Depending on how complex the piece is, the whole process might take an hour. I’m not saying I’ll be at a level where I would perform the piece, but I’m at a point now where I can really stop focusing on learning the notes and focus more on bringing the piece up to performance level.

On the other hand, with tablature, the process seems to take much more time. I find I have to learn a song in snippets, taking it a few measures at a time, looking at the tab, mapping it to the fretboard and memorizing it. then take the next section and work on that and repeat. It takes a really long time just to learn the notes and timing of the song before I can really begin to work on making it sound good. It might take a week for me just to get to the point I’m at after an hour using standard notation.

So it seems that the time spent learning to read music pays off in being able to learn songs faster. Which is why I want to spend the time and get better at reading in higher positions, I’ll be able to learn more songs in less time, which means I’ll be able to cover more material and progress much faster.

This is just one of the benefits of learning to read music that I have found. I’ll post more articles on this subject soon. In the meantme, leave a comment to let me know your thoughts are about this. Thank you for reading.

Read Reading Music: Part Two


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