Reading Music For Guitar
If you have studied my Fretboard Theory guitar theory program, then you have noticed that I don’t focus on reading music. Instead, I focus on learning how scales, chords, progressions, and more get applied to the guitar fretboard and popular styles of music. This process involves using fretboard diagrams, chord charts, and tablature to map out shapes and patterns on the guitar neck. This is how most guitar players approach music, which is why so few guitarists are good sight readers. This said, should guitar players learn how to sight read standard musical notation?
Learning how to read standard sheet music
Learning how to read standard sheet music is a great step in any guitar player’s musical development. I definitely recommend guitar players learn the basics of reading standard musical notation. You don’t need to be an expert reader like a concert violinist. If you can just make it through a basic sight-reading program, then you’ll be able to identify notes, key signatures, note values, and how to follow a score/chart, which is plenty for you to know. I recommend working your way up to reading and counting sixteenth notes.
There are many suitable methods out there that focus on learning how to read standard musical notation for guitar. A few of the oldest and most common courses include Mel Bay’s Modern Guitar Method Grade 1 and Hal Leonard Guitar Method Book 1. I recommend getting the books that include audio. This way you can hear each example and then play along to practice.
Beginner level guitar books like the ones above teach players how to read music from scratch. You may not be a beginner player, but you still need to start at the beginning in order to develop the sight-reading skill.
Beginner Guitar Players
I recommend that beginner guitar players interested in popular music first focus on how to play rather than how to read. To get started playing easy, beginner-level songs, visit my free beginner guitar lessons page.
Most of the time, guitarists are not expected to read. If guitarists are asked to read at all, then they are usually only expected to follow basic charts and comp their own rhythm and fills. This means that guitar players need to focus more on knowing their way around the fretboard and how scales, chords, and progressions are used to play popular styles of music. Having a good vocabulary of guitar licks and phrases is critical too. This is why I created the Fretboard Theory program. It gives you the skills and knowledge needed most. This is also why it’s perfectly OK to rely on guitar tab. In fact, when you learn songs, I actually recommend that you focus on the tab and only refer to the standard notation when necessary in order to understand the rhythm or song form. That’s what most guitar players do. Me too.
I completely agree with the comment that you don’t have to be an expert at reading notes to play guitar. It’s good to have a basic understanding of how the notes fit together, chords are produced, etc. and you cannot get this from tablature.
How many guitarist do you see playing from sheet music? If you’re playing with the local symphony maybe, but for the most part, patterns of notes are what need to be learned and applied to play music on the guitar.
After getting some time under your belt playing songs, you’ll have the hand strength, patience and love for the instrument to take the next step and learn notes if you still want to. 😉
If you start off feeling that notes must be learned, you’re gonna get fed up with playing simple melodies and give up on the instrument in a few weeks as it will be a chore, rather than fun. Enjoy playing the instrument by learning some simple songs, then you can worry about the details. Look at me, I’ve only waited 20 years to get to the point that I really wanted to make my own music. 🙂
I personally wish that someone would make a web page that had just a bunch of songs in the regular staff notes and not tab because thats what i read. but i can do both if i have too. I agree with everyone.