Reading Music – A Beginners Nightmare.

Do you need to be able to read musical notation to play guitar?

by Estevan Kühn

Let’s face it, learning to read music is not nearly as glamourous as playing your instrument. Learning note names, where they are on the fretboard, and how to read rhythm is daunting for new students. Additionally, the guitar is a notoriously difficult instrument to become a proficient sight reader on due to the fact that a standard guitar has five middle Cs.

So, to answer the question…

Do I need to know how to read music to play guitar?


Well maybe.

It really depends on what your goals are with your guitar playing adventure. If all you want to do is play a few of your favourite songs, it is easy to get by learning them by ear, watching tutorial videos, and using fingering diagrams.

However, I am a strong advocate for being able to read and write using musical staff notation. So now I am going to tell you why you should consider learning how to read music.

Being able to understand musical notation is extremely important if you want to write your own music and play with other musicians. Yes, there are many examples of guitarists who have had successful careers while not being able to read music. One thing that they all have in common is a great ear. Your ear is a powerful tool that should not be underestimated and that you should constantly train. 

But why make things more difficult? 

If you know how to read music, you will be able learn new songs without ever hearing them. This is especially important in settings wherein someone sends you an original composition. Assuming you have practiced, you will be able to show up to rehearsal and play the piece straight away, saving all the time that would have been spent on note bashing while figuring out your part. Rehearsals are for rehearsing, not learning your parts.

Once you have conquered the learning curve of music reading, you will begin to understand things like rhythm, time, harmony and melody on a deeper level. The benefit of this is that your guitar playing will progress at a faster rate, and you will become a musician who is easy to work with.

The point I hope I have made is that knowing how to read music will make your life easier, especially when playing with other musicians.

You will be able to understand the musical jargon and nomenclature that gets thrown around in rehearsals. 

You will begin to “get” music.

You will progress faster.

And finally,

You will not be known as a guitarist, but rather a musician.

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