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Do I need to learn to read music?

Do I need to learn to read music?



I get asked this question a lot. It’s a great question and it’s worth exploring a bit. Reading music is an incredible useful skill that makes it easier to learn certain types of music and greatly increases ones ability to understand harmony and rhythm. It also helps greatly in learning the names of the notes on the guitar neck. A lot of intermediate guitar players hit a wall in this regard because they skipped this part of learning music. I feel strongly, if you’re under the age of thirteen and you’re taking private lessons, part of the lesson time should include learning to read traditional music notation. That said, there are certain types of music that aren’t conducive to being notated if they are to be played authentically.


Most rock and blues music was written without putting a pen to paper. The songs were/are generally conveyed to the other musicians in a band by demonstrating the parts and verbally explaining nuances. Still, some knowledge of chord structure and rhythm is necessary. Having an ability to communicate these concepts verbally greatly helps in the exchange of ideas when playing music with other people.


Another type of notation specific to guitar is tablature (TAB). TAB is an easy way to learn to read notes on the guitar. When I say easy, I mean almost anyone can learn this at its most basic level in just a few minutes! There are seemingly endless examples of songs available in TAB form (for free) on the internet. The accuracy of these TABS varies greatly.

A good teacher can help you sort through them:)


I’m a big believer in having a cursory understanding of rhythmic notation. Rhythmic notation is the rhythmic aspect of traditional notation, minus the harmonic notes. It’s especially helpful when learning to strum different rhythms on the guitar. I’ve had a lot of success teaching rhythmic notation to students of all ages and so I always recommend working towards learning it to some degree.


These are the basics as I see it when it comes to reading music with respect to guitar. If you’re going to learn guitar, you’ll learn some aspects of reading music. The more you learn, the more it will help you in the long run. Even a small amount of practice time learning to read music in some way, will pay dividends if done consistently over time. Speaking of practice time, I’ll talk more about budgeting time for practice in my next blog post. Until then, have fun and keep playing!

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