Why Guitar Players Can’t Read

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Why Guitar Players Can’t Read

Traditionally, guitar players were taught to read standard notation. Some still are, but it seems to be a dying art. Nowadays there are several more popular ways to learn to play the guitar, without having to learn how to read music. Here I look at a few learning methods, and ask the question – should guitarists learn to read standard notation?

Tablature – Probably the greatest adversary of standard musical notation. It is a system of numbers laid out across the strings, very easy to read with very little training. In my experience, ‘tab’ is probably the most popular way that guitarists now pick up new songs. There are such large databases online; you’re pretty much guaranteed to find the music you want to play. However, there are a few limitations to tab. There is no real sense of rhythm or time. No note values mean than unless you have already heard the song and are pretty familiar with it, you could end up playing something entirely different from what you are reading. Nowadays a lot of published teaching resources come with tab in them as standard. While this is good for early progress for people who may have otherwise ceased to pursue the guitar, it will eventually limit your playing. Numbers do not translate well when looking into musical theory, and it really is the ‘easy way out’.

YouTube – In 2005 the world was forever changed, because YouTube launched. This is such a great resource for so many people. You can use mobile technology to access the site and pull up a video on almost anything at almost any time or place. Of course, YouTube is used regularly to access music – and also by musicians searching for free lessons. There are some really brilliant ones on there too, giving clear and concise tutorials on a wide range of topics. My view is that YouTube should be used as a supplement alongside proper one-on-one tuition. It should not be solely relied upon, but it does of course have its uses. What it does do is totally alienate the art of sight-reading, and even reading tab.

Sight Reading is Hard – This is basically why so few people can do it. As an 8 year old, sight-reading from day 1, it was easy. You learn better when you are younger; the brain takes to new information more freely, whereas older learners tend to struggle with the actual process of learning. Little and often is something I tend to stick with – if you don’t practise reading for a long time, you will lose the ability to do so. Progressive reading, in small steps is great and you may surprise yourself at the speed of which you can pick up the basics. From there on, it can be quite time consuming to continue. Essentially, you are teaching yourself another language entirely, so don’t expect instant results – it takes time, and you will fail many times until you get used to all those pesky issues with counting and keys, and all the other problems!

What Should You Do?

For me it really does depend on what you want out of playing guitar. Do you want to write your own music? Do you just want to play along to some tracks you used to love? Do you want to make a living from playing the guitar? You just need to make an educated, choice – there’s nothing wrong with using YouTube to teach yourself a bit of AC/DC, however if you are wanting to change people for your knowledge, you should probably have that knowledge yourself first, and really understand it. I think if you’re going to be competing with other guitar players for work, it’s a no brainier to learn to sight-read. its just one more thing you can put to use, and if you can do it and the other guy can’t, its not going to hurt your chances.

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