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Is it bad that I can't read sheet music?

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Postby genemaniac » February 27th, 2012, 3:40 pm

Personally, I do not think it is necessary to be able to read sheet music to play guitar.
Being both a guitar and violin player, I have a very interesting situation. Throw any sheet music page in front of me and I can play it very well on the violin. That's how violin is usually taught from the beginning...pages and pages of sawing on whole notes written in elementary instruction books until the dots and finger positions are deeply engrained. The become as one.
In contrast, most people learn guitar by focusing first on chords and chord shapes up and down the fretboard, then progressing to lead and other techniques. I was no exception. If I were to sit down with the guitar and try to sight read sheet music......Deer in the headlights! I never took the time to learn all the notes on the fret board to the point where I can sight read like I can on the violin.
Recently, though, I have been working on learning guitar versions of some of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas (written for solo violin). In this case, I have been forced to tediously sit down in front of the score sheets and figure out where the notes are on the fretboard, but even then I approach the individal notes of the melody (and counter-points that Bach loved to use) in terms of how I can play them within a chord shape, or at least in such a manner as to minimize traveling wildly up and down the fretboard. Then I have found that, once I learn the piece, I don't necessarily retain this knowledge, so I have to go through the exact same process for the next tune!
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Postby Chris C » February 28th, 2012, 3:29 pm

Crow wrote:I just had this brilliant idea: How about going back to the original poster's original questions? :shock:

FishyBoy wrote:At some stage I would like to learn other instruments, the only other instrument I can play is the harmonica and I can sing, but I'd like to learn the sax and piano. Any advice?


Tab will not help you on other instruments. Standard notation can be a useful bridge.


+1

You can be a great story-teller, a social success, and a fine public speaker all without knowing how to read and write English. But few people would see being illiterate as actually being an advantage.

Same with music. You can get by just fine with just your ear, chord sheets, etc. But I didn't find that learning notation was hard, and it gave me the ability to pick up any sheet music and read what it says. I find that both useful and interesting.

I'm still quite slow at reading unfamiliar music, but I don't need to be fast. I can take the time I need to work it out for whatever instrument I'm trying to play at the time. I found that a useful intermediate step was typing sheet music into a cheap notation program like Finale Notepad. It was handy for hearing the computer play back whatever I typed in, and for making midi tracks. Typing in the notation helped me to recognise which note was on each line or space, and how long it played for. Not sure how much the licence is for Notepad but MuseScore is apparently free.

The more I read the quicker I get. It's not essential, but I can't see any reason not to at least get the basics down.

Cheers,

Chris

PS. I'd rather have a really good ear than be a really fast reader. But it's not some kind of either/or choice - you can go for both. It a bit like being asked "Which would you rather have - plenty of sex, plenty of money or plenty of fun?" Uh, I'll go for the full set thanks. :)
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Postby Reject » April 26th, 2012, 11:16 am

Unless you hope to become a for-hire studio musician or something like that, there is no real need to learn to read music. I'd say the vast majority of guitar players can't read (music, that is. lol).
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Postby houdini » May 2nd, 2012, 5:40 pm

Having a good guitar tutor even if you can only afford to get a lesson every cpl of months can save you a tonne of trouble as far as technique.
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Postby idj » May 11th, 2012, 1:59 pm

Everyone is giving their $0.02, so I will too.

I can read music. I learned piano years ago. I'm practicing trying to put it in use with guitar. Learning notes on frets is a different job itself. Still, I think it will make me a better player by helping me learn music that I don't know and haven't heard before.

I'm still learning songs using tabs though. They're the quickest way to learn a song you've heard and to be able to play it quickly, and reasonably well. And maybe I'll translate that to notation some day. If I can play standard notation I can do that. If I don't, I can't.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm using both. To me they seem to be two separate things, so I practice by notes, then I play a song or practive it by notation. Maybe I'm hindering myself, but in the long run I think being able to read music is a plus. We don't all have the kind of ear that can hear a song once and play it back. I need help. (in more ways than one, most likely...)
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Postby Cat » May 13th, 2012, 3:10 am

My wife and I JUST got in from attending a three piece classical trio...piano/cello/violin. A Chopin solo on piano was in the program...and the gal looked at her sheet music...then folded it up and away and set the piano brace down flat. She closed her eyes and played her heart out. Amazing. Not a note to be read, anywhere. (www.allegrotrio.cam.au)

So...as far as this thread goes...sure you can read sheet music if you are learning...but it's always going to be heart & soul to get it right. That's why an orchestra needs a conductor. How necessary is it...which is the point to this thread, I guess? There's arguments on both sides but...as a non-reader, myself...I wish I had long ago....but I'm cool without it, too. Eh...

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Postby guitarforlife » May 21st, 2012, 6:15 pm

I think it really depends on what your goals are as a player. It's useful to be able to read music, but it does take a bit of time to read fluently. For a lot of people it would be time better spent working on other areas of playing. But IMO you should learn to understand what the note denominations mean and be able to work it out bar by bar even if you can't read it fluently.
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Postby Cat » May 22nd, 2012, 1:45 pm

Yeah...good point.

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Postby NoteBoat » May 22nd, 2012, 5:51 pm

Cat wrote:My wife and I JUST got in from attending a three piece classical trio...piano/cello/violin. A Chopin solo on piano was in the program...and the gal looked at her sheet music...then folded it up and away and set the piano brace down flat. She closed her eyes and played her heart out. Amazing. Not a note to be read, anywhere. (http://www.allegrotrio.cam.au)


In a masterclass, classical guitarist Benjamin Verdery said (I'm paraphrasing as best I can remember): Learning a piece of music is hard. First you have to learn all the notes and memorize them... but only then can the real work start, of figuring out what the composer is trying to say, and how you can bring it out.

Reading isn't performing, and it can't substitute for it. But IMO, the ability to read will speed the process of learning a piece and helping identify how it should be played.
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Postby krankto11 » July 16th, 2012, 9:22 pm

Maybe this post is late...but, seeing that I'm new to the site....

I've been playing guitar for along time. I use tabs all the time, but mostly just play by ear. back in the day, I payed trumpet for about 7 years, in bands and orchestras. Reading music was a must, but after the 1st couple of times playing a piece, I usually played by ear. Would it be difficult to attempt to start reading music again? I'm actually thinking of taking some lessons....
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Postby fleaaaaaa » July 17th, 2012, 6:19 am

First step there if you want to read music on the guitar is to learn what the notes are on the frets and I would probably try to at least learn the first 5 frets and open strings names before going to a teacher..... but that's me I like to get ahead of the game. Why first five frets? Most early grade stuff only covers that, so if you read a "solo now" piece you will find it doesn't cover much further than that. I am fairly sure that having read music before will give you an advantage of a kind.
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Postby philip1 » April 15th, 2013, 11:34 pm

Tablature is great, and can be a great help, if it's good tablature, but often, tablature arrangements are not that great, in my experience, and many great guitar arrangements of classical and popular guitar pieces don't give you tablature. If you have learned the notes on the guitar, it's easier to improve tablature arrangements that need improving.

I used Frederick Noad's book, "Solo Guitar Playing," to learn to play classical guitar (plus visits to a guitar teacher), but doing the exercises in the book to learn the notes on the guitar went very slowly for me, so I finally made a set of flash cards - 78 cards, for all the notes up through the 12th fret. Testing myself with these cards every day resulted in my learning all the notes in a more interesting way, and it sped up the learning of the notes. Doing the exercises in the book was also very important, but using the cards as a daily test was tremendously helpful, and a fun way to do it, since you play a bit of a memory game with yourself every day.

I recently had the cards printed, and now they're listed on Amazon Books in the U.S. and on Amazon Books in the UK. They just got 5 great reviews on Amazon.com, including two reviews from guitar teachers.

Learning the notes on the guitar can be a bit of a struggle - it was, for me. Using the cards was the system that worked for me. There are 78 cards - called "Philip's Learn All the Notes on the Guitar Flash Cards." Please take a look at the 5 reviews on Amazon.com.
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Postby Moonrider » April 17th, 2013, 7:22 am

FishyBoy wrote: The only question is, is it bad that I can't read sheet music? I guess I could learn, but do I really need to? At some stage I would like to learn other instruments, the only other instrument I can play is the harmonica and I can sing, but I'd like to learn the sax and piano. Any advice?


It's not "bad" per se. Learning to read would be an excellent addition to your arsenal of skills, though, since it makes a LOT of things simpler.
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Postby Creepy Old Man » April 20th, 2013, 6:53 pm

Music Theory is most important.
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Postby chunreyna » May 17th, 2013, 7:11 am

Hi there,

Definitely not. It requires practice and knowledge to read perfect sheet music. Written music is a language that has been developing for thousands of years, and even the music we read today has been around for over 300 years. Music notation is the representation of sound with symbols, from basic notations for pitch, duration, and timing, to more advanced descriptions of expression, timbre, and even special effects.
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