Four Reasons Why Every Guitarist Should Learn To Read
Standard notation, what is it all about?
Whether youíre a casual player or a serious one - learning to read standard notation and applying it can by itself benefit your playing skills a LOT!
Here are 4 main reasons that I think will change the way you look at standard notation (the notation you dread so much!)
Lets start off first, by laying out an aspect that I personally find very exciting and somehow magical.
1- Itís international - itís a worldwide language.
No matter what the style or complexity of the music that you play it can be most simply described as organized sounds, and these sounds can be written in an understandable and easy way. The system of musical notation we use now has been developed over hundreds of years and, like any language, continues to evolve. The power of these symbols to pass along the subtle elements of music are what allow you me or anybody else to perform a piece of music today just as an Italian composer intended it 300 years ago. Or a guitar player to write a chart this afternoon and hear the band play it tonight!
This is magical and powerful!
2- Helps understanding rhythms, (you can start with rhythmic notations first)
I got a question for you, how would we be able to perform the 300 year old piece, talked about above, was it written in tablature notation? (Answer: off course we wouldnít).
A tablature cannot be performed unless we know the work in its original form. By hearing it several times, getting used to itís rhythm- itís time signature, key signature etc. Ö Without having heard the original piece tablature notation would be just meaningless numbers.
Whereas in standard notation everything is crystal clear, every tiny detail is given and clearly written on the staff.
Now Iím not rioting on tablature and trying to look like the defender of standard notation. Not at all, on the contrary I think that tablature and notes are complimentary especially for guitarists (or any musician playing a fretted instrument). The way I see it, one should first study the song by reading the rhythm in standard notation (even if they are clueless about notes, rhythmic understanding will do at first), extracting the patterns used, getting familiar with the key signature and THEN hit the tablature with now a bunch of baggage to understand and play it better.
Thatís why softwares like guitar pro are so powerful. You can extract the rhythm from the standard notation above and apply it to the tablature below, which makes it easier, faster and more interesting to learn.
N.B: Some people like to read tabs written with rhythmic notations, I do not advise it. Itís only a matter of personal preference to separate the two and a pedagogic approach I use with my students for them to get used to standard notation.
3- Helps discovering and memorizing the notes along the neck.
As you know the guitar is made in a way that makes it easier for us to create patterns, positions, boxes, and geometry etc Ö and we generally do a decent job in translating our patterns from one key to another by simply knowing how to read tabs.
But now by knowing how to read pitches and memorizing note names on the staff, we can easily apply everything we read on different locations along the neck.
- This will build much confidence to your playing, by allowing you to move freely along the neck widening your scope and perspective.
- Giving you more freedom to improvise, since now you know every note on the neck.
- Apply your ideas, licks and scales wherever you want without feeling handicapped by numbers and shapes.
Knowing how to read standard notation has helped many of my students break the ceiling, and no longer feel stuck with their playing, it will help you too J
4- Communication with other musicians
Reading and understanding standard notation will help you communicate with other musicians especially and most importantly NON-guitarists. Musicians speak in their own language and the majority of this language is built out of notes. By learning standard notation and memorizing the notes on your neck - combined with basic music theory, not only will it equip you to communicate with other musicians, but also itíll make the process of working together much easier and more enjoyable for everyone.
Hereís an old joke you may have heard of:
Q: how do you shut up a guitarist?
A: Put some sheet music in front of him!
Now we donít want that kind of reputation, do we?
Simply reading the symbols over and over again will make their meaning clearer, so that you can think less about them as figures and concentrate more on the music that comes from them. As with any language, it becomes usable through constant application.
I hope you enjoyed the article and youíre less reluctant now to start learning some standard notation!
About the Author:
Jack Haddad is a guitarist, singer/songwriter, performer and guitar teacher. He is the director of JHGuitarSchool in Kaslik-Beirut, Lebanon. Anyone in Lebanon interested in becoming a better guitarist, click here for the best guitar lessons in Lebanon.