Being able to read guitar sheet music can prove an invaluable asset in today’s world. We all know that becoming a pro guitarist means entering a very competitive field. You need every advantage you can muster, and then some. Before we go any further let’s first answer one basic question: isn’t being able to lead guitar tabs good enough? If you’re looking to make a name for yourself or a living as a guitarist then the answer would be “no”. This is by no means negates the importance of tab, but in a world that’s often oversaturated with guitar players, knowing how to read guitar sheet music can make the difference between success and failure. Let’s break things down so we can understand them better.
While tablature or tab seems to be a rather new invention that came along with the electric guitar, the truth is that it has been around for quite awhile. Even before the invention of the instruments we know today as “guitar“, we see examples of tab being used especially with fretted instruments such as lute. Examples of tab in the Western world today date as far back as the 1300’s. In Asia tab was used even before that.
In today’s world guitar tab is composed of six lines that represent the six strings of the guitar (four in case of a bass guitar) on which numbers are placed which correspond to the frets on the guitar. Most tab formats today do not show you the rhythm. The information which is presented gives you a clear picture of what strings and frets should be played. The tablature format does not give you information in regards to the notes (pitches) being played.
Guitar sheet music on the other hand provides you with rhythmic as well as note (pitch) information. This is important because it’s like getting a detailed blueprint of a hotrod car. It allows you to see “inside” and understand exactly how the parts work. This is great because you can use this information to fix your hotrod if it breaks down, or build a new one. In much the same way, knowing how to read guitar sheet music allows you to understand and break things down, analyze the Masters and use those techniques when building your own material, songs.
Being able to “see” inside the music gives you a huge advantage by allowing you to manipulate and direct the musical flow of your ideas in such a way as to achieve maximum impact. To put it plainly, the ability to understand sheet music will allow you to create and juggle musical ideas with skills far beyond what most other guitarists possess.
I don’t think that all can be reduced to a question of guitar tablature versus guitar sheet music. Traditional guitar sheet music does have its shortcomings when it comes to the problem of marking strings and frets to be used. Traditional notation for the guitar does allow for the string to be identified. This, when used in conjunction with the indicated note gives you the fret number. However this tends to fill up the visual space making the notation much harder to read and follow. A combination of notation with tab attached seems to be the best answer. Notation will also allow for the indication of the finger that needs to be used for certain note.
While a combination of notation and tablature will yield the best results, we will focus more on notation in this article because of the simple fact that most guitarists know how to read tab, so it’s the learning of music notation that will set you apart from the rest of the herd.
Learning to read guitar sheet music… notation hell or heaven sent
If you understand the benefit of being able to read guitar sheet music but are intimidated by the look and feel of music notation, then take a deep breath and relax because things seem a lot worse than they actually are. I know the feeling of looking at notation and feeling like you are looking at ancient hieroglyphs. In truth notation is not nearly as complicated as it seems at first glance. It’s just takes a little patience and perseverance to learn but the results are definitely worth it.
You might be thinking of that you will never be able to crack the code of notation. Well then, I’ll just have to prove to you that it’s not nearly as difficult as you may think by teaching you some notation basics right here and now.
Guitar sheet music is usually written on staff comprised of five lines. You can write notes either on the line or in between the lines. One easy way to remember than notes that are on the lines of the staff is by remembering the following acronym: Every Good Boy Does Fine (E G B D F). This corresponds to the notes on the lines of the staff as read from the bottom up. To remember the notes that are in this space is between the lines, just remember FACE (F A C E as read from the bottom up). So now, if you have to tell me what note resides on the fourth space of the staff, as read from the bottom up, you can easily recall FACE and figure out that E is the note we were looking for. And there you have it, less than a minute and you already know all the notes that are on the staff. If you put a blank staff in front of you and quiz yourself over what note lies on a particular line or space, you’ll soon be able to recall them automatically without using the acronyms listed above.
So as you can see learning how to read music is not that hard, and while it may take a little bit of time to take it all in, the benefits are tremendous. Stick with it and you will soon see yourself standing head and shoulders above the crowd of guitarists out there.