Two Types Of Notation There are two common types of notation for guitar. The
first is standard notation - a system of circles placed on a 5-line staff. You've
seen it before. Below is a short example of staff notation.
Standard notation requires that you know which note name a particular circle refers
to, then you have to find the corresponding note on the guitar neck.
The second type of notation for guitar is tablature. This is a more direct way of
notating guitar parts because it doesn't require any of the calculations needed in
standard notation. Tablature is a list of numbers written on 6 lines representing
the 6 strings of the guitar. The numbers are fret numbers and are read left to right,
like standard notation.
Music Phobia I have taught well over four hundred people to play guitar. Not many
had any real interest in learning to read music. Most of my beginners want to learn
to play by ear.
Learn the basics. I encourage my students to learn at least the basics of staff
notation. In the last few years, I’ve written a lot of worksheets for staff notation,
where I have my students just write in the note names.
The pencil and paper exercise is a break from playing guitar, and concentrating completely
on your hands. Some people balk at the idea of learning notation. You've heard of
'math phobia?' People have the same kind of phobia about reading music.
It is not necessary to read in order to play, or to understand how music and arranging
work. “Writing” is not the same as “language.” and here, learning the language, as
it applies to motions on the guitar, is the name of the game.
Learn To Play First Many guitar teachers insist that their students learn to
read music. Reading music is unnecessary for beginning guitar players. It complicates
the task of just learning to handle and understand the instrument.
If you have ever watched beginning players, they are constantly turning their heads
back and forth trying to watch both hands. If you add a piece of sheet music to the
mix, it can get really complicated for a beginner. If you wait until you have a comfort
level with the guitar, then you can better concentrate on learning to read the hollowed-out
dots with stems and flags.
If your goal is to get good enough to jam with friends,
or play along with songs on the radio, then you don't need to read music at all.
You only have to know a few chords and scales, and get the hang of playing chord
progressions, and you're in. Maybe later you'll decide you want to go further. You
will decide that there is some reason why you want to read. By this time, you have
a large frame of reference where music is concerned, and it will be easy - easier
than reading as you're learning the basics of handling an instrument.
reading Reading will almost certainly change the way you look at and think about
music. Staff notation is a system that has evolved over centuries. It is a blueprint
for pitch, duration, tempo and dynamics. It has been adapted to give players information
on technique, like what position to play in.
A Career In Music If you are serious
about a career in music, you should make a serious effort to master reading staff
notation. Many jobs in music require that you be a first-rate sight-reader. Many
jobs go to the best reader, not necessarily the best player. This includes many (not
all) studio jobs, like recording music for commercials, videos, TV shows, movies,
etc. Reading is also essential for most union-contract work.
Learn Gradually Most
people don't get good at reading notation right away. There are people who seem to
have mastered it overnight, but they are the exceptions to the rule. Reading is complicated,
time consuming and takes a lot of practice to get good at. There are plenty of good
books and software packages on reading, and they target all levels of difficulty.
Notes When you are first learning, it helps if you start with very large notes. You
can make enlarged copies at any copy store. You can rotate the book on the copier
so that the pages can be made even larger. You can tape the pages together when you're
Divide Measures Into 4 Beats The hardest thing about reading music is counting
rhythm - dividing a measure into beats. This means memorizing the sound of different
subdivisions of basic rhythms. Start with reading whole notes, half notes and quarter
Divide Measures Into Smaller Beats If you get to where you can read note values
up to 16th notes, you will be able to read sheet music to most popular songs. You
can see this for yourself. You don't have to read music to recognize a 16th note.
Look at the sheetmusic for your favorite songs.
More On Counting Rhythms
Common Rhythms Most popular music is in 4/4 or a related time signature. Time signatures
related to 4/4 are 2/2 and 2/4.
Other music is based on 3/4 time. Time signatures
related to 3/4 are 6/8 and 12/8.
When elements of 3/4 time are used in a piece whose
basic pulse is 4/4, the 3/4 elements are called 'triplets.' Triplets come in groups
of 3 and are indicated by writing a '3' above the note group.
Reading Notation for Guitar
Copyright 2001 by Greg Varhaug. All Rights Reserved.