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Is learning to read standard notation worth the effort?

Should you learn to read standard music notation (notes written on a music staff) or should you just rely on tablature (a simpler way of reading guitar music)?

Guitarists have debated this issue for ages. Some argue that the use of tablature (or tabs as they are more commonly known) makes learning to read music written in standard notation something you can do without.

Others on the other hand argue that you can never be a complete musician unless you can read music in standard notation.

Both have a point. Tablature does make life easier and in the end, what counts is what the composer has to say rather than the medium used. On the other hand, if I went to live in France I would surely learn to speak French.

Standard notation is the main language of music.

So is it worth learning how to read music in standard notation? Depends. These are some things you should consider:

  • The genre/s of music you intend to play.

If you want to play Pop or Rock, it’s quite rare that you’ll encounter standard notation without also having the option to read tabs. If you want to play Classical or Jazz guitar, it’s much more likely that you’ll encounter pieces of music that are written in standard music notation only.

  • Your present level of guitar playing

If you’re a complete beginner, there are more important things to learn than how to read notes on the staff and finding their equivalent on your guitar.

If you already play some chords and scales, spending some of your practice time learning standard notation will make your musical experience more complete and fulfilling.

  • Your goals in guitar playing

If you just intend to learn a few chords and entertain your friends with Nirvana songs, learning to read standard notation isn’t really going to help you reach your goals.

On the other hand, if you want to really get into it and learn the various aspects of your instrument and musicianship, you would be losing a lot if you don’t learn to read standard music notation.

After considering the three points above you can make a better decision about whether you want to fence off some of your practice time for learning to read standard notation, or whether that time can be better used to improve other areas in your guitar playing.


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