Is Learning to Read Music a Waste of Time?

publication date: Aug 3, 2010

If you're a guitar player, chances are that learning to read music is indeed a complete waste of time. Now before I jump in to why it's a waste of time, let me clarify that I can read music and I do teach it on some occasions. However, it does more harm than good!

Reading music, otherwise known as "standard notation," is a system of defining which notes to play and how long to play them. This sounds like a good idea if you're playing instruments, and in fact it is a good idea for most instruments. Piano players for instance need to play the melody to a song while their left hand plays chords. Trumpet players need to know which specific note to play and how long to play it. 

There are 2 main reasons why standard notation is not the best method for guitar players:

  1. There is more than 1 way to play most notes on a guitar. On piano, trumpet and many other instruments, there is only one way to play any given note, whereas on guitar, you can play a certain note in multiple places. 6 strings allows for a lot of different ways to play one particular note. Therefore, a note that is specified in standard notation doesn't translate as easily to guitar as is does to other instruments.
  2. Guitar is chord-based instrument. Guitar has to do with chords, not individual notes. You will learn exponentially faster when you focus on learning chords and chord families rather than individual notes. Only classical guitarists or kids learning to play on one string at a time will benefit from standard notation.

I can prove it!
The proof is in the pudding, right? If you walk into a studio in Nashville or anywhere else that is recording all of the songs you hear on the radio, you most likely will not find a sheet of standard notation. You'll instead find studio charts or a "Nashville number" chart. A studio chart is a road map of a song that gives instructions on what chord to play and what happens during each measure. Guitarists, bassists, drums, and many times keyboardists do not need to know about individual notes; rather, they need to know about chords and measures. 

The result is a much easier to follow guide on what to play. Don't learn guitar by also learning to read music. You'll get frustrated, and you won't get very far. The Guitarmann Beginner Series gets you off on the right foot so that you can learn the most common chords as well as a common strum pattern. The Guitarmann Essentials Series continues and teaches you the main chord families used with guitar and how to read studio charts. You'll be playing songs much quicker with this method and will be prepared for jamming with friends or even for professional environments like recording in a studio. Check out hundreds of free studio charts to see what they look like.