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Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

How To Read Music For The Guitar}

How to Read Music for the Guitar


Tomas Michaud

Learning guitar by reading music has many advantages: the ability to read music provides a lot of information that you can usually only get when you spend time with a more proficient musician who is willing to show or explain techniques to you. Music takes time; muscle memory and neurological pathways must be developed over thousands of hours of practice. While teachers and professional musicians can be very helpful, learning to read music makes you independently able to study and learn new material yourself. When you have a grasp of the chords and melodies, then your teacher can help you refine your knowledge and show you the right techniques in a targeted way during your lessons.

In the old days, especially with folk music, notation was unnecessary and most musicians learned by copying a master. But in those times the master musician took on a few apprentices and spent thousands of hours with them personally developing their techniques and styles. There simply isnt time for that any more in the modern world, so prejudice against reading music is unfounded! Reading music for the guitar can help you immensely in your own independent study.

Types of guitar notation tabs vs. note reading

There are many advantages to reading tabs, but learning note reading guitar skills can give you a wealth of information that tabs cant deliver. A composer can use musical notation to transmit pitch, time signatures, alternate notes, volume, picking styles and harmonics, just to name a few. The ability to read music in the bass, treble and even the rarer clefs (soprano, alto, tenor, etc.) can open up a wide variety of new techniques and understanding. Learning to read notes can let you communicate effectively and in an efficient manner with other musicians and will also provide you with a good foundation for reading classical or other styles of music which might require more reading. If you ever want to audition for a band, then you will also need to have your sight reading skills perfected in addition to your techniques, improvisation and so on. Take a look at the tests Dream Theater forces their musicians through when they are auditioning for new members in the documentary The Spirit Carries On. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L609JsPFmmI&ob=av3e)

Beginner ideas

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The first thing you should do is find a book that has progressive exercises in learning guitar notation. Ask your teacher where to get one, check on the Internet or consult with the staff at your local guitar or music shop. You can even get free sight reading guitar books online. Its best to get a couple of books, as you will find that after doing the exercises a few times you may end up memorizing them and playing from heart. If you find yourself doing this, you need to move onto another exercise, because playing from memory wont help you develop your sight reading abilities.Work your way through the exercises starting with the sections on basic sight reading for the guitar. If you run out of exercises in one book, switch to the other one to do new exercises to practice sight reading at the beginner level until you can confidently read them on the fly.

Beginning sight reading the guitar is best done by learning the notes on the 1st and 2nd string in the first position of the guitar using quarter notes. Make sure you are doing exercises that let you practice these. Songs like Mary Had a Little Lamb, and Frere Jacques are often used in these exercises because they have you practicing only a few notes per scale.

You will usually start off your beginner sight reading exercises by playing songs with quarter notes.

Intermediate guitar notation

As you progress through your sight reading books, you will be slowly adding the other strings on the guitar as well as changing the note duration (half notes, eighth notes, etc.)

Eventually, you will start doing technical exercises such as arpeggios, thirds, scales, rhythms and riffs. These are small blocks of melodies that can be practiced by drilling and adding to your routine. Practicing these over and over once you can sight-read will help you develop your techniques in dexterity, picking, strumming, holding down chords and playing melodies with both your hands (especially with electric guitars, both hands are often used to play complicated solos which would be technically impossible with one hand).

Advanced guitar notation

By this stage, you should have a solid foundation of being able to read any note or note duration by sight. This is when complicated tonalities, pitches, durations, volumes, tapping and rests are added. This type of sight reading will teach you how to pluck the strings to produce staccatos, slurs, legatos and glissandos. You will also learn how to read the Italian used to describe the pace of the song and how to alternate quickly between complicated time signatures.

Tips & tricks to remember

– STOP if you are memorizing the exercise; move onto the next one

– SPEND regular time practicing sight reading; even a few 15 minute sessions per week that you can integrate into your regular practice sessions will be extremely beneficial

– GET RID OF distractions; not everyone can afford a sound-proof room, but you can use one for a small fee usually at your local music school or sound studio or even just lock yourself into a small room; remember to treat your practice time almost with a religious fervor and instruct the rest of your family/roommates not to disturb you when you are practicing; doing this will greatly increase your ability to concentrate on reading instead of worrying about getting your fingers in the right place; and theyll realize you were right when youre playing like anyone on this list! http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-guitarists-of-all-time-19691231

Tomas Michaud is a guitarist, recording artist, entrepreneur, music educator. He is the owner and Music Director of the SF Bay Area’s premier music education facility, Star land Music Center in Alameda, CA, and has taught or consulted with thousands of students over the past thirty years. He is the author of six CDs of Contemporary Instrumental World Music, and his latest, Beauty and Fire, has consistently charted in the top ten. To know more about Tomas Michaud visit us at http://www.starlandguitar.com/

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