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How do you get a rock guitarist to stop playing?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by feloniuspunk, Dec 3, 2005.

  1. feloniuspunk

    feloniuspunk Member

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    Put the music in front of him ...


    That's an old guitar joke but it was just to get your attention. The real question of this thread is: "Why do so many guitar players refuse to learn to read music?" I'm talking about simple stuff here folks, not the orchestral score to the Nutcracker Suite. Even really basic chord charts and lead sheets scare the bejesus out of some guitarists.

    I contend that most guitarists know a lot more than they pretend to know anyway. I taught myself to read music a long time ago. Was it hard? Yes. Was it difficult? Yes. Did I struggle? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes!

    I'm also a big believer in the idea that if "I" can do something, then anyone can. I'm certainly no rocket scientist (although my day job IS at NASA). When I talk to other guitarists one-on-one I usually find that many have experience playing in some capacity in church.

    Church music. Now there's an interesting concept for you. However, if you have ever played in church you know that there is usually some kind of sheet music available for you if you want it. That said, you have at least seen music written on paper. It should not be that foriegn of a concept. When the melody notes climb up the stave, the notes get higher. When they climb down the stave, they get lower. It's a simple concpet really.

    Unless you're the kind of person who learms everything by memory from a CD, then you really have no need of knowing how to read music. The older I got though the more I realized I just couldn't keep everything organized in my head. After you learn your first 1000 songs by memory they begin to merge together inside your brain.

    Let's dispell some common myths.

    #1 - If you learn to read music you will lose your soul to the devil. FALSE

    #2 - If you learn to read music you will lose your musical "FEELING". FALSE

    #3 - If you learn to read music you will be preoccuppied and it will hurt your playing. FALSE

    It reminds me of how some really backwards and superstitious natives freak out if you take their photograph. They think their soul will somehow be captured in the photo and they will then walk the earth a zombie. Now I do know some zombies (there are many at NASA). But it is not because they are educated.

    These people had social and character flaws before they ever got their educations and Ph. D.'s. The real bonus to learning to read music for a guitar player is that it will vastly expand the circle of other musicians who you can share musical ideas and play gigs with.

    It will also increase and correct your musical vocabulary, a real help in discussing musical ideas and concepts with other musicians. It's a real help when trying to explain what a diminished chord is or a minor 7 flat 5 chord. Another side benefit of learning to read music is that you will automatically learn some theory along the way. It is inescapable.

    I am in total favor of all musicians learning as much as they can about music, and that includes reading music itself. For guitarists, the real thing you need to know how to do is to read chord symbols and play a lot of simple 2/5 turnarounds, not complicated melody lines. That can come later if you need to play the melodies to songs.

    There are many professional guitar gigs that want the guitar player as the CHORD player, not the melody player. I know that if you're in a rock band that is NOT the case. In rock bands the proverbial "LEAD" guitar player is king, God, the absolute ruler of everything that happens in the band musically. But there are many other types of music gigs where the guitar player is just another sideman. Why close yourself off from applying for those gigs because you refuse to learn to read music?

    When putting together my groups I first always ask my sideman prospects two questions: #1 - Can you read? #2 - Do you own a black tux? Realize that the answer to each question is either a yes or a no and not an invitation for debate. If they answer both questions yes then the conversation continues.

    LEARN TO READ MUSIC. Schroeder (the piano player) in the comic strip Peanuts says: "Security is having the music in front of you." If you already know the song you're playing then the sheet music just becomes a reference point of commonality with what everyone else is playing. Hence the origin of the saying: "Everyone was not playing off the same sheet of music."

    People hate change. Learning is painful and difficult and time consuming. It requires admitting that you don't know everything. But all things that are worthwhile are usually difficult and require some investment of your time and energy. Guitarists will invest huge amounts of time in getting their gear right and their technique and their tone (and their hair and their clothes) but when it comes to actually learning the language of their craft they shy away. It doesn't make sense.

    I learned to read music and I am still the same clever, fun-to-be-with person I always was. I initially learned music by ear from old 45 rpm records of the Beach Boys and Beatles and played that way for 20 years before I took the next step. Boy did I waste a lot of time. If you're younger than me right now (I'm 56) then learn to read music! You won't regret it and it will enhance your musical life in many untold ways we can't cover here for lack of time and space.

    You can learn easier than you think too. Ask someone at church for help. Ask a friend who already knows how to read. Ask your guitar teacher to teach you some theory and how to read a basic lead sheet. It ain't rocket science. I live in an area where there are many military musicians and most groups I play in are with sidemen who are musical instructors by day. What a great opportunity to pick their brains. (Some are better teachers and share info better than others).

    You can also safely assume in any given situation that all horn players and most keyboard players already know how to read music. You will be able to communicate with them much better if you can too. I do not however recommend that, as a guitarist, you learn to read music from a keyboard player. Keyboard chord voicings are vastly different from guitar chord voicings. It takes a truly enlightened keyboard player to teach a guitar player how to read music and voice chords without incorrectly biasing you from a keyboard perspective.

    Most guitar chord voicings span at least two octaves while most keyboard voiced chords played by the right hand span less than one. The keyboard players' left hand plays the bass notes while the right hand adds the upper tensions and flavors. Us guitar players have to use guitar friendly chord voicings that capture the same essence of the same chord. The two don't often mix well.

    When you hear a guitarist and a keyboard player who sound good together, learn to appreciate the subtle fact that they are intentionally staying out of each others way musically.

    And above all, as musicians, remember to always listen to each other. Music is way more about listening than it is playing.

    ===================================

    How many guitar players does it take to change a light bulb?

    Four - One to change the bulb and three more to tell him how much better they could have done it.

    I'll leave you with that last joke, but it does point to the fact that most guitar players have inflated egos. Learning to read music usually gives a guitar player a much needed helping of humility. That's why putting the music in front of a rock guitar player is one of the best ways to get him to stop playing. He's suddenly confronted with what to him looks like a brick wall with some foriegn language scribbled on it.

    Here's a clue - It's not a brick wall. It's the instructions.
     
  2. gururyan

    gururyan Member

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    I took classical guitar at CU for 2 semesters. It not only forced me to use more difficult fingerings, but I was forced to learn how to read music. I always recommend classical guitar to my buddies as it really helps your "rock" guitar playing. But back to reading music, I haven't taken it any further than what I was forced to do while at CU...but what I did learn has indeed been a major benefit.
     
  3. dave s

    dave s Member

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    For me, and I'd venture the vast majority of guitarists, the answer for not learning how to read music is that it doesn't apply enmasse to rock guitar. Classical guitar is obviously a different story with a huge amount of material available to read and play.

    I realize some folks have scored complete books of SRV guitar solos, but still, I don't think the black and white notes that appear on paper conveys the feeling required to play rock guitar adequately.

    And just for the record, I do read music and played baratone horn in concert band and sousaphone in the marching band playing only what was available to me on a sheet of music.

    Music translates well to rock guitar? Not really, IMO.

    dave
     
  4. ScottB

    ScottB Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm almost exclusively self-taught.

    I've been playing for almost 30 years and I still haven't learned to read music. I have an accumulated understanding of theory to some extent, and that was gained very painstakingly just by putting pieces together as I've gone along.

    I don't have a good answer for why I've never learned. At this point, I wish a had at some point. I think I would be a lot better player now, at least able to work around chord changes more effectively. In saying this I'm also linking learning how to read with a better, more fundamental understanding of theory. The ironic thing in my case is that I've got a PhD, so it's not like I'm opposed to bearing down and slugging through it. I think an aspect of it was that I was studying so many other things, that I didn't want to approach music in that same kind of rigid, structured way. I wanted it to be an outlet, to just be "fun". I also never really felt like I needed to. I've always played rock and blues, and I've never been in a situation where I was compromised because I didn't know how to read. In the long run, though, I think I have short changed myself in some respects and taken a lot longer route to get to the point I'm at now in terms of ability. On the other hand, I doubt if I would have developed the ear that I have, basically by necessity.
     
  5. g-nem

    g-nem Member

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    I always argue that it is important to follow what you love as a musician. If you love playing classic rock, you'll never learn to read, but that's ok. You'll get great at reading tab, though;-)

    If you want to play jazz/ classical you will learn to read because that is how the music is presented to you. A lot of those guys will have no idea what to do with tab, though.

    Regardless, you definitely need to find a system of understanding music theory that works for you- whether it is as simple as knowing the relationships between common progressions like i-iv-v, or knowing what subs work on a jazz tune. EVERYONE who is a great guitar player understands the theory behind what they do, even if they organize it in their head in a way that would make no sense to you or me. Whether you call it a subdominant, a 4 chord, or just that chord 1 string and two frets down, it means the same thing.

    For sure it's useful to be able to talk with other musicians and know the common language, and as a guitar teacher I stress understanding that stuff. But I don't think READING per se is so important if you aren't playing music that is presented in that form.

    Of course if you want to be a pro guitar player, you really are hindering yourself by not learning that skill, but a lot of the guys here are just playing for fun, or just playing in classic rock and blues settings, where it really isn't neccesary.

    BTW I go through this a lot with my GF- she is a guitarist (and one of my old students) and a pretty good musician in her own right. She always wishes she had my understanding of theory and reading. But in the long run, she isn't interested in the music that requires that understanding, so she never uses the information I give to her, and therefore never really internalizes it. It is a very different thing to WANT to understand theory, and to spend the time internalizing and using it.
     
  6. g-nem

    g-nem Member

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    Hey scott- I think you are a prime example of someone who isn't in a musical setting where you need to learn to read.

    I'm curious, how do you organize what you know how to play in your head? Do you know the names of the chords and notes your playing, and scales that you play over chords?

    I'm just curious how much someone who has had your experience picks up what us "educated" ;) musicians know.
     
  7. feloniuspunk

    feloniuspunk Member

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    That's really well put. I have arrived at the level of understanding that I currently have by wanting to understand it in the first place. There was a time when I could be satisfied with playing three chord blues tunes all night but when I outgrew that I searched for new challenges and the direction for me was clear.

    It is funny that I have never really had a formal musical education but have had the opportunity to share the bandstand with many musical genuises and degreed performers, degreed in music that is. I guess what I have arranged in my head is what is comfortable for me.

    At NASA though, where I work we have a saying: "A quarter-20 bolt is a quarter 20 bolt no matter if you're in Houston or at Kennedy. The point being that some things are absolute. If I play a Bm7b5 chord here in Virgina and my friend Tim plays that same Bm7b5 chord in Missouri, it's still a Bm7b5 chord. The voicings we choose may be different. We may even substitute a Dm6 for that Bm7b5 but all in all, the essence and tonal quality of the chord will perform the same function in the song or to the ear.

    I agree that "need" plays a huge role in what people choose to do, choose to learn, choose to pursue. And I do understand the desire to not learn to read music because then it somehow moves from the "PURE FUN" realm into another different realm perceived as "not as much fun"; more serious.

    You are right that certain music is presented in certain ways. But my limited reading skills and understanding of theory have done nothing but help me on gigs and when trying to learn new stuff, even music that is not typically presented in that form, such as country music.

    Once you develop your ears though and can "hear" the changes, "hear" the families of chords and "hear" the voice movements, you save gobs of time and eliminate a lot of the guess work in trying to figure what chord the guy is playing.

    Am I a full fledged bonafide formal musical guy who understands theory and can read like a symphony violinist? No. But my knowledge serves my needs and I can't help but remember back to when I couldn't read and marvel at how limited I was.

    Ignorance is bliss though. Back then I was not aware that I was so limited.
     
  8. Antero

    Antero Member

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    It's simply that rock guitarists don't NEED to learn to read music, karu? If you're in a classical orchestra, playing a classical instrument, you have to. Rock guitarists, though, are in bands with other rock guitarists, and can on average communicate their ideas just as effectively without standard notation.
     
  9. Tom Gross

    Tom Gross Supporting Member

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    Great post, very well put. It expresses opinions I share.
     
  10. ScottB

    ScottB Gold Supporting Member

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    I have a very good understanding of blues and rock song structures. I know what the chords are called (at least the "standard" ones for rock and blues: major, minor, 7th's, 7/9 sus4's major 7th's, etc), I can find them on the neck instantly in any key and I can work out what a new chord is if I pick it apart. I play around a lot with voicings, and I have a good understanding of how to construct or deconstruct chords, but generally it's not at my fingertips (so to speak) or the forefront of my thinking. I'm always aware of what key I'm in and what the options are (at least within the limits of my framework of understanding).

    So what is that framework? I'll try to explain it. Basically, I think in patterns. As I said above, I'm always aware of the key center and when it changes, but I'm usually not thinking "notes" in my head as much as patterns and fingering positions. I'm pretty much fluent in pentatonic minor and major positions, and that constitutes the majority of my lead playing structure. I do some modal soloing at times, but again I'm not thinking in terms of what mode I'm in as much as where the half-steps are relative to the root. I have an accumulated understanding of when it sounds good and is appropriate to mix up major and minor scales, throw in passing tones, turnarounds, etc. Basically when I'm soloing I'm thinking in relative patterns and fingering positions. I'm aware of which positions, licks etc correspond to major and minor scales and when to throw them in, but I'm not thinking - "oh, this run is A-G-B, or this run incorporates the 4th" I'm thinking "this is that major lick that's 5 frets up from the "base" position (root note on the low E), and I can do the 5-6-7 run, then bend up on the 7th fret on the high E the hit the 5th fret on the B to get that Joe Walsh/Jimmy Page major lick thing going". If I'm changing keys, I do think about the "note", so if the solo goes from E to A, I'm thinking "A" when I change over but once I get into "A", I'm thinking in patterns again. If that makes sense.

    I also play off of chords a lot, especially in major keys. But again really the only time I think "notes" is when I have to recenter my pattern/structural frame of reference. I guess that's it in a nut shell, I use "notes" as a reference point, but once I get into something, I'm thinking almost exclusively in patterns.

    I think where it starts to break down for me is that I fall back on my "bag of tricks" a lot. You can do a lot with it, 30 years is lot of licks, but in the long run my boundaries are limited by my lack of theoretical depth. Another aspect is retaining songs. I'm very dependent on memorization, where I think a better grounding in theory would give one a better set of tools to retain or recall stuff within a solid framework.

    And really, in all of the above I'm talking about soloing. Generally when I'm playing rhythm I am thinking about the chords I'm playing, but maybe not so much the theory about why they work well together and what the possibilities are.

    I fell like I need to justify my playing somehow, just so you don't think I totally suck, here's what I've been able to accomplish with my brute force approach:

    http://www.swampcoolermusic.com/music.htm
     
  11. azgolfer

    azgolfer Member

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    Two main problems with spending time on reading:

    1. Too many places to finger the same note on guitar
    2. Rock stuff is difficult to notate - intricate rhythyms, bends, etc.

    I can copy a BB solo by listening much easier than by reading.
     
  12. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Member

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    To put a slightly different twist and analogy on this, I know and respect guys who would maintain that one cannot be a 'complete' musician without being an electronic tinkerer. I'd agree. However, I once nearly ensured my own demise through electronics, and anymore, I'm more fascinated by the way notes play with each other than I am with that of the minute differences between circuits, although I'm fascinated by different textures. Clear as mud, I'm sure. Okay, I'll pay guys to work on and tweak circuits for me, that's where I'm at with that.

    As a music teacher, I'm constantly in between two schools of thought, whether I choose to be or not - the classically trained pianist or cellist or violinist who can outread Satan, yet who can not improvise, and, merely because it is the most ever-present example - the "guitarist" with oodles of feel, and yet who can not read standard notation or harmonize the major scale. My answer to this is simple. If you like hamburgers but don't dig hot dogs, don't sweat it, your choice has been made, go with it.

    However, if you feel that nagging in your gut that something is 'missing', go ahead and take a look at learning to read standard notation and learning basic theory and harmony. I can assure you that no musician that I've ever met (be it within genres of rock, blues, country, polka specialist, etc.) has EVER reported feeling shortchanged after having learned the age-old accepted language of music.

    Look at it this way - when you were young, you learned to talk. What would your life be like if you hadn't also learned to read?

    Like most "guitarists" my age (45), I first started learning by ruining my records, and I will maintain that such ear training is crucial for the improvising musician. However, I encounter as a teacher, on a daily basis, through reading music, that which I otherwise would've never pursued, and I've difficulty in seeing how such can possibly be anything other than advantageous. Whatever sense of "feel" that I've managed to develop was mostly established in the 70's, and at this point, no amount of "learning" is likely to "un-do" that anyway.

    My current challenge is that of not confusing bass clef with treble clef. I went from having one bass student (who did not want to read), to, within the last month, having several (who do want to read). Who am I to stand in the way of language? In the meantime, if my guys want to dig in to Larry Graham & Chris Squire, well, we can do that too.

    And I promise that I'll eventually get interested in picking up a soldering gun again. Maybe.
     
  13. fr8_trane

    fr8_trane Member

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    Reading is unnecessary if your are planning on being a rock guitar god. If you are more realistically preparing yourself for a CAREER in music you better learn how to read. There are a probably a few top level players and hired guns who can't read but the vast majority of working musicians read upside down and backwards.
     
  14. r9player

    r9player Silver Supporting Member

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    I am one of those sad saps that .. never learned to read music but I am also a sad sap in the sense that I have no talent ..
    Want to learn to read, want to learn more theory but posting on this board takes all my time so I have no time to learn! :D
     
  15. e-z

    e-z Member

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    I didn't really start to learn to read until last year and I have been playing for 26 years. I have a teacher who is fond of saying, "Music is a language, don't be illiterate." Now he is my classical teacher so he comes from that perspective.

    I've played in bands in clubs and never needed to know how to read. However, now that I'm putting in the effort I feel like the fretboard is becoming less mysterious. There are beneficial side effects to learning to read and a greater knowledge of the guitar is one of them.
     
  16. PlexiBreath

    PlexiBreath Member

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    This thread hits home with me!

    I'm mainly a rock, blues, funk and some jazz, kind of guitar player. I've been playing for over 30 years but never bothered to learn to read. Well I'm about to go through a career change, retire from PCB design and go to GIT for the tools to make a living at playing guitar. GIT no longer requires the player read as an entry requirement, but they do work the students hard on it. So for the last couple of months I've been woodshedding on learning to read sheet music for guitar in order to not fall behind when I'm at GIT. It's been very tough going learning this but I'm starting to "get it".

    But for just a rocker, is there any value to reading?
    Absolutely! I've already been rewarded for the little sight reading I've learned so far, I've had a guitar techniques book I bought a while back that I set aside because it was all taught in music notation, I've recently gone back to that book and have been able to glean a lot of very good information on technique that directly relates to any music style, especially Rock 'N Roll. I'm also finding that the disipline on a rhythmic level has tightened things up nicely without loosing the groove feel at all. So basicaly, being able to sight read opens new doors for the Rocker, bringing new ideas, when new ideas enter the brain, they fester and eventualy come out in forms like new song and riff ideas, and more interesting solos.
     
  17. RobertMiller

    RobertMiller Member

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    Good points so far. My view - chase what you like to hear and want to play. My playing and understanding went into a higher gear when I made a conscious effort to understand chord theory. This was motivated by a desire to play more "difficult" music. I had just become bored with typical rock/blues, and was tired of being intimidated by expensive chords on a lead sheet or in a book. I don't really dig playing jazz standards, but I have latched on to some Robben Ford, Pat Metheny, and other stuff that would have been like Chinese to me not too long ago, when I was stuck on triads and pentatonic boxes. I still have a ways to go with chord/scale relationships, but for songs that I don't "understand", I usually let my ear guide me through the accidentals and voice lead by connecting chord shapes.

    I never gave a crap about theory until I ran up against an insurmountable road block. It was either keep playing the same stuff I always had, or learn some theory and break through. If you are satisfied with your playing and don't know any theory at all, you are likely happy musically and in the end that's all that matters.
     
  18. raz

    raz Member

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    I CAN read music. The problem is it's slower to read music than to lift a part off a recording or make up a new one.

    Reading music is only particularly helpful if you can sight-read. Learning to sight-read music well enough to just sit down with a piece of paper and play it takes an enormous amount of time and practice. It takes time to learn the skill, and then you have to practice it a LOT or it slips away from you faster than your chops.

    It only makes sense for someone aspiring to be classical guitarist or a hired gun for stage or studio to bother with that effort.

    If it interests you, by all means do it and you'll be better off for it. But beyond chord charts and maybe the occasional lead sheet for a head, I don't bother with notation. It takes me more time to transcribe, even with a computer, than it's worth.

    Is there value to it? Of course. It will make you a better musician. Be open to learning of all kinds. But it's not a requirement, and often isn't worth the time spent.

    I know, I know...heresy. But I'll stand by it. And like I said, I know how to read.

    Oh, and "reading music" doesn't equate to "theory." Musical notation is about the what, theory is about the why and the how. I think studying theory will pay off a HELL of a lot more for the average musician than learning to read notation.

    More heresy.
     
  19. PlexiBreath

    PlexiBreath Member

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    I agree, except so many theory texts use traditional music notation to give examples with. There are books that don't, but I don't want to be limited to those.
     
  20. g-nem

    g-nem Member

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    Great thread so far- scott- I think your approach of visualizing patterns is pretty universal even among people who are great readers/ theorists. I bet most of us here at TGP think that way- I think it is an important tool. Using notes as a reference point is basically how I think of it- as long as you can find the notes when you need 'um;)

    As far as the bag of tricks- it all goes back to listening. You don't learn a cool new lick or approach from a theory book. There are certain kinds of playing that do need an indepth theory and reading background- if you are interested in that style of music, I bet you've picked up those skills already.

    I think to all the people out there who wish they were better readers/ knew more theory I would suggest spending time trying to play and learn about the music you like to listen to- not neccesarily from books but from CD's as often as possible. Try to understand the theory behind what you already play and the songs you want to learn. I know a lot of music teachers whose whole curriculum centers around total fretboard knowledge, and whose students basically never learn to play anything real.
     

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