Is reading music necessary to be good?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Ben, Jan 6, 2005.

  1. Ben

    Ben Guest

    Do you have to be good at reading music to be a good guitar player and if so how good do you need to be?

    I think you can be a good guitar player without being able to read any music, but reading music makes you a better musician because you can speak the language of music.

    Is it sufficient to read tabs only?
    I lean towards using tabs and my ear more than the music when learning a new song.

    Do you have to be good at site reading or is it enough to slowly pick out the notes?
    I learned to "site read" at a low level of proficiency in the region of the first five frets. I am not effective in frets 6-12. I feel the need to improve this. Do you think improving my skill in frets 6-12 is beneficial?

    I would like to know your opinion on these questions so I can decide how much effort to put in on it.
    I would also like to know your experience level and proficiency on the following simple scale.

    Scale
    Beginner (You can't play half the songs you want because you have low skill).
    Armature (Everyone else)
    Professional (You pay the bills this way)

    I am an "Armature" with about 7 good years of experience in the past 47.
     
  2. Brion

    Brion Supporting Member

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    I don't beleive that in order to be a good guitar player one must be able to read. There are many examples of great players who reportedly could not read. I've always found sight reading for guitar to be very cumbersome due to the layout of the instrument itself. It takes a long time to become proficient at it and to learn it you must do it everyday for at least 30 minutes using different material so that you don't start to memorize the patterns or melodies. Learning to read will probably help you become a better player and certainly won't hurt you any as long as you can spend the time to keep your current abilities up to par.
     
  3. tonezoneonline

    tonezoneonline Member

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    I would say reading music has nothing to do with guitar playing.An accomplished pianist can read music very well but probably not play guitar well.
    I do believe you need to know a certain amount of music theory to progress as a guitar player.There have been many good guitar
    players who don't know how to read or don't know theory but I would bet the majority of the great guitar players know some theory.
     
  4. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    Reading is a vehicle that allows one to play without having heard the music or without having to figure it out by ear. So basically it saves time and also opens up your musical world just that much more.

    Can you get along without it? Yes, until you get a call for a big band gig and they throw a chart in front of you that you've never heard before. Section F has a written out gtr solo doubling the sax - uh oh.

    Sufficient to read tabs only? Arguable. I say learn both.

    Sight reading helps, the more proficient, the easier and faster.

    You should know your entire neck, so yes, learn to read past the 5th fret.

    How much time should you spend working on it? No less than one hour a week.

    Armature or amateur? Regardless, my skill level should make no difference in this topic. I did major in classical guitar and graduated summa cum laude if that gives my feedback any more credence.

    Some examples where reading helped me besides in college.
    1) Big Band calls - sight reading charts
    2) Reading fake books with a jazz quartet
    3) Pulling snippets out of books. For example, we did "I Shot The Sheriff" so I pulled out the intro to "Under The Sea" from "The Little Mermaid", read through the line, memorized it and used it in my gtr solo. Another example, got some ideas from Eric Johnson book that I developed. I've been known to steal a line or two from the classical masters.
    4) Being band director in different situations
    5) Reading through the score of "The Rite Of Spring" during a New York Phiharmonic performance. AWESOME!!!!
    6) Writing my own music
    7) Teaching parts to others
     
  5. rwe333

    rwe333 Supporting Member

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    Reading music is advantageous for communicating w/ other musicians, particularly those that play other instruments.
    More important w/ some styles than others, for example: most jazz players read, many blues/rock players don't...
    The ability to read also allows access to a wider range of study materials and/or undergraduate studies. Also aids in the comprehension of time/key signatures, rhythm...
    Not mandatory to be a good player, but - like everything - the benefits will only truly be revealed once you actually dig in and do it.
     
  6. Ben

    Ben Guest

    Sorry that was amature not armature.

    My request for the scale below was not to see if you know what your doing, but to understand the point of view. I expected the professions may get some music thrown at them and need to be able to learn it quickly.

    Similar to lhallam's post.
    "Can you get along without it? Yes, until you get a call for a big band gig and they throw a chart in front of you that you've never heard before. Section F has a written out gtr solo doubling the sax - uh oh."


    Scale
    Beginner (You can't play half the songs you want because you have low skill).
    Amature (Everyone else)
    Professional (You pay the bills this way)
     
  7. trisonic

    trisonic Member

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    Paul McCartney can't read music to save his life.
    Would he be better if he could?

    Best, Pete.
     
  8. Mark C

    Mark C Member

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    Couldn't read: SRV, Hendrix, Clapton, Wes Montgomery, McCartney, Van Halen etc...

    It isn't necessary, but I personally think tabs are one of the worst things that ever happened to guitar in some ways. Reading tab doesn't make you think about notes - it makes you think about patterns and fret numbers which is not music! Learning by ear is a fantastic exercise - basically every great guitar player can play what they hear in their head, just like you learn a language by ear and then later learn to read. In the early days of rock, guitarists had no choice but to learn by ear since there were no transcriptions available.

    Reading sheet music can be very valuable to a musician, but it isn't necessary to sound good, as long as you develop your ear to a very high level. It isn't too hard to learn though, and really, everything you learn gives you more of an opportunity to improve as a guitarist, so why not learn to read?
     
  9. MickYoumans

    MickYoumans Member

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    No, I don't think so. Music is more of the ability to take what is in your soul and express it through your instrument, whatever instrument that may be. If you are a professional musician working in the studio environment and having to play a lot of songs you've never heard before, then it would certainly be a handy knowledge to have. Written music is how musicians have communicated through time. The bottom line is if you don't have music in your soul, it doesn't matter how good you can read, it will come out pretty stiff sounding.
     
  10. Brian D

    Brian D Member

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    I think you answered yourself pretty well right there. Basically, anything that you can learn about music or guitar will give you more tools to create and play with.
     
  11. landru64

    landru64 Member

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    uh... why don't we define "good" for starters?
     
  12. Tom Gross

    Tom Gross Supporting Member

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    Now this is a valid question. It depends on where you want to go with guitar and what you want to do with it. I guess this is what everybody else is saying, but my point is whether it's worth the effort or not - to you - is an important question. It would be great to read well, a lot of the posts here talk about what it can provide you. But would 6 months working with the tab in sheets of sound make you happier with the results? Would the time spent working with a teacher on something else make you happier? Or would 6 months working on reading, followed by 10 years of playing jazz & classical pieces from standard notation make you happier? That's the real question.

    I focus on this aspect because for myself it has helped to be able to take somethings I would LOVE to learn and say - I can't do that right now, maybe someday, but now I'm gonna focus on x.
     
  13. AlexT

    AlexT Guest

    It's all important - but this would be my partial prioritized list:

    - Practicing/playing
    - Theory
    - Listening
    - Reading

    My 0.02
     
  14. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    Sorry Ben, a constant discussion on this board is weighing peoples posts on their abilities. Sometimes I can be a prick.

    rwe333 added a big benefit that I left out:

    #8 - reading education books such as "Joe Pass Guitar Style" and Jack Zucker's "Sheets Of Sounds" among others.

    BTW - Paul McCartney may not be able to read/write but George Martin (among others) did transcribe the parts he sung for the orchestral members to play. I'd bet Paul wishes he could do it himself and save a step.
     
  15. DigitalTube

    DigitalTube Member

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    I think reading is very important for anyone that wants to make a living as a musician, and it is so simple that I don't understand why alot of people don't take the time to learn.
    I wouldn't have my job, if i couldn't read and write charts for the musicians i work with, especially brass charts.
    My advice would for everyone to learn it..it really is easier than it looks.
    E.B.
     
  16. ddavidd

    ddavidd Member

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    When you know the song i dont think that its very important to be able to read. its when you are learning the song that it makes things a lot easier. after all the most important thing is to be able to play. if you can only read the music it doesnt get very funny for the audience... or does it?:D
     
  17. DigitalTube

    DigitalTube Member

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    Sometimes there are last minute changes, like when you have to play a few tunes just for one performance, it would be a waste of time memorizing it, that's really when you realize how important reading is, it has saved me many times, I sometimes write the charts and tape them to the stage floor, no one in the audience can see it and I get the job done.
    E.B.
     
  18. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    Why bother to learn any form of written communication? Helen Keller learned to talk (sign) without being able to read. You don't have to read the written word in order to be able to talk but it sure makes it easier to communicate (this forum for example...)
     
  19. Ben

    Ben Guest

    It looks like this question struck a nerve in both camps.
    Thanks to everyone for the responses.

    Ihallam - I am not bleeding, so all is well. Your posts are worth the abuse, just keep answering the questions.

    In case your wondering, I'm going to learn the remainder of the neck, to at least a low level of proficiency. I don't expect it to make me a better player just a better reader and communicator. At least that way I'll be able to read the music I can't play well. It's better that not playing well and not reading.
     
  20. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    These are always such silly discussions.

    Does being able to read the written word make you a better poet? One could argue that art comes from within and that external influences should not matter.

    However, as a poet wouldn't it be nice to be able to read someone's poems instead of being limited to oral presentations in order to understand others' work.
     

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