2. Write down on music paper as many random notes as you can think of. Use
natural notes, sharps, flats, and notes way above and below the staff. Make sure
you assign no rhythmic value to the notes. Read these notes on the guitar as fast
as you can. Then put down the guitar and merely recite them, including all flats,
naturals, and sharps (for example, A, Fk B q, D, etc). If you were able to recite the
notes quickly, then your basic knowledge of the staff, ledger lines, etc. is probably
adequate. If you slowed down when you played the same notes on the instrument,
your knowledge of the fingerboard is possibly weak. If you did well playing the
notes on your guitar but slowed down considerably when you recited them, then
your basic understanding of the notes on the staff is probably weak. By the way,
this test should include both treble and bass clefs; I believe it helps greatly for a
guitarist to be able to read in both clefs.
3. This part of the test involves writing out a rhythmic pattern with no pitch content.
Copy the rhythmic values from a piece of music, or make up your own. Next, either
sing or tap out the rhythm and see how your performance compares to parts 1 and
2 of the test. If you have an easy time with them, but you’re having trouble tapping
out the correct rhythm of part 3, then you’ll know the weakest part of your reading
ability and you can concentrate on improving it.
Be honest with yourself, and if you really can’t accurately pinpoint what part you’re
weak in, try the tests with a friend or a teacher. If you’re weak in all three areas, really get
Currently in the United States (and probably abroad) there are more guitarists
earning a living professionally than ever before. The competitiveness is incredible, and if
don’t know how to read music your chances of making it will become less and less
The 1960s witnessed an incredible boom in rock music and many people took up
guitar. The children of the ’60s are coming out in droves and a whole lot of them are
er guitar players!
If I could give any advice to young guitar players, it would be simply two things: Learn
read music, and study ear training. If you can hear a piece of music and play it
lately, and also read music well, then you’re going to cut down your competition
sely and have a good chance of making it in the music business.
Here’s a list of some books that may help you practice your reading:
For Clarinet, by H. Close (from Carl Fischer, 62 Cooper Square. New York, NY 10003). This book is only for single-note
the clarinet and guitar have basically the same range it is an excellent study.
ight Reading, Vols. 1 and 2, by Gaston Dufresne (from Chas. Colin Music. 315 W. 53rd St., New York, NY 10019). This is
reading, but if you can get through the complete book you’ve got it made.
omplete, Vols. 1, 2, 3, and 4. by Bugs Bower (from Chas. Colin).
e Steps To Syncopation For The Modern Drummer, by Ted Reed (from Ted Reed, Box 327, Clearwater, FL 33515). ThiS
rt 3 of the test that we just covered.
Conception For Saxophone, Vols. 1 and 2, by Lennie Niehaus (from Try Publishing, 845 Vine, Hollywood, CA 900
uets, Vols, 1, 2, and 3, by Bob Nelson (from Chas. Colin).
aughlin And The Mahayishnu Orchestra (frbm Warner Bros. Publ., 9200 Sunset Blvd., Suite 530, Los Angeles, CA
d Roberts Guitar Book, by Howard Roberts and Jimmy Stewart (from Playback, Box 4278. North Hollywood, CA 91
uitar Style (from Warner Bros.).
ing Styles For Guitar, by Happy Tram (from Oak Publ., 33 W. 60th St., New York, NY 10023).
Ives Guitarists, by Woody Mann (from Oak Pub!.).
ss lines, by Carol Kaye (from Warner Bros.). This book is great for bass clef reading.
The Folk Blues Guitar, by Jerry Silverman (from Oak Publ.).
ethod For The Guitar, by G.C. Santisteban (from Oliver Ditson Co., dist. by Theodore Presser, Lancaster and Presser
viaâ€”Studies For The Guitar By Fernando Sor (from Edward B. Marks Corp, dist. by Beiwin-Mills, Melville, NY 117
enour Book, by Lee Ritenour (from Flat Five Publ., dist. by Professional Music Products, 1114 N. Gilbert St., Anah
Deluxe (from Warner Bros.).
ty (from Warner Bros.).
es Of Maynard Ferguson (from Warner Bros.).
This list goes to show you that reading everything and anything available will help
Go to it, and believe me it will pay big dividends.
NOTE: This article was written before modern guitar tab was invented — Jimmy Cypher
The Necessity of Reading Music by Lee Ritenour
SOURCE: Guitar Player, June 1979.
Guitar players (regardless of style) have the reputation of not being able to read
music, or at least the reputation for being poor readers. This attitude has changed slightly
in the past decade, but not enough to convince many musicians that the guitarist should
be allowed to sit in with a symphony orchestra. Although this article will not involve any
musical examples, it will suggest some very practical ways in which to improve your
First, I think we should list several guitar styles and show the levels of reading ability
among guitarists in each genre. This analysis is based on my 20 years of experience in
crossing all types of guitar players, and by no means is the final word (there are plenty of
exceptions); however, trust me that the general assumptions are accurate. The list starts
with the best guitar readers and ends with the worst and takes into account the overall
ability to read music, knowledge of the fingerboard, sight-reading facility, horizontal reading (single notes), and vertical reading (notes stacked upon one another chords, counterpoint, etc).
1. Studio 4. Rock 7. Blues
2. Jazz 5. Pop 8. Flamenco
3. Classical 6. Country 9. Folk
It’s not hard to guess that studio guitarists would be the best readers. They have
usually spent the most time practicing their reading in preparation for becoming session
players. In general, jazz guitarists have also spent a great deal of time with written music,
and in many cases have attended universities that stress the reading of music. Classical
guitarists usually spend a large amount of time in learning to read music; their goal is
usually to learn how to read well enough in order to read or transcribe classical guitar
compositions and then memorize them. Unfortunately, classical guitarists are usually
Starting with the rock, pop, and country guitarists, the levels of reading drop
considerably for a few simple reasons. In the case of the rock guitarist, he or she usually
starts to pick up the guitar by ear. This is by no means a detriment; in fact, I’ve noticed that
many rock and pop guitarists have better ear training than the studio, jazz, or classical
players. As we know, some of the most innovative guitar playing has come from rock
guitarists who did not read a note (e.g., Jimi Hendrix). So if you plan to be in that category
you need not read further.
However, for those of you who are a little more practical, you
can see that the days of the rock guitarist not needing to read music are over. There are
just too many guitarists out there competing for the same job.
The blues, flamenco, and folk guitarists are usually the worst readers, but I don’t
mean any insult. The traditions for learning such styles run very deep, and in the past
have had very little to do with reading written music.
Looking at this list of guitar stylists and their general reading abilities, you might get
some idea of where you fit in. For example, if you are a folk guitarist looking to break into
the studios, you just may have a great deal of work to do in the reading department.
There are several steps you can take right away to help improve your reading. First of
all, give yourself this test to determine your weakest points:
1. Randomly select a note, such as B b. Play it on each string, starting with the sixth up
to the first, as fast as you can. For example, if you were using the note B b, you
would go from the sixth string’s 6th fret to the fifth string’s 1st fret, the fourth string’s
8th fret, the third string’s 3rd fret, the second string’s 11th fret, and the first string’s
6th fret. If you can complete the test from the sixth string to the first string in
between one and two second’s time, you have an excellent knowledge of the
fingerboard. Three to four seconds is average; if it takes longer than that”well,
you know you need some work. Try this exercise with all the chromatic tones.
You have to listen to recordings for that or go play with these musicians to learn this musical rhythmic “dialect.” So it stands to reason that you’re going to have trouble playing pop music that’s based on all of these modern genres. Scrap this clef idea and follow the model of your heroes! If you want to play guitar like a certain person, find out how that person learned guitar and do the same thing! Do not be browbeat into using this archaic system for modern popular guitar because people are out there in the industry, in the trenches, where it is brutally competitive — making money, getting paid, honing thier unique sound and craft, making fantastic recordings, having fantastic musical experiences charting on Billboard who never ever use this. I should know, I’m one of them! I haven’t used it since music school!
It’s a bit like wanting to be a great American English novelist but the first thing you do is go to learn Japanese. Well, it’s great to know some Japanese when you have a publishing deal with Random House and you’re on the best seller lists and your book is being translated into other languages and you’re doing a book tour of Japan. Very handy for that but not to actually write a magnificent masterpiece work in English. I don’t know anyone who would say “yes that sounds like a great idea” and yet this is what is routinely done when you buy these guitar books off the shelf: these archaic guitar methods that are 50-100 years behind the times! I will post a link to the Lee Ritenour article below and hopefully you will see that reading or not reading off this clef has absolutely no correlation whatsoever to the quality of your guitar playing ands success in guitar lessons. The people who read this stuff are paid to read: studio musicians being best, academic second, and down from there.
I have had incredible success tossing out this treble clef and relegating it to the closet where it needs to be for reference until you’re already an expert/professional guitar player. I can’t tell you how much faster you will learn when you start learning notation in guitar lessons for your instrument the guitar:Â guitar tab and rhythmic notation only. To understand the absurdity of this let’s just reverse the roles: imagine the looks that you would get if you insisted when someone comes to school for piano that they’re going to have to learn to read for their piano on guitar tab! Now we start to see the folly of it in terms of paradigm shifting here to borrow from Thomas Kuhn and the role that social conditioning plays in this discussion. There’s absolutely no reason to start your guitar studies there and often not to ever use this at all depending on what you want to do as a career or hobbyist with the instrument.