TOP 10 GUITAR LESSONS MYTH #1: In order to play guitar really well I must learn to read a treble clef that was designed for piano. FALSE!

This is about one of the most awful things that you can do. This is to be assiduously avoided when you are starting out in guitar lessons. It may or may not be a great thing to know once you’re a professional guitar player and you’re out getting work where you’re communicating with horn players or piano players and so forth but to actually learn the guitar, you want to stick with the notation system designed for guitarists.  The problem with the treble clef is that it shows you the alphabetic pitch for example (the middle C in this video) and on the piano that’s in one place so you know exactly where to play.  On the guitar it’s in multiple places five or six or more when you start generating harmonic overtones and different things like this.

“Many rock and pop guitarists who learn by ear have better ear training than studio, jazz or classical players.  Some of the most innovative guitar playing has come from rock guitarists (e.g. Jimi Hendrix) who did not read a note.”  — Lee Ritenour

see the full Lee Ritenour Article

There are so many reasons not to use a treble clef to learn guitar that I scarcely know where to begin. Guitar World  magazine took the treble clef out in year 2002 and now only put the guitar tab staff and rhythmic notation. Of the four most influential and innovative guitar players of the 20th century arguably Andre Segovia, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Yngwvie Malmsteen, only Segovia reads off of a traditional treble clef when learning OR performing. Eddie Van Halen who was a concert pianist as a child does not read the clef for guitar in fact quite the opposite! As you can see in this Smithsonian interview, what Eddie was playing was so highly innovative that there wasn’t even a written language for it! They had to invent modern guitar tab – as he talks about in the Smithsonian interview – just to explain what he was doing because there was not a language for it. Jimi Hendrix never read a note of music.  Yngvwie Malmsteen when he was starting out didn’t read music. Only Segovia read music.

As, renowned studio guitarist and jazz player Lee Ritenour says in a guitar player anthology article, the secret of the classical guitarist is that most actually don’t read very well and are poor sight readers.  Most classical guitarists only read well enough to memorize the music that they are going to play when they’re looking at that piece of paper.  Usually, they already know the composition which shows just how hard it is to read off of this thing. It’s absolutely torturous: you’ll spend three years learning to sight read a treble clef for guitar and in that time you’re not necessarily becoming a better guitar player: in fact you probably won’t because you have to limit yourself to simple things that you’re able to read off of the thing!

Whether you should learn to sight read is very situation specific:  If you’re Brian Setzer orchestra and you have to score out parts for a 16 piece horn section, you need to know that language to communicate with your horn players.  If you’re Steve Vai and you’re playing with zappa, you need to read… but not with Whitesnake!  But if you’re in a guitar/bass/drum band or singer songwriter or solo acoustic player, you absolutely don’t need to do this and it will hold you back. I cannot tell you how many guitar lessons students come to me who struggle with this six months, nine months, a year, two years who can hardly play anything and within two weeks I’ve got them playing the kind of music that they want to and accelerating like they never have before. Duh!  It’s a notation system written for another instrument (the piano) designed hundreds of years ago if not longer. Before the phonograph was invented.  Or Pro Tools recording software. Or Appalachian country.  Or Mississippi Delta blues.  The rhythmic notation system doesn’t even capture things adequately like a simple 12 bar blues shuffle. And it certainly doesn’t capture Hendrix’s “Red House.”



Play it your way.

The Cypher way.

Rock on.

Jimmy Cypher out!