Why Your Guitarist Needs to Know How to Read Music

Why Your Guitarist Needs to Know How to Read Music

I’ve heard the arguments before; “Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmore don’t know how to read music, why should I have to?”

First of all, I don’t know if that statement is true but I will say this, I’ve seen some of these guys play before, I’ve studied some of their music, and I’ve watched them play and all I can say is that these guys have (or had in Hendrix case) an incredible knowledge of scales, chord progressions and music theory.

Here are just a few reasons why your guitarist should learn to read music:

  1. They will be able to transpose music from a difficult guitar key to a friendlier key.
  2. They will be able to put chords to music that do not include guitar chords.
  3. They will be able to add melody notes to their accompaniment.  This is a real important reason.  I do this all the time and it makes the difference between instantly being able to recognize a song that a guitarist is accompanying and not knowing what song they are playing until they start singing.  This also improves the leading of a congregation in singing if you are the only musician.
  4. They will be able to recognize the rhythmic patterns that the piano player (or keyboard player) are using before the song begins and this will allow the guitarist to better choose their own strumming patterns.
  5. They will develop a better ear for time signatures (3/4, 4/4, 5/8, 6/8, 9/8, etc.)
  6. They will be able to pick out a melody line so that they can learn how to sing new songs without needing the piano players help.
  7. They will recognize rhythmical movements in musical pieces such as chord arpeggios and bass runs as opposed to being blinded by only looking at chord symbols.
  8. They will recognize different pitches, voicings and inversions of chords; for example and open C chord is represented one way on a musical staff but a C chord formed at the third fret will look entirely different.
  9. They will become a more accomplished musician and able to give God more glory.
  10. They will be better able to lead God’s people in worship.
  11. They will make better use of the gifts that have be given to them.

All that being said, you can accompany and even lead music on the guitar without knowing how to read music; but your worship life might be much easier, fuller and richer if you have the knowledge to read music under your belt as well.

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One thought on “Why Your Guitarist Needs to Know How to Read Music”

  1. Amen!
    I also think that singers need to be able to read at a glance melody and rythmic patterns in music. I have been a guitarist for over twenty years, and after that long playing with musicians (both for money and for God’s glory), it is fair to say that you pick up enough ability in the sight reading department so that not too much throws you. The amount of singers however that just pop up out of the front row with no concept of those little black squiggly lines is phenomenal. It’s all good and well to have a great sounding band that reads music and knows where a song is going (probably more due to their musicianship than those black squiggly lines), but if you have a Marriah Carey hopeful never hitting the same note twice, it can and does undo any hard work a guitarist, pianist, tuba-ist(?), flautist, percussionist, etc puts into their development as a working musician. Passion is great, and should be the main ingredient in a musicians make-up (please know that I am including singers in my term ‘musician’), but I would argue that musicianship is the next most important ingredient. If you know how to play, then people will be moved. Theory and sight reading are contextual. Guitarists do not need in my opinion to be able to sight read in the same way that a pianist does. For the most part, today’s worship music does not have enough information in it for a guitarist to play adequately as a sight reader. Know what sounds your instrument makes when you thump it this way and that, and you’re on your way to being a unique and talented musician! With a bit of curiosity and necessity, the rest follows.


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