Before I answer this question this is something that is on a lot of guitar players minds, and musicians in general. People have heard many things about whether you should read music or not and most of the time you get an either-or answer. What I mean is If you are reading this you may be thinking one of two things:
“Well, of course, you need to learn how to read music! Reading music is the foundation, pinnacle and requirement number 1 to being a great musician!”
Actually, this is not always true. In some cases, reading music is the last thing you need to focus on. If I had to say what the most common myths are about being a musician this is probably the most common one of all, apart from “you need natural talent to be a musician”.
Now sometimes yes you absolutely can do nothing without reading music. I will explain this further later on.
You might also be thinking of the opposite extreme
“I don’t want to learn to read anything, it is too dull and boring and it is really hard.”
Now, this is often true. You may not have to learn how to read music but you do to be able to do certain things in music. Also, most people learn music in one of the most boring most difficult way possible.
Most people learn to read music through the music they may not even be into or even heard of and they also start doing this from day one and try to read and understand everything about standard notation at once. But this will be for another time.
Both of these attitudes is the most common towards the idea of reading music, most people are not in the middle but there are a few people that are. But neither one is right all the time, whether you need to learn how to read music depends on what exactly you want to do.
You need to learn how to read music if you:
1) You want to play classical music:
This is fairly obvious, but I will say this anyway. You can’t get through the door before you learn how to read music. Of course, you must learn how to read music in a fun way and not in a way that is overwhelming. The hardest thing about being a beginner is pulling through until you are no longer a beginner. Learning to read music or do anything boring in this way will likely take your love of music away.
2) You want to be a session musician:
Being a session musician is about being able to play multiple styles of music. There are certain styles of music that requires you to be able to read music besides classical music as mentioned above. So if you want to do this, learning to read music will be important at some point.
3) You want to join a marching band, do exams, or play in a choir:
This is not possible without being able to read music and sight read at a basic level at least.
But what is reading not music not necessary for?
1) If you want to play songs that is either rock, blues, metal or any other style that doesn’t use standard notation
It is not necessary to learn to read music if you want to play the music that doesn’t require you to know it.
2) Writing your own songs in any style mentioned above
Unless you want to be able to use classical based instruments like violin or things like that of course, but you can always get someone else to play that part.
3) Improvising music
The styles that use standard notation does not have improvisation so chances are you will not need to know how to read music if you want to improvise.
4) Joining a rock band
You need to be able to play to be able to join a rock band, you don’t need to be able to read music to do this. Almost no rock musicians know how to read music.
5) Recording your own music and performing
Unless you are recording and performing classical music you don’t need to know how to read. If you want to be a recording songwriter or musician you don’t need to read music.
If you want to be able to perform, you do not need to read music.
So what do you do from here? Determine what your goals are then from there see if reading music is necessary for that goal. Only then you will be able to see if you need to learn how to read music.
About The Author: Jake Willmot is on a mission to help struggling guitar players overcome their obstacles and play the guitar in ways which they can’t even imagine. He can help you do so is you live in Exmouth and if you do, you must take guitar lessons in Exmouth with Jake Willmot so that you can get over your struggles once and for all.