question #5

"Is it really necessary
to learn to read music?"

- Emily Eberhart in Golden, Colorado

Well, I can read music, and I'm glad that I'm able to do so. I've derived a lot of valuable information from printed guitar music, as well as printed music from other instruments as well. But I can't really say that it is necessary for someone to learn to read music, especially if their goal is to just strum a few chords in their living room.

Reading music and
understanding music
are two different things.

I will say that there are a lot of misconceptions about reading music. The most significant one being that reading music and understanding music are one in the same. Reading music is about one musician documenting and communicating their ideas for other musicians. Which, not unlike the written word, can be a very rich resource. However, no matter if a guitarist decides to read music or not, understanding music makes learning to play a guitar a much easier thing to do.

Why? Because the essence of learning anything is understanding the terminology, naming something and knowing what that name represents — chair, dog, Rumpelstiltskin.

The guitar's terminology is notes and chords. And by learning to connect the guitar's fingerboard with sounds and note/chord names, the sounds are given meaning. The information is understood. We are free to reuse and develop the information to satisfy our artistic goals. For example, if you know what a "C Chord" is, there is no need to relearn it before you strum it again. But if you don't know what a "C Chord" is, it is quite possible that you'll waste time relearning it again and again, simply because you didn't know its name.

Obviously, reading music is a skill from which any guitarist can benefit and every guitarist must decide for themselves if reading music is for them. The main point I'm trying to make is, no matter if you can interpret the notes on a piece of staff paper or not, it is in every guitarist's interest not to mistake the skill of reading music as a substitute for understanding music.