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Read Music!

To learn how to read music is very easy. If you look at a guitar player reading through music and then you get the music sheet in front of you, you will probably say " way I can read these hieroglyphics !!". There is a clear cut difference between sight reading at tempo and simply reading. The second one will eventually lead you to the first and for practical purposes all you want is to be able to decipher those symbols which are really few and really straightforward.

I blame teachers both in schools and music schools for the bad reputation generally associated with music notation. The problem there is that most teachers impose reading simultaneously with guitar learning as soon as class 1 starts. That is as if we tried to teach a baby how to read before he can say mom...You first get a student up to a decent playing level and once the motivation (KEY ELEMENT) and self esteem are built up, you introduce music symbols and their interpretation. The student should get to a point where he wants to read music. 

He (the student) approached you (a guitar teacher) to learn how to play guitar  and not to be tortured with theoretical jargon. Having said that and hoping you still have a little interest in how to read music, I will show you a very simple process that works and that can evolve into whatever level you are willing to. I divide reading music into stages and whatever stage one learns, I guarantee music reading proficiency. 

The first stage in reading music is the one where you know the tune (I mean you heard it and are familiar with it) and want to  play it having the music sheet in front of you. 

In your life as a musician, you will seldom want to learn a piece you never heard before unless you are preparing for a competition where a new work is being commissioned for the competitors to première.

In stage 1 all you need is to figure out where and how  those dots, numbers and markings on the staff translate on the fret board. There are only a few basics that will make the whole process real easy. You only have to KNOW a few things.

  • The music staff (the five horizontal lines, also known as leger lines) show you how high or low a note is. The third line is a mid point. This mid point is the open second string of the guitar a B -Si- (the strings of the guitar are counted starting from the bottom and going up)
mid-point B (Si) = second string of the guitar

All you need in stage 1 is to see dots and their height on the staff. When reading music in stage 1 (knowing the tune) you do not care whether the dot appears in any of the following ways: 

Music notation 2
mentally eliminate those lines, small dots, white notes, etc.
Music Notation
Music notation 4
All you care about is the dots.

  • The next thing you have to know, because it reveals much more than simply a stylized drawing is the following:
G cleff

The reason why this symbol (G clef   Clave de Sol) is so important is that it actually is the KEY that breaks the code. Music notation is a code. The way it breaks it is by saying the following: 

G cleff

The red highlighted zone within the curl is encircling the spot where G is located: the second line (lines on the staff are counted starting at the bottom and going up); Therefore:


This dot on the second line is a G the open third string on the guitar.

With the knowledge acquired so far you can say with all certainty that you know the following:

The staff

The notes are B, B, G which means you play string 2, string 2, string 3

To play, guitarists use 4 fingers in one hand and 4 fingers on the other. Every 3 decades or so, and especially if you are a show off,  you will probably have to use 5 fingers on one hand, but when that time comes you will know how to deal with the issue and you will probably not be reading this page... Having said that, the way we guitarists refer to the strings and to the fingers of the hands involved in the production of a sound is the following:

Guitar fingers, strings and barre

Once you know by heart these few "things", the next you have to memorize is what the 6 strings of the guitar look like on the staff and their names. Knowing only these 6 notes (which by now are only 4 since you learned B and G) plus your brain, you should figure out every single note on the fret board.

The 6 strings

What you can do now while I prepare part 3 is play every E, B, G, D, A and E from any music sheet available

By now you can recognize 6 dots immediately and their location on the strings. They are the 6 open strings of the guitar. YOU KNOW that the existing natural notes are 7A B C D E F G (Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si). All existing notes EXCEPT for E and B can be altered using sharps #. (Flats b are explained a little further down).

therefore the natural notes plus the altered notes are 12:

A, A#,  B,  C, C#,  D, D#, E, F, F#,  G, G#

Sharps translate into: Fret x + 1. If fret 1 on the 6th string is F (it is) then fret2 on the 6th string  is an F#
All existing notes can be flatted (although 99% of the time the only flatted notes you will see are E and B). Flats translates into Fret x - 1. If fret 3 on the 5th string is a C (it is) then fret 2 on the 5th string is a Cb. For practical purposes, use sharps when counting up and flats when counting down.

A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#,  E, F, F#, G, G#, G, Gb, F, E,  Eb, D, Db, C, B, Bb, A

Continues in the members area.../

Parts 2 & 3 are in the members area

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