Do Guitarists Read Sheet Music? [Solved]

If you ever took a music class in primary school, then you have likely seen sheet music before. If you are a guitarist, it can look foreign and confusing if you have never seen it before. I polled a few large guitar communities to find out, do guitarists read sheet music.

After polling a large guitar community, it was found that 95% of practicing guitarists do not read sheet music or utilize it for their playing. The majority of guitarists that do read sheet music often accompany a larger orchestra, whether it is for classical music or jazz.

Continue reading to find out if you should learn to read sheet music, what the benefits are, and if sheet music or tabs are better.

do guitarists read sheet music

Do Guitarists Read Sheet Music?

The majority of guitarists, 95% of which were polled, do not read sheet music. Sheet music is a very genre-specific practice and is typically only done with Jazz and Classical compositions.

Many guitarists emulate their guitar heroes. In this case, the blues and rock world did not have many legendary guitarists that read sheet music. Hendrix, SRV, Freddie King, Clapton, etc. all did not read sheet music and did not have much formal education on music theory either. They grew to understand theory in their own rights but never through the use of sheet music. Blues is almost all feel, and it is next to impossible to write that down with sheet music.

In Jazz and Classical music, sheet music is required as the guitarist is playing with a larger ensemble that all uses sheet music to dictate the notes, tempo, and breaks. These guitarists are often extremely skilled and well-versed in sheet music and can play a new song almost immediately just by seeing the sheet music, similar to a classically trained pianist.

Discover If Guitar is Truly Hard to Learn Today

Although, reading music is different for guitar and stringed instruments. It is much harder to read music on guitar than it is on a piano or a horn. The six strings on a guitar are essentially six keyboards that are overlapping each other.

Guitar players, on average, are notorious for not being able to read sheet music very well. The early rock crowd like Chuck Berry instilled the mentality in future generations of guitarists to just go out and play, improvise, and play hard. That stuck.

Should a Guitarist Learn to Read Sheet Music?

A guitarist should learn to read sheet music if they are a studio musician or tasked to learn a song fast. If the guitarist intends to play with a large ensemble of various types of instruments like brass or a Jazz group then learning sheet music is beneficial and necessary. If neither applies, then a guitarist does not need to learn sheet music / standard notation.

It is only worth learning to read sheet music if you really need to…

This is a controversial topic that has been plaguing guitar forums since the internet was invented. The age-old classic joke is “how do you make a guitarist play quietly or stop playing altogether, put a piece of sheet music in front of them.”

Deciding whether or not guitarists should learn to read sheet music is not cut and dry. The decision to learn to read sheet music is entirely dependent on the guitarist’s goals. If a guitarist is in a cover band or writes their own music, then spending hours a week learning to read sheet music is not a good use of time.

On the other side of that, if a guitarist is a studio musician or is tasked to learn a song fast (often with Jazz ensembles) then learning to read sheet music can be extremely helpful.

It is all a matter of time prioritization and allocation. The only negative to learning how to read sheet music is that it takes time away from practice, that’s it. Otherwise, there is no adverse effect from learning to read sheet music and can drastically improve your playing later on.

Although, time is our most valuable asset. You need to decide if learning sheet music / standard notation is an adequate investment of your time.

Do Guitarists Read Sheet Music or Tabs? Which is Better?

The majority of guitarists read tab over sheet music because tabs show guitarists not only what the note is, but where to play it on the fretboard. Sheet music only shows guitarists what the note is but not where to play it on the fretboard.

If the sheet music is telling you to play an A, you will quickly realize that there are multiple different places and strings on the fretboard that A can be played. Although, the sheet music does not tell you where to play it.

Tabs on the other hand will tell you where to play A and the exact chord formation to utilize. This makes tab a much better option for guitarists.

Learning the notes on the fretboard plus learning tab is all a guitarist needs to understand the foundation of guitar and how to learn it effectively via tab.

Benefits of Reading Sheet Music for a Guitarist

Sheet music / standard notation for a guitarist is beneficial as a means of communicating and working with other musicians that play different instruments. This means knowing how to read and write standard notation, which can then be easily communicated to a piano player for example.

As mentioned above, learning standard notation for guitarists that want to play in a Jazz band or play classical music, knowing how to read sheet music is extremely beneficial. This is because standard notation is the language that musicians in this genre use to communicate music.

Thank you for reading do guitarists read sheet music. Please subscribe if you would like to be notified when a new article is posted.