Something that has irked me since pursuing music on a more serious level, is the lack of attention to theory, and literacy in written music, with a focus on memorization, and repetition. I by no means feel that literacy in formal notation is necessary to make good music, or to be a good musician. I came from the playing by ear blues tradition, but the skill of making, and reading notation is a great one. Not only does it allow the student or musician to conceptualize pitch, and time, but it allows one to communicate with other musicians.

The reason I come upon this subject that I so often try to ignore, is recently I had a new student come to me after having moved from another state. He had started lessons with a very well established guitar specific music store that offers lessons. A fancy place in a very ritzy part of town. He had learned to read music previously but upon beginning here he was informed that “no one reads music anymore”, and he would now be learning from tabs.

I understand that many people go their entire life without knowing how to read music, and I understand many students ignorant of the system, and music in general will be of the opinion that it is a waste of their time to endeavor to be literate, but that a teacher himself would discourage a student from reading, one who already knows the basics no less, I find reprehensible and infuriating. We all know what they say about ASSumptions, but I can only assume that the teacher himself doesn’t understand how to read.

Lets go through a brief over view of music notation’s advantages over tab.

  1. Universality. If you learn this language it transcends cultural, or national boundaries, it is a language that is more or less the same all over the world.
  2. Rhythm!! how many young musicians, especially guitarists struggle with rhythm? There is no efficient way to notate rhythm in tab, and RHYTHM IS 50% OF MUSIC! Sure you can learn to play from imitation, or recorded instruction that they can pause and play back repeatedly.
  3. Conceptualization. Being able to see rhythm and pitch represented in a way that allow extended contemplation. I believe this helps with creativity, and understanding.

Notation isn’t impossible to learn, especially with a good teacher at your side it is relatively easy, I have kids as young as 5 reading fairly proficiently. After a few weeks of hard work, the notation becomes clear, and concise. Once you can read notation songs can be learned in minutes not hours. All of this said I do not feel that traditional notation and tabs are mutually exclusive, quite to the contrary tabs can help a lot with explaining which specific voicing to use in a song etc.. they are a very good supplement to the notation, but with all things should be used in moderation.

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