One of the biggest obstacles faced by both self-taught and professionally taught musicians across the world is the daunting prospect of learning how to read sheet music. For some, it’s a walk in the park, but for many, it can be like learning a whole new language which can take years of study, before they even begin to understand how the squiggles on a stave can be interpreted as a piece of written music.
Making Music From The Heart
Because of the sacrifice and hard work it takes, many students, especially those who don’t have professional tuition simply cannot find the time to sit down and really learn how the different notes sit on the stave to create a pitch. This often leads them to feel negative about the progress they’ve made with their playing so far, and give up on their dreams of one day becoming one of music’s greats. Today, I’m going to be showing you that not being able to read music shouldn’t hold you back from what you want to achieve. For many, an inability to read music stems from the initial method they used to learn their instrument. Typically, those who are self-taught tend to learn by ear, listening to the pitches of the notes they hear, and finding them on the fretboard one by one, until the piece comes together. If you’re a beginner player or someone who is playing just for the fun of it, this is definitely the easiest ways to begin learning, as placing notes on a fretboard can really help you to get a feel as to what physically playing the instrument is like, as opposed to just reading about it in endless theory books. As well as this, it is also a lot cheaper than having either professional tuition or buying sheet music, especially if you don’t know whether you are going to be able to commit to learning.
Following Footsteps | You’re Not the First!
You may be thinking that it seems impossible to be able to learn tunes such as “Tears In Heaven”, “Blackbird”, or even “Stairway To Heaven” without reading the notes, however, many of the best guitarists have built a career around playing by ear, and continue to play and learn like this to this day.
Despite playing classical guitar, a genre of great discipline and skill, virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel has never learned how to read sheet music. When asked by justinguitar.com about whether he was ever tempted to learn musical notation, Emmanuel said “I can do it quicker by ear! I tried to learn to read music when I was 18 years old but I kept drawing a blank”
Instead, Emmanuel found his own way to play songs, which also helped him to create his own signature sound, by incorporating percussive stokes on his guitar.
Many other talented guitarists have also not mastered the feat of reading music, some of which have enjoyed chart-topping hits, multiple Grammys, and the admiration of fans from across the globe. Hitmakers with zero music theory knowledge include The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Slash, and arguably the most famous guitarist to have ever lived, Jimi Hendrix.
Fluid Intuition | Composing Through Style
Overall, not conforming to the restrictions of what is written in front of them has helped these musicians to craft a style that is unique to them, as they have the freedom to play what they feel, without the concern of how it will be written out on a piece of paper. This is also true to any other musician who may not be able to read music, as it will give you a blank canvas to unleash your musical creativity. As an alternative to traditional sheet music, many Jazz musicians prefer to work with a chord chart, which as you can guess shows just the basic online of the chord structure of the song. This is almost like a skeleton for the musician, and it allows them to build around the main tune, and improvise riffs and licks to add flavor and color to the song.
Tabs | Simple Musical Linguistics
Another substitute for many musicians who simply can’t read music, but are struggling to learn a particularly difficult tune is guitar tablature (tabs), which is a style of written music specifically designed for guitar and bass players. 6 lines, which each represent a string of a guitar are drawn out horizontally, with numbers on each line representing which fret the player should press. This works as a guide as to where the notes are located on the guitar, with the musician listening for the melody, tempo, and dynamics by ear.
Just Make Music
In conclusion, being unable to read music is not the end of the world. There are many great musicians in the world who rely solely on their ears to guide them through the song (Stevie Wonder is blind, don’t forget!), and if you’re happy with the way you’re playing, and it sounds good, then there is no problem. Reading notation is just one tool a musician can use in order to play, and in my opinion, the fact that someone is able to pick up an object and make a beautiful sound from it greatly outweighs their ability to be able to understand some notes written by someone else on a stave.