Wed. Oct 14th, 2020
    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
    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 ​​ 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.

    By Paige

    Paige first began her musical journey playing Bass guitar in 2014, playing in jazz and pop bands. She picked up the guitar in 2016 and now focuses on Country, Pop, and Rock songs. She is a big fan of fingerstyle covers of her favorite songs, as well as the bands "The Common Linnets" and "Florence and the Machine

  • Your article is a great piece of advice.  I enjoy playing music, but always had trouble learning to read music.  I have the basic concept but am very slow.  I taught myself to play the guitar by learning chords and then learning to break down the chords so I could pick out tunes.  I taught myself to play the piano by numbering the keys and chording based on numbers and then breaking down the chords.  I had no idea that this was a common method for playing the keyboard.  You are right, there are lots of ways to  play instruments that don’t require reading music.  However, someone does have to practice and play to get good no matter what the method.

  • This is a great article that I will share with people I know that would be very interested in this. I enjoy music but I am not a practitioner but have many friends who are and who can benefit from your information. I just love the idea of “making music from the heart”. Working with a chord chart I find it interesting.  As you say reading music is just one ingredient of the equation of creating beautiful sounds.

  • A lot goes into the development of training the ears not to just listen but actually to be able ti create music from the heart. It gives better emotions and the better desire to do more. I really appreciate all you have shared here. I fancy the fact that you have been able to actually shared the fact that music reading alone is not the ewy but being able to hear and play too. This is a good read

  • A lot of times, I’ve tried to read music but no luck, not really an issue because I wasn’t ready to learn about it cos I was so busy with some agendas. This is a very good article and it’ll be quite helpful to me and I’ll share it with some other people who are willing to know about it.

  • Hello Paige. This is a very well put together post on this issue. My little sister is an upcoming guitarist and there is so much about the a she still needs to know and one of them is this that you shared because I agree that not everyone will be able to read music but if the big and great musicians could do it then we too can do it.

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