In last month’s post I discussed the pitfalls guitar teachers may encounter when they have a “tab only” approach. But, on the opposite side there are teachers who have a “notation only” policy – whereas some instructors refuse to use tab at all. Such a policy may prevent a student from progressing or worse - discourage a student from playing at all. I have heard many students lament about note reading and how it is the part of playing they liked the least. Some teachers keep their students playing ability limited to what they can read and this approach may prevent a student from experimenting on their own, searching out tabs on the Internet or using song books by their favorite artist.
Most guitarists play better than they can read music – meaning their playing skills are far stronger than their reading ability. I have met only a handful of players who read music so fluidly that it is like reading words on a page. Reading music notation is a skill, and like any skill it can be developed through practice. However, reading music even on a basic level is not a skill most players will require.
I realize some readers may take issue with this statement, but most students are not trying to become professional musicians and do not require the skill of reading music. Although I know the majority of my students will not require note reading skills, I do like students to read at least on a very basic level. Why? Because even on a basic level reading notation can help students:navigate the fretboard,understand chord structure and
visually understand rhythm parts which otherwise might be difficult to master by ear only
My approach is to use a combination of tab and standard notation to help students reach their goals. As I have outlined over the last few posts both systems have their pro’s and con’s, and what you are trying to achieve should guide the system employed. A good example of this is playing major scales – should a student wait to learn this major scale pattern until they can sight-read on the four strings it employs? Of course not, but by using tab students can begin to learn to play scales and develop skills such as picking technique and finger independence.