Do You Have To Learn To Read Music to Play Guitar?

Do you have to learn to read music to play guitar?
The simple answer is no.
Should you learn to read music when learning to play guitar?
The simple answer is Yes.
Confused? I bet you are, but don’t worry in this article I am going to explain why you should learn to read music and end by showing you how to get started. 
Firstly, let’s quickly define exactly what reading music is and isn’t, just to make sure we are on the same page.
What is meant by reading music? 
When most people are talking about reading music they are talking about reading standard musical notation (the lines with dots above the TAB) pictured below.
Music notation has been around for hundreds of years. Its purpose is to show a performer what notes and rhythms to play as well as other information so they can accurately perform a song.
These days most beginner guitarists learn songs off of YouTube or through websites that show the song written in TAB. Just incase you haven’t come across TAB before it is a system that uses six lines that represent the six guitar strings. Numbers are placed on top of the lines to indicate what frets to put your fingers in.
TAB was invented to allow untrained musicians to read and write music, it is without doubt easier & quicker to learn than standard notation. 
So why learn notation then if TAB is easier? Well, that brings me nicely onto the first reason why you should learn to read music……

1: TAB Is Only Half The Story

TAB’s biggest downfall is it normally only shows pitch and not rhythm, so it will tell you what to play but not how long to play it for. 
This means you cannot play a song you do not know and if the song has a tricky rhythm in it you will be pausing and rewinding the song trying to pick it up by ear, whereas if you can read music you can simply read the rhythm from the notation. 
This is one of the biggest reason for learning to read music, notation gives you more information than TAB.
Normally music notation and TAB are shown together so you could use the TAB to work out what to play and use the notation to work out the rhythm. This is how many guitar players read music, they don’t use the notation for pitch but just for the rhythm. 

2: Notes Not Numbers

Another important reason for learning to read music is that you will learn to see the guitar neck as a collection of notes and not just numbers. 
Often when I have a new student start that has been playing for a number of years I find they have hit a brick wall because of their lack of theory knowledge and in turn knowledge of the notes on the guitar neck. 
When you start to see the neck as notes instead of just fret numbers you can start to see how different things relate to one another such as scales and chords. This will deepen your understanding of music and help take you to the next level as a musician.

3: You Might Regret It

As I said in the intro you do not need to learn to read music to play the guitar if you only want to play a few songs. If you want to have a serious hobby or maybe learn a different instrument further down the line then understanding how music works and having a deep knowledge of the what and why will be essential. 
Many people get turned off learning to read music because it is too hard but learning to read music is like learning a new language, it is difficult at the start and takes time but once you have got it down it will give you more enjoyment and understanding. 
I have never met a guitarist who regrets learning to read music but I have meet many who regret that they didn’t.
So hopefully now you can see why learning to read music is beneficial for guitar players. As promised I have added a few videos below taken from level one of our course to help you get started. 
If you enjoyed the videos and would like to learn more check out our online guitar school Beginner Guitar Academy. Beginner Guitar Academy teaches you everything you need to know through online lessons and classes, teacher support and resources to help you improve everyday.