For some reason many guitarists look upon reading music as a bad thing. I’m sure most of you have met/known a guitarist who has said, “I don’t want to learn how to read, it will @#% up my playing”. Maybe you yourself have said this? This is like saying, “Yes, I am an ignoramus, and I embrace it!”
That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. It is one thing to not learn to read, but to bash others for doing so is extremely narrow-minded. The other school of thought on this is: “Jimi Hendrix didn’t know how to read”. Ok, are you a genius? If not, learning to read will help you.
Trust me: Hendrix had his music theory mastered, even if he couldn’t put scientific labels on what he was doing. For us mortals, we should use all the tools we can get our hands on!
I worked in a music store for a year. One of the teachers took me under his wing, so to speak. First, he advised me that I would never make any money with music. Well, I certainly haven’t gotten rich, but I understand his point: if you are interested in making money, music is a lousy way to go about doing it. When I told him that I had studied with Joe Satriani he asked:
“Did he teach you how to read?”
“No”, I replied.
“He did you a disservice”.
A disservice? This was the first time I had ever heard anyone say anything even remotely disparaging about my having studied with the great Satriani. Frankly, I was indignant. But you know what? He was right: since I have learned to read, my musicianship has excelled, and the better I read the better I play.
Just to hammer this idea home, I’ll share another story. I was a teacher at the Reikes Center (Redwood City, CA) for a couple of years. Victor Wooten was a friend of the Center and would do clinics about every six months or so. (In case you don’t know who Victor Wooten is, he is one of the best bassists in the world) So, while checking out his clinic I tossed Victor a softball question (since many of my guitar students were in attendance):
“Would you recommend that musicians learn to read music?”
I don’t remember his verbatem response, but to paraphrase it: “Duh”.
Learning to read on guitar is very difficult: the same notes appear on different strings and in different positions. How are you supposed to know which position to play while reading? Well, it takes a lot of work.
I began to seriously study reading (on the guitar) when I was 24. Fifteen years later I’m still working on it. In the meantime I have learned to play Classical and Jazz, which has made me a much better Rock player. Reading forces you to learn where your notes are on your neck, and imparts an understanding of rhythm, the musical element most neglected by guitarists.
There are two methods I would recommend. If you want to learn to read from a Classical standpoint, I would try Aaron Shearer’s “Classical Guitar Technique” series. If you want to learn from a Jazz standpoint, I would use William Leavitt’s “A Modern Method for Guitar” series (Berklee). If you want to pick your own method, go for it! No matter what, if you learn to read you will become a better player, I guarantee it!