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Learning to Read Music 1: Lesson 1


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Learning To Read Music Tutorial 1

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The ability to read music notation is an invaluable skill for any musician. Music notation is an ingenious system of graphic symbols that efficiently combine all the information needed to play a piece of music.

It contains the essentials:

1. What notes to play.
2. When to play those notes & how long they last.

It also contains other characteristics, for example:

3. How to count the rhythm - time signature.
4. What speed to play the piece - tempo.
5. What scale is being used - key signature.
6. How loudly or quietly to play those notes - dynamics.
7. What qualities those notes should have; such as staccato (sharp & disconnected) or legato (smooth & connected) - phrasing & timbre.

Many guitarists are familiar with tab (or tablature). And that's fine - it is also a good tool because it is an explicit graphic representation of which notes to play on a guitar. However, tab does have limitations. One of these is that it typically does not contain any of the other important information needed to know how to play a piece of music. This is fine if you already know how it sounds. But what if you've never heard the piece? Another limitation is that it is not a "universal" language - it only works for the guitar.

Music notation on the other hand has all the information necessary to know how to play a piece & is readable on (or translates to) any musical instrument. The only limitation of notation is that the guitar can be somewhat confusing because there is more than one place to play many notes. And traditional, typical notation does not automatically supply this information.

Because many guitarists are familiar with tab (& because it does have useful features!) we will learn music notation in this tutorial by referring to tab throughout the lessons. Ultimately, music notation & tab are simply two different tools with slightly different perspectives but complimentary functions. They are both good to know and use.