Ξ 2 comments

Learning Jazz Guitar: Method books – help or hindrance?

posted by
Learning Jazz Guitar: Method books – help or hindrance?

Is a lack of musical theory a hindrance to the musical development and growth of the guitarist? Guitar Jar contributor Warren Greig shares his thoughts on the effectiveness of modern guitar tuition books vs traditional methods of reading musical notation.

…so as boring as it sounds, learning how to read to music can only help a guitarist develop their abilities. Learning the notes on the fingerboard is necessary to be able to read music and deal with fingering challenges…

Warren Greig

Warren Greig

Most guitar players don’t know how to read music. Most pianist, sax, trumpet and trombone players read music.  Reading music at an early age gets players involved in understanding how rhythm is notated and counted.

There are a huge number of method books out there for the guitarist and most of them communicate musical ideas with tablature. Therefore key signatures, rhythmic duration and other critical aspects of music are glossed over. Many of the books show one aspect of playing or try to cover everything in 60 pages. Sometimes I think out of 20 books, there might be a grand total of 4 useful pages. A bunch of guitar books that show only a partial view of the music are more of a hindrance to development and can actually slow down the development of a player.

As an example, chords are illustrated with fingerboard diagrams. I’ve never seen a guitar player hand a piano or horn player a bunch of diagrams and say, let’s play this tune. Diagrams are a short cut to playing sounds and the player doesn’t even know what notes are in them or how to construct a major chord vs a minor chord.

Needless to say, horn and piano players on balance pick up on jazz quicker than the typical guitarist. Not only for the above noted reasons but the guitar is unique in that one note can be played in four to five places as opposed to one place on the piano. This creates all kinds of fingerings scenarios and alternate pathways on the fingerboard which can be challenging for someone starting out on guitar.

So as boring as it sounds, learning how to read to music can only help a guitarist develop their abilities. Learning the notes on the fingerboard is necessary to be able to read music and deal with the above noted fingering challenges.

Having said that, hearing music is far more important than reading music but being able to study music and play in ensembles with other instruments can serve to fast track development in the areas of keeping time, phasing, articulation and dynamics.  My point is; reading and understanding music fundamentals can be an excellent springboard to continuous improvement.

Listening to music, singing along with melodies and solos, and playing them on the guitar by ear is also a great way to develop.  Wes Montgomery didn’t read music but could communicate with other musicians by describing what chords were in a tune and his ears were at a genius level. His brothers played piano-vibes and bass, so it was natural for him to play with other instruments from the beginning which certainly would have helped him progress.

Update: 29th November 2010

In the article above, I tried to be clear that talent or the ability to play jazz is not dependant on being able to read but can increase the number of professional opportunities for the guitarist. Some of the obstacles to reading on the guitar are related to the fact the same pitches can be played in different locations. Another barrier is that the guitarist assumes it’s a lot more difficult and mysterious than it really is.

There are two fundamental aspects, recognizing notes on the music staff and knowing where these notes are on the guitar. To use an example given to me by one of my first teachers, touch your nose with your finger, not a problem. Now play Db on the fifth string, um… Much like real estate it’s all about location. If you use standard tuning the Db will in the same place every day just like our nose is.

So learning all the notes on the guitar and identifying notes on the music staff in real time is a great way to start. Trying to read with a song book (not tablature) with recognizable tunes will let you know if you are on track. I would recommend worrying about note values, scale fingerings later. Once the initial barrier is broken the scale fingerings will be more useful to you in developing a logical fingering system.

Lastly, many musicians don’t read and play beautifully so reading does not make you a better musician necessarily. However, if you increase the number of paid jobs you get and meet different musicians it can be a great tool. Also it should be noted that just because you are reading a passage doesn’t mean you are not hearing it, reading can also be viewed as playing by ear with a guide.

Have you got any tips about reading music to share with the guitar playing community? Have you struggled in your development as a jazz guitarist? Please add your comments below.

All content © Warren Greig – For more information about Warren Greig, please visit:

Share This Article

You may also like...

Submit your equipment reviews

Do you own a guitar, amp, effects pedal or guitar accessory that you love (or hate!). If so, become a Guitar Jar Magazine Contributor and submit your reviews for other guitarists to read.

About the author:

Canada based Warren Greig is is a guitarist and composer who has performed in Quebec, Vancouver, Toronto and Michigan. Aside from performing in his own group he has appeared as a sideman in small groups and big bands performing at various jazz festivals and engagements.

2 Comments

  • I agree that contemporary guitarists should be able to read music. Many years ago I got my first session in a theatre, I thought I could “blag” it. I was wrong, and it was noted by the MD, I have never worked for them since! After that I decided to really work on my reading. It has helped me in so many ways, from playing big band gigs, getting another crack at theatre work, and improving my teaching. It is a skill that should be learnt alongside, improvising, technique etc, and I instil this into all of my students.

  • excellent blog! hope you don’t mind but i shared this on my facebook. Thanks Warren

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search Guitar Jar Magazine

Latest News & Reviews

Riffstation 1.5 Released

Riffstation 1.5 Released

Riffstation 1.5 has been released – claiming to be the ultimate practice app for guitarists and musicians.

Sep 15, 2014 Ξ Leave a comment

Facebook

Magazine Spotlights

Sign up to our Mailing List

* indicates required

I'm interested in: