Sight Reading Basics

Do I Need to Learn to Read Music?

If you are a hobby guitarist, the outright answer is no. If you enjoy playing songs, can play along to backing tracks in time and can read tablature, then why would you need to learn to read music?

You are playing the guitar and are doing so for enjoyment, don't worry about it. If however, you want a career in music as a guitarist, why wouldn't you learn to read music?

To become a professional guitarist you must be adaptable, efficient and as versatile as possible! Decide which of the two above categories apply to you and take action accordingly.

Sight Reading Basics

Understand how to construct the major scale = tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone.

Learn how chords are created and apply to the major scale formula.

Play through your 5 major scales and play all your chords in that key for each position - CAGED is the ideal system for sight reading.

Practical Sight Reading

Once you have the above mastered, you will have the ideal foundation to building upon your sight reading skills. Sight reading will take much dedication, it is best to practice daily for 10 minutes than one day a week for an hour.

I have actually more recently even been reading articles about how the CAGED system is so "bad" for guitarists.

The simplest explanation I have for this is why can anything that explains the guitar from a different angle be detrimental? I originally mastered the three note per string method which is superb for lead work, but soon found it's hugely illogical for chords.

Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan and Phil Hilborne (a good friend of mine) all use the CAGED system as much as three note per string, please always expand your mind before writing off a particular method.

I used to be against the CAGED system until I actually learnt it, it works... especially in becoming a complete musician (whatever that may be).

Ideal Practicals

I started off with the Real Rock Book - Hal Leonard and just worked in the key of C to build up my sight skills. I started off by remembering that the spaces between the lines spell F, A, C, E


Don't add extra stress on yourself by practising with a metronome. As a guitar teacher I would always say use a metronome, but as a friendly guitarist, you will have enough of a challenging getting used to moving around the stave, especially when you start approaching chords written via staff.

I hope this has perhaps answered some questions for any guitarist's out there.
If you don't agree with some of the information I have added, please ask questions and explain your reasons, compromise is how we all learn further.

About the Author:
By Leigh Sullivan, Director of Norwich Guitar Academy. I have a team of 5 guitar tutors making a difference in East Anglia, England. I studied on the Session musician course at the British Academy of New Music with Ed Sheeran & Marcus Mcneish (Craig David's bassist). Have sessioned in various plays, bands and studio recordings. I have been full time guitarist since the age of 18 (2007). We run masterclasses at the Norwich Guitar Academy with the likes of Guthrie Govan & Andy James. To learn more about reading music feel free to check out our blog.


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Ashutosh Pande
Ashutosh Pande


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