Mike Moxcey ©2005

Reading Music

There are many different ways to write music. We’ve already covered basic chord lines. You can also find music written in tablature and in sheet music. We’ll cover those quickly and then try several examples. But there is a problem with written stuff of any kind. The more precise you get, the less room there is for improvisation. This is a characteristic of any description, not just of music. So don’t let the precision throw you. Use what you can of the written word, the written tablature, or the written sheet music, and then proceed from there.

Sheet Music Commandments

The benefit of having something written down is that you can read it. Some folks who play guitar very well are proud that they can’t read sheet music or tablature. Being proud of anything isn’t that good, and being proud of being unable to do something seems bizarre to me. Their reasoning, however, is good. There are too many people who view music written down in sheet or tablature as a commandment: You must play the song in this way.

Of course, some of these same prideful folks who can’t read music view the records, tapes, and CDs as commandments. They’ve learned the song or particular guitar solo by listening and they not only “play” it the same way every single time (like a human tape recorder), they also tell you you’re playing it wrong if you improvise.

A recorded source for a song, whether recorded on paper or vinyl, is just a transcription of how a particular person or group played that particular song at that particular time in their life. Beethoven improvised. Bach jammed. But all that we have of their music now is what someone wrote down and that has become a bible for many classical musicians. And like the actual Bible, there are some sects that view it as literal and unalterable, and others that view it as guidelines which need to be interpreted in light of modern day problems and knowledge.

Another reason most folks view sheet music, tablature, or recordings as gospel is that to begin learning a song or an instrument, you must start somewhere and this is with very tight and specific guidelines. For a beginner, a song must sound a specific way and anything else is a mistake that should be corrected. But at some point, you need to break from the path and find your own way.

I think folks should break much earlier than they think themselves. Even right at the beginning, if a particular note sounds wrong to you, then find another one that sounds right. There are many variations to the melody of Amazing Grace and if you’ve got one in your head and are trying to play something different using my tablature, it won’t sound right to you. You’re the one playing the song. Make it sound good to you.
Reading Music Index