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paul_c2

How well can guitarists read?

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I almost did this as a poll. How well can guitarists read? And if not, how on earth do you communicate (musical ideas) to them? For example, here is a little extract from something I'm working on. Its a repeating pattern. The whole piece, almost, is based on one chord, so there's not much variety, I think there's this little riff and two others for them to play. Would you expect a guitarist to "get" this in:

A) about 4 seconds (ie, they can sight read so long as they look ahead a little)
B) about 30 seconds (ie you could hand it to them, they could look at it then play it once prepared)
C) about 1 week (you give it to them one week, they come back next week having prepared it)
D) never

 

car wash guitar.png

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PS I know about giving them (noteheads as) slashes and chords, but the above is more complicated to describe as a chord (D7 no root no fifth, Eb7 no root no 5th) than just giving the actual notes like everyone else in the band.

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Our guitarist can’t read music, and isn’t particularly good at knowing where, for example a C chord is on the guitar. But show him the riff once/twice on bass and he’ll play along comfortably and doesn’t need to be shown it again. From there he’ll develop his solos. I’m not really sure how for the set up we have if reading would be of any benefit.

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I'm not a guitarist (I can knock out a few chords like) but as someone who can't read music at all I wouldn't know what the hell all that would be about!

If I was writing something like that for myself I'd just write out the names of the chords.  If there was a particularly weird chord in there then I'd draw a diagram like this:

Open+Chords.jpg

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Just now, jrixn1 said:

If it's in F, the key signature shouldn't have three flats... ?

Don't worry about that - I spotted it just after posting. Its originally in Bb, however I am rewriting it in a different key. I tried a few different ones, including F, then updated the title, but its subsequently changed to Eb. I think I'll get a lot of dirty looks from the sax players if I put it into E!!!

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In reply to the poll, I'd say the guitarist in our band would be fine reading that chart on the fly.  But then again I'm equally sure the band leader would only book a reading dep.  So if it's your band you're arranging for, in theory it should never be an issue.

One thing perhaps worth mentioning, which our arranger has tripped up on very occasionally, is writing clusters which are easy on keys, but impossible for the guitarist to finger, however good his reading is!
 

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Posted (edited)

I play both guitar and bass, and can read on both, but to drastically different levels!

On bass - a decent reader, and if in doubt I can still play something in keeping with the idiom and get away with it.

On guitar - dots are more of a study aid, I struggle to read vertical groups in real time, and I feel a lot more exposed making mistakes.

Nevertheless, when working out songs and writing them down for future reference, I always use standard notation, never tab (cue perennial debate...)

Edited by JapanAxe

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I'm surprised this is a serious thread!

How can we possibly come up with one answer to how well 'guitarists' read? Like any other musician, they come with a wide range of skills and ability, some can read and play, some play but can't read, some can read but not play very well and some, really, can do neither.

Who are you expecting to use? Wouldn't it be worth asking him or her how well they read themselves?

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I love that sketch! I am sure you all know the joke: "How do you get a guitarist to stop playing? Put some sheet music in front of him."

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1 hour ago, paul_c2 said:

Don't worry about that - I spotted it just after posting. Its originally in Bb, however I am rewriting it in a different key. I tried a few different ones, including F, then updated the title, but its subsequently changed to Eb. I think I'll get a lot of dirty looks from the sax players if I put it into E!!!

Thank goodness for that. I don't really read music and only know about the Circle of Fifths in theory, so when I looked at the music I decided to try and work out the key, not noticing that you had given the (incorrect) key in the title. Then I got really confused. :D

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Guitar is a hard instrument to read on. The multitude of different positions, up to 6 notes simultaneously and the strings aren’t the same intervals bottom to top. It’s certainly not like reading on bass!

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Sorry, I can't take this seriously.

A couple of days ago there was a 'Is music getting worse?' thread (which come to think of it actually was done as a poll). I'm putting this thread in the same category.

 

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17 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

I am sure you all know the joke: "How do you get a guitarist to stop playing? Put some sheet music in front of him."

... which is about as funny and insightful as the the one that goes:

How do you confuse a bass player? Hand him a guitar.

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42 minutes ago, Jus Lukin said:

I'm surprised this is a serious thread!

How can we possibly come up with one answer to how well 'guitarists' read? Like any other musician, they come with a wide range of skills and ability, some can read and play, some play but can't read, some can read but not play very well and some, really, can do neither.

Who are you expecting to use? Wouldn't it be worth asking him or her how well they read themselves?

I'm not sure they're fair points you've raised. For example, of course I've asked my guitarist, and I know how things work - but that's one guitarist, one band, one kind of music and one opinion. 

And of course it will vary with genre of music. In rock, you'd rarely see written out stuff, and the guitarist would get chords and be happy/expected to "fill in the gaps" - which is great, in a band with (say) 5 members but in a bigger band (excuse the pun) having more deliberation/precision of what everyone is playing at the same time becomes much more important.

The suggestion to show the guitarist riffs etc is a good one however it obviously slows (slightly) the process. Imagine, showing everyone their parts one by one - there's 18 parts in a big band so that would consume vast quantities of time. And slow the rate of taking on new pieces.

I think its fair to say that the more musicians involved, the more coordinated everything becomes. That's not to say there's isn't still scope, in an appropriate situation, for a musician to be able to put their own interpretation or bring useful/valid ideas to their part - not just solos but being able to invent something which fits in and does its job whilst still contributing and being artistic.

So its really, just to get an overview of what others do in (vaguely) similar situations; and partly what, if any, 'standard' to aim at when preparing music for guitarists to play.

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29 minutes ago, FDC484950 said:

Guitar is a hard instrument to read on. The multitude of different positions, up to 6 notes simultaneously and the strings aren’t the same intervals bottom to top. It’s certainly not like reading on bass!

Perhaps its also worth saying I also play guitar; however its my 3rd instrument (bass is my 1st) including playing in a similar band. The quality of guitar sheet music is very variable so often I'm coming up with variations of what's written. And to record these, it makes sense to use standard notation since its a 'learn once, use many times' investment to learn, roughly, how to read (rather than for example going down the tab route).

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6 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

I'm not sure they're fair points you've raised. For example, of course I've asked my guitarist, and I know how things work - but that's one guitarist, one band, one kind of music and one opinion. 

And of course it will vary with genre of music. In rock, you'd rarely see written out stuff, and the guitarist would get chords and be happy/expected to "fill in the gaps" - which is great, in a band with (say) 5 members but in a bigger band (excuse the pun) having more deliberation/precision of what everyone is playing at the same time becomes much more important.

The suggestion to show the guitarist riffs etc is a good one however it obviously slows (slightly) the process. Imagine, showing everyone their parts one by one - there's 18 parts in a big band so that would consume vast quantities of time. And slow the rate of taking on new pieces.

I think its fair to say that the more musicians involved, the more coordinated everything becomes. That's not to say there's isn't still scope, in an appropriate situation, for a musician to be able to put their own interpretation or bring useful/valid ideas to their part - not just solos but being able to invent something which fits in and does its job whilst still contributing and being artistic.

So its really, just to get an overview of what others do in (vaguely) similar situations; and partly what, if any, 'standard' to aim at when preparing music for guitarists to play.

In a big band I’d expect to see slash chord notation with dots for doubled or melody parts, unless a particular voicing was required. Arrangers rarely know what works on a guitar 😀

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8 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

I'm not sure they're fair points you've raised. For example, of course I've asked my guitarist, and I know how things work - but that's one guitarist, one band, one kind of music and one opinion.

That example is my point exactly, so I'd say it's pretty fair.

If you need someone to sight read the dots you need to find someone who can, if you have someone who needs weeks and a few rehearsals and you're willing to give them that, then that is the way to go. Outside of more traditional instruments where theory and technique are taught concurrently in grades there is no standardisation, so the question seems a little like 'how long is a piece of string?'.

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Don't know and don't really care. Probably as many bassists who don't read as there are guitarists. The originals band I am in only the guitarist is a reader. The keys player never learned to read music but can play anything. Play him a piece of music or hum it to him or suggest a part and he is on it. Makes no difference to me. If you can play well enough you are good enough to be in the band. Creativityreumps technique every time for us.

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I started playing guitar many years ago and converted to bass around 12 years ago.  I still play 6 string for pleasure.  I can't sight read for either.

I would support the above that its more difficut to read a cluster of dots than a typical one dot after the other sequence that bass would play.  I would flip this round and ask why you don't annotate the score with the chord name, or why you feel the need to produce score for a song thats well known.

There doesn't appear to be a 5th in the chord if I read the dots correctly btw.

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1 minute ago, Nicko said:

I started playing guitar many years ago and converted to bass around 12 years ago.  I still play 6 string for pleasure.  I can't sight read for either.

 

1 minute ago, Nicko said:

I would support the above that its more difficut to read a cluster of dots than a typical one dot after the other sequence that bass would play.

Indeed it is - I appreciate this aspect. Piano players cope okay.

 

1 minute ago, Nicko said:

  I would flip this round and ask why you don't annotate the score with the chord name, or why you feel the need to produce score for a song thats well known.

Because with 17 others playing at the same time, I don't want the guitarist to clash. One approach to this is to give very detailed information on all the non-functional harmony which is occurring. Another is to give precise details on the notes/rhythm to be played.

1 minute ago, Nicko said:

There doesn't appear to be a 5th in the chord if I read the dots correctly btw.

There is no root either - the chord is D7 (no root or 5th) sliding up to Eb7 (no root or 5th). On a guitar, its actually quite easy/comfortable to play - your fingers play frets 5, 7, 8 on the G, B and E string respectively, then everything slides up one fret. (I know that some guitarists might prefer to play it 5 frets up too - I'm not bothered where they play it).

I might look into writing out tab instead of/as well as standard notation for the guitar, and see if he's happier.

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I currently play with a guitarist in one band who can sight read and in another one who knows very little music theory at all.  Seems a strange question and kind of assumes that because someone chooses to play a 6 string instrument they will somehow all have the same amount of music reading ability.  Unless I have missed something?

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