Do Guitarists Need to Learn to Read Conventional Musical Notation?

One of my readers recently wrote:

Hey Sam,

Thanks for the message! I’ve had a skim read so far - looks like some great
advice in there!

I wondered what your opinion is on guitarists learning to read conventional
notation - particularly the note pitches rather than just rhythms alongside
a TAB? Classical and jazz guitarists will tell you it’s a necessity,
whereas rock, pop and other genres might say it’s optional… To me it
seems that the reinforcement of note pitch to neck location that happens
when reading conventional music might benefit all guitarists (particularly
those that struggle with “learning the fretboard”) - would you agree?

Thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world!

My response was:

Hi, thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Learning notation is dependent on what you want to do. If you want to play rock songs, learn basic theory and improvise using scales and arpeggios, you’ll be fine without notation.

If you want to learn composition, create rock versions of classical music ( eg learn violin parts on guitar), learn advanced theory or study a field that uses a lot of notation for guitar parts (eg jazz); then you’ll definitely want to swat up on it.

In general I’d say for people that want to learn some songs and solos, it’s not necessary. For people wanting to be composers or learn advanced theory, it is necessary.
Hopefully that answers your question!

Learning notation is one of those skills that opens up a whole world of music, but, like everything else, does require persistence and effort.

If it is suitable for your goals, by all means dive in and work on it. If it is not necessary for your goals, then focus on the things you need to focus on first, and maybe look at it as a bonus exercise if you’re interested.

If you want to:

  • Learn songs
  • Play in a band
  • Play in a covers band
  • Improvise
  • Learn basic music theory
  • Compose with basic theory

Then learning notation is optional.

However, if you want to:

  • Learn advanced theory
  • Compose more complex pieces
  • Understand classical music
  • Improvise on a more advanced level
  • Take pieces for other instruments and play them on guitar
  • Write/arrange music for other instruments

Then learning conventional notation will be mandatory.