Musical Literacy

If you were going to China wouldn't you at least want to know how to speak a little bit of chinese? Of course you would. If not you would be dependant on others to do things for you or else you would have to find someone who spoke the same language as you did. Either way, your journey wouldn't be as rich or rewarding as the one you would have had if you had learned to speak a little bit of the language.

Now, if you are going to be a musician and attempt to live in and function in the musical world, wouldn't you want to know the language of musicians? Again, the answer is of course. Even though a good many of your musical heroes may not be literate musicians it does not excuse you. There is no glory, gain or benefit, nor are there style points of any kind to be claimed by any sort of ignorance (and I use that word in all deference to our musical heroes and with the up most respect to the world guitar community). In fact, I have personally met many famous guitarists and world class musicians who are entirely self taught and play by ear and by rote memorization. Virtually all of them have expressed some sort of regret that they received little if any formal training and all deeply hunger for more technical knowledge and greater reading ability. Really.

If you don't learn to read music you will never to learn to write it, and will be severely handicapped when it comes to sharing your ideas and compositions. If you don't learn to read music, the only way you can learn new material is have someone show it to you or figure it out by ear. Do you know someone who can show you everything you want to know? Can you play whatever you want to play by ear? I am not trying to be a snob or make anyone who reads this material feel bad, I am only trying to get my point across: anyone who has any sort of musical aspirations is very well served by learning to read music.

The Grand Staff

The logical starting point is becoming comfortable with the traditional Grand Staff and learning how to name notes on the staff. Study the diagram below and make sure you can identify The Bass Clef, The Treble Clef and Middle C. Next tackle the note names, the best way to learn this is to buy a book of music writing paper and begin by drawing notes and then copying out the letter names of those notes on the staff. This is another one of those little things that successful musicians do when they are learning their craft. Obviously, your copy of THE ULTIMATE GUITAR POSTER will be invaluable in your studies of naming and memorizing notes.

Ledger Lines

Some notes are too high or low in pitch to be placed on the staff. These notes are placed on ledger lines. The number of ledger lines is theoretically unlimited but usually about 3 or 4 is the most you will see. Notice how there only 3 notes between the bass clef and the treble clef of the grand staff. Again I suggest you copy out the ledger lines in your book of music writing paper.

Information concerning the naming of notes on the staff is the sort of stuff that all musicians study. So far this page is not specific to guitar, it could be considered general, but essential musical knowledge.

Naming Notes On The Staff

The classic method off learning to name notes on the staff can't be beat. The staff is thought of as lines and spaces. Notes are either on a line or in a space.

If a note is on a line, think Every Good Boy Does Fine.

If it's in a space think of the word F - A - C - E. Space Face!

Practice this by writing what you see in the illustration to the left in your book of music writing paper. Also get some sheet music and practice naming the notes or write the note names down on the sheet music itself.


Placing The Guitar On The Staff

As the guitar is suitable for both rhythm and lead playing, it has a wide range. The three open bass strings (low E, low A, and low D) fall on the bass clef of the grand staff, the three treble strings (G, B, and high E) fall on the treble clef of the grand staff.

The low ledger lines often found in guitar music are actually little bits of the bass clef as found in the grand staff. copy these ideas down your book of music writing paper.

Tab Versus Ledger Lines

The lines of a TAB (tablature) staff, which appear under the treble clef of the grand staff are not the same as ledger lines. the six lines of the TAB staff represent the six strings of the guitar, the numbers on the tab staff tell you the fret number on which you can find a particular note. In the example to the right you would play the open strings in order from low E (string 6 -the fat string, to high E -the thin string). Click the play button on the top left hand corner of the animation to the left.

Enharmonic Spellings

Some notes have two names, such as A# and Bb (A sharp and B flat) for example. They both mean the same thing. Either one is correct. For practice get your book of music writing paper and copy out the music for the chromatic scale exactly as written below. For extra practice, play the entire scale on the A string (string 5).

To Memorize, VISUALIZE!

I have found that an overwhelming majority of my students are visually oriented people, and therefore visually oriented learners. This seems strange because music is ultimately the art of learning to hear. Studies of the guitar however have been traditionally highly visual in their approach (e.g. chord frames, scale diagrams, videos, etc..)

Our purpose here is two fold:

  1. Learning the exact letter name of each and every single note on the neck of the guitar.
  2. Correctly placing those notes on the treble clef of the traditional staff.

Try taking the approach of one string at a time and one fret string at a time. Once again, your copy of THE ULTIMATE GUITAR POSTER will be invaluable in this undertaking. As you study the poster and these interactive learning animations remember the two simple yet ultra powerful techniques of visualizing and verbalizing. Couple this new approach the habit of organizing and solidifying your thoughts and new knowledge in a book of music writing paper and you will soon be able to name any note on the neck of the guitar with an exact letter name.

As the animation is content rich, You may find it helpful to study it several times. With each successive repetition,shift your area of focus from the neck to the musical staff and back again.


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