Nick Minnion

Nick Minnion runs, a website designed to support guitar players who want to make a living teaching guitar. Visit for loads of free resources to help you get into teaching guitar and also probably the biggest global forum for active guitar teachers.

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  1. Vic Lewis
    February 1st, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

    I’m 54; I’ve never learned to read music, and I’m thinking I may have left it too late…the more I learn about guitar theory, the more lyrics I forget. The more I concentrate on playing guitar, the more I forget about actually playing songs….there’s only so much information the brain can retain. I’ve concentrated so hard on playing guitar over the last 6-7 years, I’ve forgotten lyrics to songs I’ve been singing along to for 40-50 years…

    Over the last few years, I’ve had complete mental blocks when I’ve been playing songs….forgotten the lyrics to songs like “Bad Moon Rising,” She Loves You,” “Substitute,” and “Satisfaction.” I’ve spent so much time learning the chords to those songs, I’ve actually forgotten the damn songs….

    I honestly think if I tried to learn to read music now, I’d forget the actual songs. “Satisfaction – ummm, I vaguely remember that – who did it?” “No, not the Who, the Stones!” “Who?” NOOOOOO – The Stones!!!!!

    • David Hodge
      February 1st, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

      You never know, though. I have two students, both over 65 who just took up guitar early in 2011. Both decided to learn to read and now both are playing early-intermediate classical pieces and Spanish pieces in addition to all the Beatles’ songs and Dylan songs and other 1960’s songs they play (they do those with just strumming chords or fingerpicking).

      Just depends on the brain and what you let it talk you into, I guess.


  2. Nick Minnion
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 12:14 am

    I am exactly the same age as you Vic so empathise perfectly about the sense of running out of memory space!

    However, I think that the answer is to find or adopt a strategy in learning music theory (including reading standard notation) that helps save memory space – not use up more of it. A bit like those utilities that clear up all the loose ends on your hard disc and make more space for new files.

    Ultimately, learning to understand music should simplify your view of it.

    For example, I never bother to memorise chord sequences these days – it’s a lost cause! But, because I understand the theory behind most chord sequences – I don’t have to resort to memorising them.

    Now if only I could figure out a way to do that with song lyrics…..

  3. Chris
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

    The only issue I have is your statement that reading tab is some how limiting your growth understanding music,because someone is just following instructions.

    Is sitting there reading standard notation just following instructions? Aren’t both forms of the written language of music.

    I won’t argue there is no value in reading standard notation but I really beleive only in the situations you mentioned in your article session player, orchestra etc.

    To me a much more important skill would be your ears and really understanding the fretboard and how the guitar is laid out.

    Anyway just my two cents I’m just an old trying to play a little music.

    • Nick Minnion
      February 2nd, 2012 @ 11:52 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I certainly agree with you about the importance of developing a good ear and fretboard orientation skills.

      My thoughts about tab-reading limiting a player’s growth in understanding are based on the fact that tab just tells you where to fret a note. It steers round the need to know the name of the note or see it as higher or lower in pitch than other notes. In that sense, it just tells you what to do.

      Standard notation also tells you what to do, but not in quite such a convenient way as tab. So you are forced to learn note names. The pay-off is that you can then perceive relationships between notes in terms of keys, chords and scales, which are hidden in tab and even to some degree on the fretboard, unless your fretboard orientation is very well developed.

  4. Chris
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 8:36 am


    Thanks for the response. Lieke I said I have nothing against learning to read standard notation I don’t think it can ever be a bad thing, but I think your observation of Django and Brian May kind of gets to the heart ot it.

    Guitar playing and the ability to read music are not necessarily intertwined. One CAN play the guitar extremely well without ever needing to know how to read music.

    It seems that most instructors want to make some correlation bewteen the two that really doesn’t exist. I am a scientist by nature and without empirical proof (which I’ve never seen) it’s all kind of hear se.

    To me the only reason to learn to read standard notation for probably 99% of people picking up a guitar other than the ones listed is for someone doing it for a purely acedemic reason.

    To play guitar in a big band or orchestra
    To pursue a career in mainstream music, particularly as a session musician
    To help with passing music exams
    To gain entry to a mainstream music course
    To be able to write parts for other instruments (saxophone, trumpet, keyboards, for example) in their band

    Other than these very particular requirements the argument gets a little weak and is just a matter of personal choice.

    Of course as a non reader my thinking may be slightly scewed.

    • Nick Minnion
      February 3rd, 2012 @ 9:15 am

      Chris, many thanks for the feedback. I don’t think you and I see things too differently on this subject. I’ll be interested to know your response to the second part of this article however (when it comes out) so watch this space!

      • David Hodge
        February 4th, 2012 @ 7:55 am

        I think that you both hit on some excellent points. One thing I’d like to add to the discussion (and I know that it’s not always the case) is that many people who learn via tab don’t always make a point of knowing how the notes they learn correspond to other notes on the fretboard. For instance, “9” on the G string being the same note as the open high E string. Many people will struggle to play a tab as it’s written out without even realizing that there may be a simpler way to fret a note which may make a whole passage easier. When you’re reading tablature and you don’t have the knowledge of where notes are, you are constantly at the mercy of whomever transcribed the tab and you are forced to follow in his fingerprints, if you will. That’s not always easy, especially if your transcriber has huge hands and can make stretches that you can’t even dream of.

        Likewise, and again I know that it’s a generalization but it seems to be so because for many people fall into this category, it seems that people who learn to read notes also gain the ability to see music more in phrases, whether they are reading in standard notation or tablature. Reading in phrases usually helps a player to determine the best fingering position for the enitre phrase. Many folks who read tablature tend to go from number to number and don’t always see that the tab does give you good hints as to how best position your fingers to play a phrase.

        Finally, and this certainly doesn’t matter to everyone, but knowing how to read music means that you can transcribe other instrument parts in order to create your own arrangements of songs. There are a lot of lessons that I’ve written for Guitar Noise that are supposedly “piano songs” that don’t have tabbed out guitar parts, or if they do, they are simply strummed chords. For example, being able to read music made it a lot easier for me to create a single guitar arrangement for “Whiter Shade of Pale.”
        You can also read and adapt bass lines to your arrangements or incorporate a sax solo or just about anything. You obviously can do this by ear, too, but reading notation can help those whose ear skills are still in development.


  5. Pat
    March 22nd, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

    How do you get a guitar player to stop playing? Put sheet music in front of him!

    Ha I kill me!

    But seriously, I’m one of the major offenders, I don’t read, but I’ve been trying to recently. Mostly out of necessity. There is a bass line to a certain song that I cannot figure out for the life of me how to do it, but now that I have sheet music in front of me, I can’t go wrong because I know 4 quarter notes go 1, 2, 3, 4. 8 eighth notes go 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. So either you instinctively know the rhythm, or you get the sheet music and count 1 and 2 and…….

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