Is It Necessary To Learn Sheet Music For Guitar?

Hey there! Some links on this page are affiliate links which means that, if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I greatly appreciate your support!

You are essentially picking up a musical instrument when you learn to play guitar. This means you may eventually need to be able to read some music to be able to play it well. However, when it comes to reading music, you may see several types, such as tablature, sheet music, or chords. 

When it comes to tabs and chords, you should be able to see their importance since much guitar music is written in them. However, what about sheet music? Is it necessary to learn sheet music for the guitar?

Generally, it may not be necessary to learn sheet music for the guitar. This is because most casual guitarists can play and jam in a band with only tablature and chord knowledge. Sheet music reading skills may be required for playing guitars in an orchestra or a jazz band.

In this article, we will discuss whether learning sheet music for the guitar is necessary. It starts by looking into sheet music and then exploring the differences between sheet music tabs and chords. 

The article then discusses if it is necessary to learn sheet music for guitar, before looking into the time needed to learn how to read and play along to tablatures and chords.

Want to see the latest guitar accessories that are popular right now? Just click here!

Is It Necessary To Learn Sheet Music For Guitar?


What Is Sheet Music?

Sheet music is basically music documented down as a note. You may hear sheet music being called notes or scores. When playing in a band or orchestra, most people may see the sheet music in front of a musician. Most competent musicians usually read sheet music, with some able to read and play simultaneously. 

Sheet music is basically a written notation of what a musician is to play. You may also hear sheet music as a musical score. You may recognize sheet music as a bunch of lines with fat dots drooping at the end of what musicians in orchestra bands have in front of them when playing. 

Sheet music may be published in several copies. One copy may contain separate copies for separate instruments, which is what the players see. All players can sit together, play their separate pieces, and form a band or orchestra.

Another copy would contain what all the instruments play simultaneously, which may be called the conductor’s score. This allows the conductor to see what all the instruments are playing at a particular part of the piece.

A good musician can look at a brand new piece of sheet music and immediately play what is on it using a musical instrument. This skill is called sight reading and is commonly expected of competent, professional musicians. 

It is common for musicians to always play while looking at sheet music, even when they have memorized the piece, since it allows them to refer to it when needed. 

Often the sheet music will specify what instrument it is written for. This is important as sheet music for trumpet, for example, may not be playable on a guitar since the guitar is a stringed instrument, and the trumpet a brass. 

Sheet music also contains information such as what note to play, beat counts of the note, as well as how fast to play them. Sheet music also comes with instructions on how loud to play the notes and how to express the notes. For example, you may see Mezzo Forte, which means to play at medium loudness.

Sheet music can be written for almost all instruments, even percussive instruments such as drums. The key is to ensure the instrument is tuned to the right musical scale and is payable to the notes on sheet music.

How Are Sheet Music Different From Tabs or Chord Notes?

Sheet music differs from tabs and chords in complexity and thoroughness, ease of learning, and the instruments used. As a guitarist, you are more likely to see tablature or chords, as these are the more popular notation systems for guitars.

AspectsSheet MusicTablatureChords
ThoroughnessMost thoroughLess thoroughLeast thorough
InstrumentsCan be used on almost all instrumentsCommonly used on stringed or keyboard instrumentsCommonly used on strings or keyboard instruments
Ease Of LearningHardestNot at hardEasiest

The most common way to notate or write down guitar music is by using either sheet music, tablature (tabs), or chord notes. These notation systems are different and may give a different reading experience to guitarists in many ways:

Complexity and Thoroughness

The sheet music wins hands down regarding the complexity and thoroughness of these notation systems. This is because it needs to cater to all instruments. At the same time, it needs to convey additional information to the musicians on how to play these notes. 

Sheet music often starts with a clef, which indicates how the notes are to be read. You may also see tempo, and time signature, which will tell you how fast, and how to count the beats when playing the notes. The notes are then written down, with instructions on what notes to play and how long or short to play them. 

On top of that, you also have things such as volume and expression. For volume, you may see terms such as piano or forte, which means to play quietly or loudly. For expression, you may see terms such as staccato (play short, punchy notes) or legato (play long, slow notes)

With tabs, they are usually simpler. Some lines represent the strings of the guitar or any other string instrument. You may see numbers on the strings, which means the fret position to press down on. Distance between the numbers may mean playing faster or slower. 

Tabs rarely indicate tempo and expression, while things like clefs are replaced with tuning keys on the strings. Players are expected to fill the gaps by feeling the playing through the music, so you may need to practice tabs by playing along with the actual song.

Chord notes are even simpler versions of notation, without things such as lines on the sheet. Often you will see the song lyrics, with the chords to play indicated on the part of the lyric. There may be an indication of a guitar tuning key, although that may not be on all chord notes. There is also usually no tempo or playing expression. 

Players are expected to find their own strumming pattern and adjust the timing to it into the song. This means chord notes are the simplest but leave most areas unexplained, meaning you have to find your way to make the chord notes work with the song.

Ease Of Learning

When you look at the complexity, sheet music is the most complex, followed by tabs and chord notes. You may assume the same for the ease of learning, with the chord notes easiest, followed by tabs, and finally, sheet music. 

Chord notes may be the easiest to learn as it only indicates which chord to press on a particular part of a song. This means you simply change your fingerboard position and keep strumming. You will need to adjust your strumming pattern to fit the song.

Tabs may be a little bit more complicated to learn than chord notes, but it gives a more thorough description of what to press on your stringed instrument. This makes tablature better to describe and notate fingerpicking, such as guitar solos.  

The hardest to learn would be sheet music. In fact, many people actually studied sheet music in a class, learning music theory and concepts, before progressing to practical. As a result, people who picked up an instrument casually may not have sheet music reading skills.


Sheet music is usually used to describe all sorts of instruments since it is a very flexible notation system. Tabs and chord notes are more limited in instruments. 

It is common to see sheet music used to notate musical pieces of songs for stringed instruments such as guitar, violin, or ukulele, as well as all blown instruments such as trumpet, flute, or saxophone. Sheet music may also be used to notate percussion instruments such as drums, vibraphone, and so on. 

Tabs and chord notes are more commonly used to notate some stringed instruments and keyboard instruments. These instruments may include but are not limited to guitar, ukulele, piano, keyboard, or bass guitar. 

This is because tabs and chord notes may not be detailed or flexible enough to notate for blown instruments. For example, it may make little sense to use chord notes for trumpets since trumpets do not play chords but only notes. 

Is It Necessary To Learn Sheet Music For Guitar?

It may not be necessary for casual guitarists to learn sheet music. This is because most casual guitarists can learn a song they like by using tabs and chord notes. Sheet music reading skills may be required if you play guitar in an orchestra or a jazz band.

If you are thinking if you need to learn to read sheet music to play guitar, the short answer is no. This is because guitars can be seen as a more casual instrument than trumpet, trombone, or clarinet. 

This means most guitar players pick up the instrument casually, without formal training. As a result, many cannot read sheet music. This results in the creation of alternative, simpler notation systems such as tabs and chord notes. These notation systems are more than capable of covering what a guitar player needs. 

In fact, if you are to search for notations for guitars online, the overwhelming majority would either be a tablature or chords. Very rarely will you see the guitar sheet music. This is particularly so if you are looking for a notation for popular music, such as rock tracks. 

Another reason to not be too concerned about learning sheet music is its complexity of it. Sheet music is hard to read and may require you to sit down and learn music theory before you can actually read them well.

This is contrasted with tablatures or chord notes, which may be very easy to pick up. Many players often described learning chord notes and tablatures instinctively, without proper instructions. Some may go to learn about how to read tablatures or chord notes on YouTube, but that’s pretty much it. It is easier to learn and easier to read too.

You may conclude that it is simply easier to learn to read tablature and chord notes, which are also used much more abundantly to notate guitar tracks and songs. It just makes more sense than sheet music. 

However, suppose you are picking up a guitar to play in a jazz band or an orchestra. In this case, you may need to learn how to read sheet music, as musical notation for guitars in these situations may come in sheet music. 

Are Tabs Better Than Chord Notes?

Tabs may be better if the guitar is played without using conventional chords or solos. This is because tabs indicate the individual pressing positions on the fretboard. Chord notes may be better and easier to read for strumming plays using conventional chords.

Now that we have established that sheet music may not be necessary for casual guitar players, you are left with tabs and chord notes. Which of these two may make more sense to learn first?

Suppose you are a new guitarist and are picking and brushing up on skills such as strumming, and pressing basic chords correctly, then focus on chord notes. This is because your chord notes are simpler, allowing you to focus on your chords and strumming better. 

Another thing is that since you are only playing basic chords, you are not playing singular notes or things such as power chords or barre chords. This means you do not need the more complicated notation of a tablature. 

Being able to read chord notes also allows you to be able to play your guitar to songs of your choice faster. You may not play your guitar exactly like in the tracks, but you can play along and sing to it. This may be very motivational to any guitarist and may help them to keep learning guitar longer. 

In fact, some very popular songs can be played in only several open chords, such as Pearl Jam’s Last Kiss (G, Em, C, and D open chords). Using a capo, you can play Foo Fighters’ Times Like These using only 5 open chords. (G, C, D, Em, and A chords)

However, suppose you are looking to develop fingerpicking skills and more advanced chords or shred your guitar like a boss. In that case, you may need to learn tablature. This is because a chord note may not be enough to cover these needs. 

For example, it may be hard to describe a power chord using chord notes since it is not a common chord. However, a tablature can easily indicate power chords, by noting the fret and string position your finger should press down. 

Tablatures are also capable of showing and notating a guitar solo by showing the individual string and fret position, and also add effects such as wah pedal, hammer on, or pull off. Indicating these on a chord not is simply impossible.

How Long Does It Take To Read Tablatures Well?

It may take you from 30 minutes to about 2-3 weeks of daily practicing to learn how to read tablatures. How fast you can pick up reading tablatures may depend on your prior musical experience and time spent practicing. If you receive proper instruction, you may be able to read tablatures faster.

Tablatures may be the best notation system for a casual guitarist. This is because almost every major guitar song is written in tablatures. 

Suppose you want to learn and pick up legendary guitar solos from players such as Slash or Angus Young. In that case, you can do it more accurately by reading tablatures. 

This naturally made you think about how long it will take for someone to learn how to read tabs. In this case, it may take as short as 30 minutes to as long as 2-3 weeks of daily practicing to pick up tablature reading skills. In fact, some may take much longer than that.

The wide gap in pickup time may be due to many factors. For example, those who have prior musical training may be able to pick up tablatures faster. This is because these people may already be able to count beats and keep to tempo. This means they can read and play the notation on a guitar

If you have the ability to read and play to chords, you may also pick up tabs faster. This is because you already can count beats and have a sense of rhythm to play along to songs. 

This means you only focus on finger positioning on the fretboard and striking the right strings and do not worry about playing to beat and such. In fact, you may take a very short time to learn how to read tabs. It could be as short as 30 minutes or even less.

You will need a longer time if you do not have prior musical training or do not know how to play chord notes. You can shorten the learning and pickup time by practicing more and allocating time daily to learn to play tablatures to songs. The longer you practice, the faster you can pick up. 

If things become too hard, consider getting proper instructions from a guitar teacher near you. This may, however, be a little expensive. If cost is an issue for you, you can also go online to places such as YouTube, where you can learn how to read tablatures better.

How Long Does It Take To Read Chord Notes?

Learning how to read and play chord notes may require several minutes to several weeks or more of daily practice. The pickup speed may depend on prior musical training, time spent practicing, and if you receive proper instructions.

Guitar chord notes are probably the easiest notation system you can learn to play guitar. In fact, it could be an easy stroll in the park for some people, especially if you have prior musical training. 

Suppose you know how to play the keyboard or drums. This means you have some musical sense and abilities to count beats and play at a steady tempo and rhythm. 

Translating this into reading and playing guitar chord notes means you can easily keep a steady strumming pattern on your left hand. You only focus on pressing the right chords on the right and time the transition between the chords. 

This means you can read and play chord notes in a very quick time. It could be as fast as several minutes even. 

However, suppose you are coming in without musical training or experience. In that case, it means you may not have a sense of the beat or be able to keep the strumming pattern consistent with the song’s tempo and beat. 

This means you must pick up on three things, read the chords, press them properly on the fretboard, and strum the guitar rhythmically. You have more things to juggle, meaning you will take longer to pick up chord notes.

If you are in this condition, the common advice is to give yourself several weeks of daily practice to learn the skills and ability to read and memorize chords. You also need time to develop a steady strumming pattern and rhythm. 

You may be able to speed up the process by having professional instructions or going online and looking for courses or free YouTube videos teaching you how to read and play along with chord notes.

Similar Posts

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments