Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reading Staff Notation on Guitar Is Like Keeping Track of Tribbles

Remember the "Tribbles"? If you're a "Trekkie" you do. They're the little creatures that multiplied exponentially faster than rabbits. In no time flat Captain Kirk had so many of the little critters on the Starship Enterprise that he needed to give orders to numerous "Tribble trackers" to keep them contained.

Reading staff notation on the guitar is a little like keeping track of Tribbles. Just when you thought you knew where the note "E" is, you find it on another string, then another. Guitar masters know there can be six or more ways to play any given pitch.

For any given pitch, the guitar has not just one or two "alternate fingerings", but as many as six or more. Because of this, I've yet to meet anyone who can read guitar staff notation well unless they've put significant and regular time into learning it. Some guitarists assume that knowing how to read staff notation on piano or some other instrument will provide adequate preparation for reading it as a guitar player, but this is not generally true. It will certainly help, but it is far from automatic.

Why is reading staff notation so much harder on a guitar than most other instruments? This is a difficult thing to explain, but perhaps an example may help: You are a piano player. You see a middle c written on the treble clef. You know that there is only one such key to depress. Now, imagine that there are six or more middle c's on the piano, each played by a different key. (They're probably not in the middle anymore! ) In fact , imagine a piano that has at least two or three different keys to produce each one of the eighty-eight pitches possible on a piano! If you know anything about pipe organs, this might be comparable to having ranks and ranks of keyboards - as many as six or eight! This is comparable to what a guitar player must do whenever reading staff notation: for any given written pitch, a decision must be made almost instantaneously as to which of several places to fret it. Yikes - it's no wonder that few people master the organ - or reading staff notation on a guitar!

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