Intro to Standard Notation for Guitar

Intro to Standard Notation for Guitar

Standard notation is important for guitar, too!

This is lesson 1 of “A Guide to Leavitt’s ‘A Modern Method for Guitar'” by

Parents often ask, “Will my child learn to read music for guitar?” What they’re really asking is, “Will my student get a well-rounded musical education and become a real musician, not just a guitar player?”

Students, on the other hand, often ask “Do I HAVE to learn to read music for guitar?” What they’re really asking is, “Do I have to endure another attempt at boring music lessons (like my torturous tenure with piano) that is destined to fail because I’m not really interested in becoming an educated musician… I want to ROCK!” (If a student says “torturous tenure,” he probably would like reading music. My wife would lump him in the same category with me… filed under “nerd”.)

Guitar is a wonderful instrument to learn because it has unmatched cool factor, it travels easily and you can learn to play it without reading music. In fact, most guitarists today do not start with reading music because fake sheets and tablature make guitar music easily accessible for the beginner. However, don’t let the allure of easy guitar education keep you from taking the challenge of learning to read music. Standard notation has a significant place in the world of guitar music. You can and will become a more precise, efficient and educated guitarist by taking the time to learn to read it.

The industry-standard textbook for learning to play guitar with standard notation is “A Modern Method for Guitar” by William Leavitt. This lesson is a supplementary guide to be used alongside Leavitt’s book. Let’s jump right in!

To begin with, you need to understand how music is represented in standard notation. Notes are the written representation of pitches and they are placed on a set of lines called “the staff.” Look for the terms staff, measure and bar lines on page 4. Notice what they look like. At the head of the staff you will find a clef sign, specifically the treble clef or “G” clef. Notice how the shape of the clef sign defines the second line from the bottom as indicating the G note.

The position of notes on the staff indicates their pitches. The shape of the notes indicates their rhythm. Pitch and rhythm are the two most basic aspects of music. In guitar, the chording hand deals with pitch and the strumming hand deals with rhythm. Review the shapes of the notes and the time assigned to each one when played in four-four time (also known as “common time”).

Learning to read standard notation will take a sustained, focused investment of time. Make it a priority and you will set yourself apart as a guitarist. It will not be as difficult as you might imagine, but it will not be easy. However, it will be worth it!


Review page 3. Learn the following information:

  • Vocabulary words: staff, measure, bar line, double bar line, clef sign, treble clef
  • The names of the notes on the lines and spaces of the staff in treble clef
  • Time value for the whole note, half note, quarter note and eighth note
  • How to explain a time signature (top of pg 4)