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Learning to Read Classical Guitar Music


It can be one of the most challenging aspects of the classical guitar - learning to read sheet music. And it is something that a lot of traditional guitarists overlook. There is a lot of tablature out there which makes it even easier to overlook learning to read music. But, reading music for the classical guitar is something that you should and can do. It is well worth the effort. It will take time but it is also like riding a bike. Once you learn it you never forget it.


Now, if you don't practice your sight reading for a year or more you are going to get rusty and that is perfectly normal but if you can just get regular reading practice you will be shocked at much of the skill you retain and the reward you get from it.

Classical Guitar Sheet Music

Here is an overview of some of the benefits

What is the goal of a guitarist?

Playing pieces of music is not the only goal of a guitarist. Growth in both technical ability and creativity are just as important. When you learn a piece of music by TAB you experience a certain amount of growth but as you master the piece your growth quickly levels off. You have learned the piece and you practice it only to keep it sharp. When you learn a piece of music with traditional sheet music you are not just learning the notes you are also learning another language. This exercising of your mind makes you more flexible, more capable, and more creative. With time and practice you recognize keys, chords, progressions and whole host of things you would never see with TAB.

Advantages of Reading Sheet music

Hearing the music -As your skill develops and your ears sharpen you will be able to pick up a piece of written sheet music and actually hear the notes without playing the guitar. It is a language that you have learned. For some this ability comes quickly and for others it takes years of practice.

Creativity - Learning a language exercises a new part of your brain. Everyday, as you apply yourself to learning this new language you will grow. And this growth promotes your creativity. You are given many more tools to work with and apply to your music composition and you gain a broader, and more colorful, understanding of music.

Sight Reading - As you develop your skill in reading sheet music you will gain the ability to pick up a piece of music that you have never seen before and play it from sight. This ability makes you a competent musician and accelerates your ability to add pieces to your repertoire.

Breadth of Repertoire - Does your taste in guitar music deviate from the mainstream? It can be very difficult to find tablature for pieces that are not mainstream. But you can always find the sheet music. It is the language of music.

Cross-pollination with other instruments - If you have heard a piece of music written for another instrument; like the piano, bass guitar, cello, or anything else where would you find guitar tab for it? If you are able to read sheet music you can get a copy of the music, understand it, and transcribe it for your guitar. This holds true for sub-genres of guitar. There is an enormous amount of music available to guitarists that are not written in tab. Music like classical guitar, flamenco, Spanish and progressive/experimental. Reading sheet music gives you instant access to all these flavors of guitar.

The Ultimate Reward

As a guitar player, or aspiring guitar player, you know that it is not something that you study for a few weeks and are done. Playing guitar is a life long pursuit and learning tablature is just a short cut that enables you to play some songs. But learning to read sheet music is a skill that will have a more profound impact on your experience with the guitar and with the music. It will make you a better, more creative, and more capable player. It will enrich your experience with the guitar and with the music in ways that tab never can.

So How do you do it!

Well, the first thing you have to do is get yourself an instructional book that uses traditional sheet music. I recommend you get the Carcassi Method - and not just for the sight reading but also because it is filled with all kinds of wonderful pieces you can add to your repertoire and at a progression of difficulties. The exercises progressing in difficulty at the back of the book is fantastic.

The Carcassi Method Classical Guitar Method (0762) A new edition, Classical Guitar Method offers an elementary approach to playing the guitar. It provides a table of relative value of notes, definitions and explanations about the rudimentary elements of guitar playing such as scales and tempo. This is one of the most famous guitar method books for students and teachers!



Want to hear some samples of what is in the Carcassi Method?

  • Exercise 7 - (added Sep 16)Nice piece in 3/8 (waltz) It has a nice base alternating pick pattern and does a great switch to a minor key for eight measure. Good piece to practice if you want to get the feeling for a key change.
  • Exercise 8 - (added Sep 19) 1 min and 02 seconds - Nice little piece in the key of A with some pretty, yet easy arpeggio style picking in the end.
  • Exercise 9 - ( added Dec 27) Nice little piece with some left hand pinky finger work so if you need to do some left hand practice this is a good piece.


I have a tutorial to get you started: Reading Music for the Classical guitar