Why 'Real' Musicians Hate Guitarists

In the world of fine-art "musicians," we guitarists are not highly respected. That is OK though, the guitar is so popular that in certain cliques it is cool to hate on it. However high school that attitude is, they might actually have a few points on which we could improve. Let us piss out their fire of hate for the guitar with pure musical impunity!

Ultimate Guitar

You might have heard before, that dumb-guitarist joke:

How do you get him to turn up? You tell him to turn down.

Now how do you make him shut up? You put a piece of sheet music in front of him.

Sorry to burst your bubble of douche, but it takes a truly special personality to bring out the cool in an oboe. The guitar is so cool that it became a fashion accessory. Some guitars even come with a girl. You cannot beat that. We all know they are jealous because they did not choose to play an inviting, cool, expressive, personalized, simple, portable, complex, harmonious, popular, affordable, sexy, and etc., instrument. They are envious of the guitar's popularity. Never once, has that oboe gotten them laid. Except for that one time at bandcamp where the actual oboe got laid...

Not the person, just their instrument. They probably went to some fine arts academy, and/or maybe were whipped and beaten by their nanny, daily, in a soundproofed dungeon while they practiced oboe. Their parents hated attending the stupid recitals of music nobody wanted to hear in the first place, performed by little chimpanzees with thumbs. They really suffered for their musicianship; and now as a result, they despise anyone flaunting their talent for music who did not also endure that same wicked torture they once were subjected to repeatedly. In the snobby world of blow-hard"musicians," we guitarists do not get much, if any, respect; but they may have a few points on which we could improve...

A frequent complaint made of guitarists is, we think that we are the center of the proverbial musical universe.

OK. Maybe we let our cool-factor go to our heads just a smidge. Let us deflate, and investigate the claim to see if there is something we can use to shut their pie-holes up for good. As a group, we can overcome this great musical prejudice! A bunch of band geeks is bullying guitarists. How ironic. We used to put out cigarettes on their arms as we rode off on motorcycles. Oh my, how the times, they are changing.

Much of the hubbub seems to stem from our seemingly endless love for the treble clef. People, and especially some of those so-called "educated" people, have been shoving this range of staff in our faces for so long now that we have forgotten all about Middle C. - Yes, it is still a thing, and yes, it is still significantly important. - Guitarsheet-music has always chapped my butt berry; it never seems to read right. All the notes are crammed together, and then many fall well outside the staff forcing you to count the lines under it (Is that four lines below it, or is it three? Hold on; let me get my magnifying glass. Ops... I broke it...), and then it is written for a range different from that that is actually desired.

I grew up playing piano through the Royal Conservatory program (never really wanting to...), and then playing trombone in high school band (again, never really wanting to...), so reading music was never a problem. However, when it came to guitar sheet music, it was foreign to me; like they decided to make up their own rules, assuming the rest of the world would just forgive their ignorance; like the beautiful woman who gets out of an excessive speeding ticket while drunk and high. The guitar is popular enough that the trick kind of worked; but consequently, all it turned out to be in the end is like how pissed off Quebec is at the large enough English-speaking population which in areas can now go months,years, without speaking French, stirring up feelings of being annoyingly invaded; quietly vengeful? Attack of the angry oboes!

So how do we, guitarists, achieve victory in this music-nerd war?

That is a great question; thanks for axe-ing. There are so many, many, many places to start that it is hard to know where to begin.

It could start with a firm shake-up to the editing department in, Hal-Leonard. You are the only major publishers of music, and music-related educational material in North America; can you please treat your monopolistic position within the music business with a shred of respect towards the language of music, and for the guitar as the valid instrument it truly identifies as? You do not have to give up your market-share, just help guitarists understand faster, better, and easier. Stop making us look bad, and publish with respect to music and art. Perhaps slow down on the amount of worthless titles you throw out there? Save some trees for the rest of us. Do music right; and always remember that guitar sales, instruments and books, subsidize some of those failures out there. We help those stores selling saxophones, keyboards, and music books stay open.

The explanation in the sample above for the music staff defines it as, "[showing] pitches and rhythms and is divided by bar lines into measures. Pitches are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet."

That is possibly the worst description for what the music staff is; completely void of any meaning grounded in reality.Not only that, but it does not even begin to explain how it relates to the guitar; the instrument Stevie Ray Vaughan played, mostly in Eb. That is why I bought the book. Your cover said, "authentic transcriptions." Correct me if I am wrong, but that is not where the D above middle C is located on a guitar. Help me if you can, I'm feeling down. It's like what Grandpappy always used to say, "they don't make 'em like they used to." Go back in time and check out some of the Beatles songbooks, printed in the sixties. Things used to be made to a higher standard.

Not only is the definition of the music staff horribly vague, but what your tab says versus what your music staff says are different things.

More succinctly described, the music staffs are a graph that plots frequency (notes) versus time (fractions of beats per minute). The Y-axis is frequency, and the X-axis is time. The treble clef and the bass clef meet in the middle; the missing line between them is Middle C.

One could dive deeper into the mathematics by seeing the music staff as a linear graph containing points representing relationships between sine waves and time frequency - notes per beat. Points - i.e. notes - are located between lines,and/or on lines, dividing the Y-axis into a logarithmic scale of frequencies, using the letters, A - G, as simple note names in the place of large numbers, Hz. Notes are defined in length and connectivity with other notes and rests through a pre-existing and standardized table of symbols, readily available elsewhere, which all work in conjunction with any additional specific modifiers placed at the top of the page being read, prior to any notes on the staff to be played, e.g. key signature. The space below the first line on the treble clef is the note, D. The first line on the treble clef is called, E. etc.

One could elaborate even more to include pertinent information about the relationship between MiddleC and the instrument in question. The first line, E, on the treble staff is located at the fifth fret on the B string.

Middle C - C4 - is the middle of the piano. The piano starts at A1.There are four, A's, below Middle C. A 440Hz, or A4, is theA below Middle C. A4 is located at the second fret on the G string. You might recognize the note, A 440Hz, from your tuner as the standard frequency calibrated to out of the box. Middle C is located at the first fret of the B string. Middle C is the missing line between the treble and bass staffs.

Above is the range of the guitar, splayed out all over the music staff. Low open E, all the way up to the twelfth fret on the high E string. This is a range of three octaves. Since most of the action on the guitar happens between the first and twelfth frets, this is the most logical range to write guitar music in because the music staffs tells you the frequency. Do not try to save money by not printing one extra music staff. You would not do that for a piano piece, but for some reason with guitar music, we cannot be bothered to display the notes in the correct register; but you will still print the note six lines below the staff. How does that help anyone? A lot of what is happening on the guitar is actually on the bass staff, so it would be better to use the bass clef instead of the treble clef, if the goal was actually to save money and space by printing only one staff of music.

At the very least, the guitar should be notated to be in the correct range of frequencies, if for only to save on the scrutiny of our friendly sidemen playing horns. You like working by the hour, T-Bone? We work one hour a day. Keep talking... Put the little, 8, below the treble clef if you have to; but, even that is only a poorly placed Band-Aid,not coming close to covering the range of frequencies the guitar annoyingly occupies. Better bring out the gauze wraps.

Total rehabilitation is necessary. You, Hal-Leonard, could attempt to retrofit the entire existing catalogue with as ticker on every treble clef in all the redundant titles out there - the old recall patch-up job. It does not have to be an expensive fix. Send a person out with a price-gun to fix every single page in every book with a sticker. He might have to hire a few people to help. There are boatloads of titles to sticker up, better get started.

Just give me the tab, or a Nashville number chart, if you are only going to screw it up.

Not you, dear Reader, for you are quite possibly the blossoming brain attending a post-secondary institute specializing in guitar. So for you my friend, the next time the professor hands out a chord chart of half-note jazz/blues chord changes in F, take a look at it and then ask him, "Why is everything written to play so high up on the neck? You're killing me doc, I'm playing an acoustic guitar with only seventeen frets." Repeat for every handout until the error corrects itself.

If we are to surrender our position as the center of the musical universe, we need to assimilate our written language to reflect the true harmonic range of our proudly chosen instrument, guitar. Let us move over to make room for the new center of the musical universe, the singer!

"Hey y'all! Let's gather 'round to do some warm-up exercises, 'Me-me-me-me-me.' 'Aye-aye-aye-aye-aye.'"

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your burrito.

About the Author:Dee Lee Ramone plays guitar for the Harvest, and he is the author of "The Relative Nature of Chords: A Street-Smart Field Guide for Guitar." Order a copy by emailing: deeleeramone@gmail.com

19 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This article sums up all of my feelings about sheet music and guitar. That shit just doesn't make sense on guitar when it's displayed like that. I played violin for years before guitar, I could read sheet music, written in/for any staff, better than I could read words out of a book, but as soon as I tried to read sheet music for guitar it was like I just tried to read a book in a foreign langue I knew nothing about. Sure, the words used an alphabet that looked identical to English, but it sure as hell didn't read the same.
    The third and fourth paragraphs are poncey beyond belief and completely unnecessary. Also there are numerous instruments just like the guitar that sound an octave below or above. Most of these instruments have 3+ octave ranges as well.
    Guitar music is written an octave higher than it sounds. It just is. Why is that so bad? There are plenty of transposed instruments. The difference for us just happens to be an octave. Trust me, the other guys (alto sax players, for instance) have it harder. At least our C's still look like C's. And based on my experience with college guitar instructors, if I'd ever tried that cheeky remark about the music being written so high up, he'd probably have just called me stupid for not knowing how guitar music is written. And if I did it again, he'd have made me play it backwards or upside down or something.
    Exactly my thought. And based on the logic in the article, us bassists would have to come up with a whole new clef for us to use. Or try playing without ever getting a single note on the actual staff. The open E string would be below the fourth line below the staff. Doesn't make much sense to me. Would get even worse for me because I have a 5-string...
    The Judist
    I tune to A=432Hz, come at me brah
    That's well and good as long as you spend more time playing with yourself than in a group, which is likely the case...
    It's all nice and stuff, until you find out you want to play with an orchestra, since most wind-instruments nowadays tune in 442, and are already having a hard time playing 440 in the orchestra. trust me, I'm a clarinetist. It's such a pain in the arse to play with an orchestra since my clarinet is pitch perfect in 442, but i have to "extend" it to play with an orchestra, or piano, or a guitar, simply because of the A4 frequency being 440 Hz.
    Writing guitar on one stave makes perfect sense. Piano has two hands so using two staves makes sense for piano - one for both hands. Organ use three staves - one for feet, one for left hand, one for right hand. But guitar doesn't use two hands like that, so reading two staves at the same time would just be unnecessarily complex. Writing it an octave higher also makes perfect sense. Well, actually, the best clef for guitar would be the tenor clef (that way you wouldn't need to transpose), but treble clef written an octave higher is also a good choice (treble clef is also way more common than tenor clef). Also, transposing by an octave is easy. You just need to know it's a transposing instrument and you should have no problems with it.
    Great article, but you're one octave off on A440.The open A is 110 Hz, resulting in A440 being on the 5th fret of the high E string. A440 is the A above middle C, because middle C is C4 and starts the 4th octave in that notation. Middle C is 261.6 Hz.
    -10 years of learning classical music in music school -playing bach, mozart, paganini -music stand with the sheets is fell on the floor -you got it, the guy is deaf
    I wrote my research project at uni on designing a musical tuner and the books I read before had A=110Hz as the defining note for music. This book wasn't for guitar but was a book on sound waves.
    I started out playing trumpet before I learned guitar, and this confused the heck out of me too. Piece of advice for guitar noobs coming from "classical" instruments: When you get a book of guitar music, if it has tabs, just use those for the pitches and rely on the stuff on the staff just for rhythm. It'll make your life a lot easier. If the book doesn't have tab, good luck.