Hi. So, I'm currently at CC studying music and as you know, I need to take an x amount of applied music lessons (in my case, guitar and piano).
Now, I've been playing guitar for a number of years and although I understood it, I never learned to actually read music. I just started piano a few months ago and learning piano sheet music, so that's coming easier to me, but I am struggling like hell to get the hang of guitar sheet music. I mean, I can play simple lines and rhythms (my teacher has had me on "The Girl From Impanema" since ****ing June) but apparently I'm not playing 'logically', in that I'm not recognizing when a line outlines a scale, or that I play out of pattern or out of position, although I play the right notes.

Keep in mind, I'm only taking these guitar lessons because of the academic requirement. I'm actually a decent player in my own right (aside from my reading ability), but I already play in all-fourths tuning, which is apparently bit of an issue when learning in an academic setting like this.

Now, I don't think I'll actually continue to pursue a Bachelor's degree in music after community college (for no particular reason other than I want to study something else), and I don't plan on dropping these lessons, since I know I will pass and get credit for them. That being said, my question to everyone, music major and non-music major alike, is if you ever bothered to learn how to read music and if so, how often do you actually utilize that skill?
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It sounds like your shortfalls aren't related to reading music. Recognizing scales, playing in position, and counting rhythm correctly are all basic musical skills, whether or not they're on paper to read.

Do you actually know the scales your teacher expects you to recognize? Are you practicing them by position? Are you able to play the "Girl from Ipanema" melody with the same melody as the recording? Using a metronome?

If any those are "no", sit down with your teacher and learn those basics. It may sound dull, but the classic institutional method is fantastic for establishing a solid base of musical skills. No matter what level you play at now, you'll only benefit from organizing your knowledge and getting it on the fretboard.

All that aside, reading music one of those things that you only use much if you're actually good at, and you're only good at it if you use it a lot. Basically, only musical professionals (or jazz and classical hobbyists) will ever need to read music on a regular basis.
I learned how to and use it several times every day. When teaching how to do it, I make a point of showing how to read the line instead of the music. The idea is that you can look at the paper and see where the music is going or recognise explicitly what the idea is (an arpeggio, scale, sequenced pattern, etc). This way you don't have to read every single note and you will be thinking about the piece more musically instead of as a set of dots to be memorised slowly.
All depends on the genre/medium you want to pursue.

Just a rock guitarist? Sheet music will never come up.

I personally use it virtually every day. Well, not every day, but it is second nature. I deal with writing, transcriptions, orchestration, and things of that nature. It's not something that you even think about.

...modes and scales are still useless.

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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Oct 28, 2013,
It depends on what field you're going into (although you said that you were planning on dropping music).

If you're looking to become a studio musician or dealing with stuff like transcriptions than you'll most definitely run into it (pretty much what Xiaoxi said). It's the most common way of expressing how to play a musical piece, after all.

I used to play in a jazz band (guitar). For guitar, it becomes a lot more difficult because there is almost always more than one way to go about playing a line of notes. The only way that that will become easier (finding which positions to play) is with time. If you're given your own copy of a piece of sheet music a great way to handle it while you're still learning is to write a little note to yourself of where to play that line (above the measure, in the margin. Something like -->4th fret, D string). With time you'll notice that the notes on the page look A LOT like tabs and you'll be able to pick out what and where you're supposed to play by just looking at it. Also try to make connections as to what makes sense (least amount of movements) to the piece. It wouldn't make sense for me to play 2 bars between frets 2 and 5 and then jump up to something like 9 and 12 for a bar and then go back up to between frets 2 and 5 for the last bar at a speed of 130+ bpm when I could have played the third bar somewhere closer to where I was playing before.

Piano music is a little bit easier because you're not given 2-4 options of where to play something.

If you're just writing music as a hobby or trying to make a career out of playing in a band or something like that, than you'll run into it far less, but it's a good thing to know, especially if you're in a situation where you need to communicate something across instruments or across tunings.

EDIT: Fixed a word.
Last edited by mjones1992 at Oct 28, 2013,
I learned to read sheet music about a year ago, and found myself using it very rarely. However, I do recommend it to anyone learning music to learn even the very basics of it cause you're bound to come across sheet music at one point or another, even as just a rock player, and it just generally improves musicianship.

However, the best way in my opinion if you really want to improve at reading music is performances. About 5 or 6 weeks ago I joined the guitar ensemble in my college. During our rehearsals, we have to read what we're playing off of sheet music, often times sightreading.

The first 2 rehearsals I atteneded were terrible for me, I would stare as the music went by, then get a bar in here and there and then get lost again.
However, now, only a few weeks later, I can keep up much more reasonably and I've noticed a huge improvement in both my overall playing and reading. I'm actually still surprised how much better I've gotten over the course of 5 or 6 rehearsals; I'm certainly no master of sightreading, but I can recognize notes on the staff much more rapidly.

So yeah, from my own experience, being "forced" into trying to sightread and often completely screwing it up for a few weeks improved my reading far more than a year of practicing it an hour or two every second day.