Like most guitarists, my sight reading is not the best! But my understanding of written music is very good. If it wasn’t then programming drums would be very difficult and I wouldn’t be able to make much of my recorded music if I couldn’t do that. The reason for my lack of sight reading ability is the lack of needing to do it. The majority of the music that I play and perform is done from memory and learnt by ear so sheet music is generally not needed but I think it is an important skill to be able to read standard notation as it helps my understanding of how it’s all put together and it also helps me to try out new rhythms and other musical ideas when my improvisational approach starts to get stale.
For me, the most valuable part of the notes on the stave are their Rhythmic Values. Quite often, when learning songs, I take the note positions from the tab below and use the stave to read the rhythmic value of each note. I have it memorized now but I put a notated example together of the basic rhythmic values (using an F note on the D string each time) to help me get there, which is here –
Each rhythmic note value has it’s own name but I like to call the note by it’s division in the bar e.g. A crotchet is worth a single beat (4 to a bar of 4/4) so I call crotchets – quarter notes, a quaver is worth a half beat (8 to a bar of 4/4) so I call them 8th notes and semi quavers, of which there are 4 per beat (16 to a bar of 4/4) 16th notes etc. Each rhythmic note value has an equivalent rest value – a set period of time where nothing is played. This is made clear in the above notated example.
I also employ a ‘counting language’ to help me learn new rhythms or count out an idea to put it down quickly before I forget it or it loses it’s musical feel. In 4/4 a whole note (a note lasting 4 beats) is easy enough – play the note and hold it for 4 beats. 1 & 2 beat notes are also pretty self explanatory but for 8th notes I count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & and for 16th notes (4 notes per beat) I count 1 e & u 2 e & u 3 e & u 4 e & u. Of course any rests need to be taken into account when counting but as you’ll see in the above example they just fit neatly into the grid of the note division being used.