As the owner of warren guitar lessons in Schenectady, NY,  I get asked this by potential students quite often. My answer?

Think of it as a tool in your tool box.

The more tools you have, the better equipped you are to handle a variety of jobs. While sight reading (standard notation) is the said to be the language of music, there are other ways to communicate effectively as well.

That being said, having the right tool for the job is essential. So…do YOU need to read music? That depends. What do you intend to build?

For the person who has a desire to study music in college or pursue music in an orchestra, for two quick examples, it would be imperative to read standard notation, as it will be the way in which you communicate a very specific predetermined piece of music.

It is much more structured and much like reading a script in a play. While you have specific lines to say, the interpretation of how you express them is somewhat up to the person reading, depending on the situation.

For someone who wants to form a rock band, play coffee houses, sing around the campfire, jam with friends etc, it is not necessary or even desirable in many cases.


Do all pros know how to read music? No. In fact, most of the iconic musician’s in history had no idea how to read and those who did, were not using it in the music you listened to. Let me ask you a question.

Think of any band or solo artist you went to see perform. Were they looking at a music stand?

Can you imagine if Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Van Halen, Dave Mathews, Green Day, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, were sitting and reading charts?

They did not need to read to do what they did and it had nothing to do with the myth that they had a “gift.”

But…those famous players were gifted and naturals right?
Again, no. I know many iconic performers who share a similar story as mine. I have been on 26 albums / CD’s to date, have recorded countless songs in sessions with bands and solo artists and all I have needed to hear was the song they asked me to play on.

I can assure you that I had no “gift” when it came to learning the guitar. I struggled almost every step of the way and because of that, I know every aspect of where people feel discouraged and that is why I have the success I do in teaching others now as an instructor.

Do I teach my guitar and bass students to read music?
I teach a wide age range of students who take guitar, bass and ukulele lessons with Warren Lesson in Niskayuna, Schenectady and Guilderland New York.

Guitar Lessons Schenectady

Both my son Mike Warren at Mike Anthony Guitar Lessons and myself, help students understand the benefits of two reading methods.

The path we recommend depends on the student and the desired goal. For kids and teens who later might want to go to school for music, I have my own unique way of motivating them to actively seek understanding of standard notation.

I also created a method that allow students to excel at reading without paying me to guide them in the process. This frees us up to do it how the pros do and what appears to look like they have a gift.

With this method, many of my guitar and bass students have earned sizable scholarships to some of the country’s finest music schools.

Tablature: An alternative approach and great way to start
Tablature is an alternative that actually predates standard notation. There are carvings of fretted instruments from the ancient Middle East, and it’s assumed they used some form of tablature. Lute tablature is common in medieval music and Guitar’s used tab long before they used notation

Compared to reading standard notation, getting started with tablature is an easier process with many valuable uses in learning a variety of songs and musical concepts.

For beginners, tablature is a fantastic way to start the process of getting the fingers to coordinate as you follow a variety of directions that are all tied to technique.

Learning to read tablature can help you learn to play a famous riff or lick or tackle an awesome guitar solo without the added pressure of having to recall the myriad of notation rules.

For example: With the guitar, you can play any given note in any number of locations on the neck. Tab tells you exactly where the placement on the neck is, whereas standard notation does not.

For the beginning guitarist, the tab process is much more conducive to favorable results from the start.

That is not to say tablature is the end all be all. Reading tab does have it’s drawbacks.

Tabs are not perfectAdult Performance Group
The biggest problem with most tablature is that it does not always give you the rhythms of a piece. This requires that you already know in your head what a song or solo you want to learn sounds like. BUT…

I assume you do, or you would not likely be asking to learn it.

Tab also seldom indicates which finger you should use and for that reason, I make sure I include this when I write tabs for my guitar or bass students at Warren Guitar Lessons. It also promotes proper finger placement and economy of motion for future use.

Can I just learn chords so I can play songs I like?

Absolutely!!!! Remember, this is YOUR desire and your goal.

Sure, some instructors insist on a one size fits all “you must follow the path I’m comfortable with” approach, but that is missing out on the aspect of music and creation that feels life affirming.

I see the look on the faces of those forced to learn “Row your boat” while they see people online playing the songs they love.

Warren Music Academy and Mike Anthony Guitar Lessons both offer kids, teen and adult performance groups that have the participants playing through and contributing what their current level allows to a variety of songs. It is so much fun, nobody wants to leave when it ends.

My approach

Mike Warren teaching a student at a performance group.

Let me tell you how we at Warren Music Academy do our guitar and bass lessons for kids, teens and adults.

At Warren Music Academy, we work with each individual as exactly that. An individual. Each with his or her own goals and desires.

In most cases, we have people playing songs they love in just a few lessons and it just grows from there. Very seldom do our students say it feels like work.

That is all in how we present and communicate the knowledge needed to meet the student goals. Here is what other’s have to say about our approach. Testimonials


Here is a cool read about how  Tracy Chapman inspired my student to become a better songwriter.

Give us a call and see how fun it can be

518-791-6185 (call or text)


We offer both virtual and in person lessons