Music Theory for Rock Musicians

Thoughts from our Editor Kevin Tuck:

I always found it an interesting experience to play in a Rock Band. I played the drum kit in a wide variety of styles of music from rock and roll through light pop.

had a background in classical music – my mother made me play piano as a young child, and I went on to study classical percussion at University, so reading music was never really one of the problems that I faced

It was always interesting playing in Rock Bands with other musicians who often couldn’t read any music. One of them would start playing a song and the others would just play along, without reading or even talking about it sometimes. This was something I always struggled with.

Admittedly I’m a pretty average guitar or bass player, but if I am taught the chords or a riff I can certainly play it. I have never been able to pick up a song and just play it without first learning it written down on paper. However this is not the case for most rock musicians. For most rock musicians its the other way around – they can pick stuff up, but give them some dots on a piece of paper and they are lost!

So what do rock musicians really need to know about music theory? and what can you do if you are really struggling to read music, but you would really like to?

here are some tips:

Learn just the bits you need to know to play your instrument

If you’re playing drums there is very little point in learning to read the bass clef notes – you’ll want to focus on Drum clef notation and rhythm. Find out the aspects most important to your instrument, and learn to read the clef that is used for it For guitar it really is rhythm. Most guitarists can work out the tablature ok, but I’ve found that they struggle when reading rhythm. For bass players it is reading the bass clef notes.

Separate learning pitches and rhythms

Each musical event has both a pitch (what note it is) and a duration (how long it is played for). Make sure that you are taking note of both things, and practice drills and games to develop your skills in both areas, not just one.

Practice score reading while listening to recordings

A great thing to do is listen along to recordings and follow along with the printed music, naming the notes as you go, and finding them on your instrument

Analyze real sheet music as much as possible

There used to be loads of ascii tabs around on the internet for guitar, bass and drums, but there is nothing like real sheet music for learning to read music. Go to the music store and buy some. Do your music reading a favor and support the musicians who created it at the same time!

I hope that this article has given a couple of insights and ideas for musicians who want to learn to read music and learn music theory. With a little bit of the right training and a good attitude it really isn’t that difficult to learn to read music.

Kevin Tuck is a teacher of music who has worked in schools and in his own private music studio. Kevin is also an editor for the Fun Music Company, who create music theory worksheets for music teachers.

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