and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

How To Read Guitar Sheet Music? Best Things to Know 2021

This article will teach you how to read guitar sheet music for beginners. It is geared towards guitarists who want to learn the basics of music reading. Knowing the notes on the fretboard is not enough; you need to know how music works in order to be able to read sheet music.

Notation is the way that music is written down. Notation may also be called “sheet music”. Fidlar will teach you about the most common kind of notation that guitarists need to know and how to read sheet guitar music .

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology

The Staff

Staff is what you refer to as the lines and spaces between the notes on sheet music. The notes these lines correspond to will depend on whether you’re using a treble clef or bass chord.

Higher sounding instruments use treble clef, while bassier instruments use the lower clef. This distinction is not important for guitarists as they will always use the treble clef.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology

Ledger Lines

If the notes are too small to fit on the staff, the ledger lines will appear below or above the staff to indicate the spaces and lines.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology

Treble Clef

The treble-clef symbols help you identify where the notes are on lines and spaces. The treble clef circle the line that represents the G note in guitar sheet music.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology

The Spaces

Use FACE to remember which notes correspond with which spaces.

The lines

Use the acronym Every Good Boy Does Fine to remember which notes each line corresponds to.

Key Signatures

The key signatures are a way to tell a musician which key they are in

Key signatures are where you can see which notes will be played flat or sharp, representing the key or grouping of chords that will be played.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology


If a note is not part of naturally occurring keys, it will be marked using the flat, sharp, or natural symbol. You can deep dive into this article to know exactly what is an accidental in music theory.

Time Signatures

The time signature is represented by two numbers located right next to the treble clef. The top number is the beat per bar, or measure, while the bottom number shows which notes are played. For example, 4/4 would mean that for each measure, you will count four quarter notes (top number) and 4 (bottom number).

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology


The sheet music’s staff is divided into measures using horizontal lines called bars.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology


Let’s now take a look at each note value.

I will use both terms for music. These terms are called different things depending on where they are. American music uses terms such as whole note, half-note etc. The British terms for music are semibreve and minim.

Because the names of the notes are more clear, I prefer American terms. However, if you live outside the USA you might need to be familiar with other terms. I have included them as an extra for your convenience.

Whole Note (semibreve)

The entire note is 4 beats long and takes 4 seconds. It lasts for the entire bar in 4:4 seconds.

If you wanted to play this note, you would first play the second fret G string. Hold the note for four beats. Tap your feet with a steady rhythm. Each 4th tap of your foot equals a bar. You can hold the whole note for four taps.

Half Notes (minimum)

A half note lasts half the time as a whole note. It makes sense, right? This is why I love the American system.

Now imagine tapping your foot and the note will play for two taps. You can play the note again after two taps, and it will continue for 2 taps.

Quarter Note (crotchet)

A quarter note is 1 beat in 4/4 time. There are four quarter notes per bar.

These last for one-quarter of the length of a half note, and one-quarter of that of a whole note.

The note will only last one tap of your foot if you tap your foot or listen to a metronome. You will be playing 4 A notes at the same time you played the entire note.

Eighth Note (quaver)

A quarter note lasts half the time as an eighth note, while an eighth note takes eight times as long as a whole note. A bar contains 8 eighth notes.

There are two notes for every tap of your foot when you tap your foot.

Different Time Signatures

Although 4:4 is a one-time signature, the length of the notes is not affected.

If you have 3:4 times, for example, there will be 3 quarter notes instead of 4. Quarter notes last the same time as 4:4 time.


Rests are where you stop playing a note. Notes indicate where you play the note, but rests indicate where it is not. Rests can be broken down into beats, such as the whole-note rest (4 beats), half-note rest (2 beats), quarter-note rest (1 beat), and others.


A dot next to a note indicates that you must multiply half of the note’s value by the note being played. A dotted half-note means that you count it as three beats rather than only two.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology


A tie is simply a curved line that indicates when two or more notes of the same note should be played together.


Slurs, not to be confused with a tied note, are curved lines indicating when different notes should be played in continuous succession, without breaks in between. There are two types: pull-offs and hammer-ons.

Repetition Signs

The repeat sign is a bar with two dots indicating you have to go back and play again when you see the first dots.

String and Finger Indications

If you see a number beside or above a note, it indicates which string or finger to use.

Guitar Sheet Music Terminology

Let’s learn how to read guitar sheet music

There are three main types of guitar sheet music:

  • Tablature:  Also known as a “guitar tab,” this semi-dynamic music notation is laid out in a way that makes it easy for guitarists.
  • Chord boxes: Images of static chord shapes to help you place your fingers.
  • Traditional notation: is a way to learn about songs and how to play them if you can read them. This notation style is used extensively in Jazz and Classical music.

However, we encourage you to continue learning each method.

Reading guitar sheet music using the Standard Notation

Standard notation refers to the “formal” way of writing sheet music. Most musicians mean that they can read traditional music when they say they can.

Below is an example of standard notation for guitar.

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music


This is an example of how to play the intro for Smoke on the Water using standard notation. You will need to be able to recognize the symbols and black dots in standard guitar notation.

Standard notation is used by many instruments, such as the violin and piano. Standard notation is required to be able to read music on the piano. The guitar offers more options than the standard notation.

A sheet music book will almost always use standard notation. However, sheet music now includes both standard notations as well as Guitar TAB.

Here is an example of what you might get if you buy the sheet music for Smoke on the Water.

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music

It may be evident that the standard notation is the same as the one shown in the previous example. This time, however, it is linked to another with numbers and lines.

Who should learn to read Standard Notation?

Many musicians argue that everyone should be able to read standard notation. However, this is not the case.

For example, you will need to read standard notation if you wish to play classical guitar with an orchestra. It will affect your career.

However, standard notation is too complicated if you are only interested in learning strum chords that will accompany your singing.

You can also learn all you need to be a member of a local band.

Guitarists have two options: Guitar TAB or standard notation. Both will teach you how to play music. Many guitarists learn both to be able to read all types of music.

Where can I find sheet music in standard notation?

Standard notation should be included in any physical sheet music book that you purchase. You will find standard notation in any physical sheet music book, even if it says Guitar TAB on its front.

You can buy sheet music online in standard notation from popular online retailers like Amazon, or

Guitar Pro 7 is a free alternative that you might consider. Guitar Pro 7 is often referred to as Guitar TAB software. Guitar Pro lets you toggle between standard, Guitar TAB, and rhythm notation.

Reading Music for Guitar: Guitar TAB

Standard Notation is the standard way to write music. However, guitarists have another option: Guitar Tab.

Guitar TAB, short for tablature, is an alternative method of writing music. It gained popularity when people discovered that they could share Guitar TAB online.

The standard notation uses dots to indicate which notes to play. Guitar TAB uses six lines of numbers to show you which notes to play.

Here’s an example of Smoke on Water in Guitar Tab:

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music

This is the only way to play it. You need to know what the numbers and the dots mean.

The numbers will tell you which frets you should play, and the lines will tell you which strings you should play.

Guitar TAB often uses symbols to signify different techniques like palm muting and bends, slides, vibrato, etc.

You must know the meanings of all symbols in Guitar Tab to be able to read them. A few Guitar TABs also include rhythm notation, which allows you to know the timing of each rest or note. You can see rhythm notation as the lines drop down from each note in the example above.

When the Guitar TAB does not include the Standard Notation staff, rhythm notation is often added.

Where can I find sheet music for my guitar tab?

Once you have mastered the basics of Guitar TAB, you can download Guitar TAB to help you learn songs.

This guide will explain the various Guitar TAB formats on each site so that you can find the one that suits you best.

Reading Sheet Music for Guitar: Chord Diagrams

Chord BoxesTo display chords in’sheetmusic’ form, we use chord boxes. Instead of having the strings be horizontally aligned, they are vertically aligned.

Guitarists may want to be able to read standard notation and Guitar TAB, or both. However, some guitarists only need to know how to play and strum the chords.

There is an easy and quick way to learn how music can be read for your guitar. Chord diagrams show visual representations for different chord shapes that can be played on the guitar.

These are just a few examples of chord diagrams.

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music

You will be able to read and play chord diagrams.

Many sheet music books have chord diagrams that are used in the songs. Then, list the chord names in the sheet music as highlighted below in yellow:

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music

If the song is based upon strumming chords, such as this one, you can play it without knowing standard notation or Guitar TAB.

To learn the chords, use the diagrams. Then follow the changes in the chord names to switch between them. You can either learn how to read or rely on your ear to figure out the strumming pattern.

Where can I find sheet music using chord diagrams?

Many sheet music books include chord diagrams at each song’s beginning. This allows you to know which chords are essential.

You can also look up lyrics and chord sheets for any chord-based song once you can read chord diagrams.

These chord and lyric sheets will teach you all you need to play the song, except for the strumming patterns (sometimes included).

Here’s an example of an online chord sheet and lyric:

Let's learn how to read guitar sheet music

This sheet will help you to remember the chord names and when to change chords.

Although you still have to learn the strumming patterns, once you master that skill, you will strum along to any song.

How to read guitar music FAQs

Are you able to read music in order to play the guitar?

To play the guitar, you do not have to know how to read guitar music. Many of the greatest guitarists do not know how music is read.

However, that does not mean you should not learn how to read music. Your learning will be faster if you can read at least one written music for the guitar.

A beginner can learn standard notation and Guitar TAB in a matter of minutes. This will make it much easier to learn songs than learning them by ear.

Do I need to learn Standard Notation?

It depends on what your goals are. Standard notation is essential if you wish to play jazz or classical music.


We hope you found this lesson helpful in learning how to read sheet music for guitar. While there are many other factors, these are the main points. You can add anything to the article by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading! If you want to stay in the loop, bookmark this page or subscribe via email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *