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How To Read Music and How To Hold a Pick

Updated on November 24, 2015

Images 1a and 1b

Image 1a
Image 1a
Image 1b
Image 1b

Holding a Pick

Learning how to pick properly is fundamentally one of the most important things a beginner can learn. Without proper picking technique, a guitarist may develop bad long term habits that can stunt their ability, and create a sloppy play style. So lets get started!

Firstly, if you examine image 1a and 1b, you will see an example of where to place the pick between your thumb and index finger. Once established, with your fingers holding on to the pick you will hopefully become comfortable with how that feels.

I personally find it imperative that when holding a pick, the player does not make a fist while doing so. Instead, keep all fingers out aside from the thumb and index finger that are holding the pick. When I was first taught to hold a pick, I learned to keep my pinky finger placed and positioned on the pick guard while semi-resting my hand across the strings; also while keeping the pick parallel with the strings. This will ensure that your picking remains accurate, and that you only pick the strings required to make the sound needed for the notes and chords you play. Another reason for why this technique works, is so you can train yourself to use your wrist to strum, instead of your whole arm and elbow.

In my experience, I have witnessed many beginners using their elbow and forearm to create the strumming motion. Using your forearm and elbow to strum creates a lot of unnecessary movement that is exhausting, sloppy, and may cause injury. Be mindful that you only need so much force to create a sound from the strings, and that you only pick what is needed to play the notes and chords you are trying to play.

Note: While holding the pick, you only need the tip of the pick when playing. Try not to leave too much of the pick out extended past your fingers as this will make playing more difficult.

Practice 1: Find a string you want to practice on, and alternate picking up and down on that string keeping your pick parallel to the strings, and only using your wrist to make the strumming motion.

Image 2a

Image 2a
Image 2a

Image 2b

Image 2b
Image 2b

Reading Notes

Once you have gotten use to the feeling of picking a string, you are ready to learn how to read music.

The image above (image 2a), is a good representation of what reading music for a guitar should look like. At the top of the image you will see a note staff; and the tablature staff below it. In both images 2a and 2b, you will see notes on the note staff that resemble which notes should be played.

Image 2b shows which notes belong where on the note staff. For example, each line on a note staff resembles a note. These lines are best remembered by the saying: “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” which represents the acronym EGBDF. These notes are placed accordingly on the note staff running from bottom to top E - F. The spaces in between each line also resemble a note in the staff. When read from bottom to top, the spaces in the staff spell the word “FACE.”

As you may have noticed in image 2a, each note is labeled in it's correct position on the note staff. In lesson 1, I mentioned that, the notes in the chromatic scale only range from A-G; so you will notice that in the note staff from image 2a, the letters for each note eventually repeat. Each repeat section is its own octave.

An octave is a series of notes that are either half the frequency or twice the frequency in hertz (Hz) of the same letter note that came before or after them. For example, on your guitar if you pluck the low E string and then pluck the low E string while holding the string down at the 12th fret, you will find they are the same note. The difference being, is that the frequency of the E note at the 12th fret is twice the frequency of the open E, and as such is the next octave higher to the E note open picked. The note staff may be difficult to understand at first, but will get easier in time.

Image 3

Reading Tabs

Below the note staff in image 2a, is the tablature staff. Also represented above in image 3. A Tab staff has 6 lines each to resemble each string on a guitar. With the bottom line being the 6th string and the top line being the first string, or high e. The numbers on each line represent which fret to place your fingers on each string. Whenever you see numbers stacked on each line, this means you must play each of these notes together; these are also your chords. You then play each set from left to right in order to play the desired musical piece. The Tab staff is the most popular way guitarists read music.

Image 4

More About Notes

As shown in image 2a, the note staff is above the tab staff for a reason. This is whats known as sheet music for a guitar. When reading music for guitar, I feel it is very important that you have both. The most important reason being, is that you know how long to hold each note. The note staff provides the timing in which to play a musical piece. Without the note staff you will need to know the song before hand when reading Tabs. In Image 4, you will see what each type of note is, their duration, and the corresponding rest notes. The timing of each corresponds to the tempo of the musical piece and the number of beats per measure. Sheet music should give you the tempo and time signature.

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Tempo and Time Signature

Sheet music should give you the tempo and time signature. Tempo is represented in bpm (beats per minute); and the time signature is represented by something that looks like for example; 4/4 which means, (4) beats per measure / Beat value (4). Once understood, the time signature 4/4 means 4 quarter note beats per measure. Image 5 shows the time signature in use on a note staff and Image 6 shows the beat value for the denominators in the time signature.Hopefully you will now be able to understand how to read music.

For practice 2, learn the musical piece below in image 7 which is: Smoke on the Water; a very popular song, which can be played only utilizing one string. If you'd like, go ahead and learn other songs as well. I recommend you do so to help you better understand how to read music.

Image 7


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