How practical is reading sheet music?

B2B graduate, started training myself to read sheet music. Was wondering what everyone’s thoughts were about how practical it’s really going to be for me with playing out? Most of everything I see is Nashville numbers or chord chart’s!


Depends a lot on the availability of sheet music for the genres you like, and the ability of the others you play with to read and write it.

For me my music reading skills are not really used often.


Music reading is a valuable skill. Keep at it.


The capability to read music is definitely worthwhile, regardless of whether you play out or simply for your own pleasure.

It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.


I think it’s a great way to become familiar with the first position of the fretboard, to change keys easily when they are called out vocally. If you plan on professional work it will be very helpful or if you want to further your education with books that are only available in standard notation. I learned to read sheet music; never needed to use it but it has benefited me


99% of my gig/studio/performing bass life has been with chord charts and not the written sheet music.
It usually depends on the music literacy of the people you’re being hired to play with/for or gig with. Most band leaders can make a chord chart but don’t know notation well enough to write out a part. I’ve been told plenty of times to listen to a record and learn the bass parts for a gig - but it didn’t come with charts or notation. It was up to me to learn them.

The only time I’ve received sheet music parts has been in more high-level studio gigs. Some of the more bass-focused jazz charts may have a melody or sample bass line that you’ll be expected to play, but the only time you’d be expected to sight read them would be if you showed up and the only time you played together was that one gig.
Usually there is a prep period before a gig or session where you can listen and learn what you need.

So - if you’re learning notation, great. It’s an amazing skill and a wonderful tool. It will come in handy any time someone hands you music, or if you’re hoping to secure gigs where you’re playing more composed and arranged material / play gigs where there aren’t rehearsals first / recording sessions / etc.

It won’t help you much in the casual gigging environments much unless you end up finding a band leader who has written out bass parts. But being able read music is just a good thing to have in the tool box, I think.



Yeah. Based both on my own experience and other people I know or play with, this is generally the case, and what I was trying to say above.

I am really glad I can read sheet music, and it’s really helpful for keyboards as there is really no other good notation choice, but for bass or guitar - generally not a thing in the wild, for most genres.

It really depends on why you want to learn it. If it’s for practical use, unless you are very lucky genre-wise, it’s not a skill with a lot of real world utility for bass or guitar. I think everyone should learn it, but you need to be honest with yourself about how useful it is in most contexts, as it generally isn’t a thing for most people playing guitar or bass.

It’s the currently and historically most useful way to communicate music in written form, but if no one you are trying to communicate with can (or wishes to) read it, it’s not got a lot of point to it in that context.


Thank you everyone for your time & insight in this issue. You’re all further along in this journey than me, so I appreciate your thoughts!!


It’s like reading/speaking another language: it’s useful if you need it and mostly useless if you don’t :slight_smile:

There are several places where it can be useful… musical theatre, cruise ships, session work… and most places where it’s probably not that useful. I’ve found that reading music is very useful for most instruments except bass/guitar.

I find it’s much easier to get good at reading music if you have a reason for it instead of trying to learn it in case you eventually have a reason. If you don’t know it already, I’d spend my time learning the fretboard and playing triads all over it before spending time on reading music.

If you also want want to learn walking baselines (which is a great thing to know), Ed Friedlands book “building walking baselines” is good and requires basic notation reading skills so they’re great to work on together.

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In addition to playing bass lines to backing tracks, I enjoy playing etudes and classical pieces. Reading music is required for doing that.


+1 to this!

I always encourage my students to have a real application for their music reading. In my experience, the reading studies tended to fall off if there wasn’t some outside force making them read constantly.
It needs that constant reinforcement.

And yes - the Ed Friedland book would be a great combo.
Good words.

It’s not easy to read, but the music that got me deep into sight reading were the Bach Cello Suites. Classical music is like a treasure chest that unlocks when you have notation reading ability.


Absolutely. I played tons of transcribed Bach pieces on sax when I was a music major in college. Hard, they were. But the benefits derived in technique, reading and overall playing ability were worth the effort. I’m striving to approximate that experience on bass.


These are awesome comments! Thanks for your time and expertise, I’ll have to get that back! I’ll still continue work at reading, just because I find it very challenging! It also helps me feel like I understand what’s going on better!!
Thanks again Everyone!


Thats a very good reason right there, and one of the reasons I hate tab. To me, playing from tab is like being guided along while blindfolded. Take off the blindfold and see the sights, see where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Sight reading is a great skill and worth pursuing.


It’s definitely a valuable skill to have, just be aware of the (lack of) practical application for bass and you’ll be fine. It will pay off if you pick up other instruments as well. Well, except guitar.

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Thanks Pam, I hope all well with you! Please take care of yourself! As far as reading, I haven’t quite figured out why I have this desire to continue to work on it. I guess it’s like what you said, I like Seeing how everything is flowing!
God’s Blessings


Absolutely. It is a textual representation of how a piece of music is composed and should be played, detailing all necessary information: key signature, notes, tempo, choral harmony and dynamics.

There is no downside to learning to read music, especially if you are drawn to doing it. Learning is only wasted when it’s never attempted.


On bass, i find it more practical to approach them as two different things: learning to read notation and learning the fretboard. Learning to read is much easier on keyboard, learning the fretboard is easier to do on its own without playing music and it has a lot more value than just playing from notation… then you put the two together.

i play bass from tab most of the time. :slightly_smiling_face: when i write music i do both; i write tab if im transcribing at the instrument and write notation when im transcribing at the computer.


Except that in life (and business) you only have a finite amount of time and resources. If you waste time doing less practical things (especially at the beginning) you’re going to impede your progress. Knowing something you cant apply is a waste of your time if you want to progress quickly.

There are so many people out there who have spent a considerable amount of time learning scales, modes and other pieces of theory but have no idea what to do with them and how to put them together because they dont have a holistic approach.