Reading sheet music: do you/don't you?

Just as I’m starting Module 5 I’m interested to know how folk in here have approached it once through the module/course.

Who has continued with it and how’s that working out? Who dropped it after M5 and do you miss it?

Personally, I will try to continue with it because it makes sense to have the basic skill (not all tab sources are very accurate) and it gives a little extra credit with classically trained musicians - who I expect to be playing with in an informal arrangement, not in an orchestra. Going into the module I am confronted with the issue that I’ve begun learning several times in the past and it’s never fully taken. I understand some principles and terms, but I’ve never got to the point of considering it learned.


Good topic, @PeteP . . . :+1:

OK, for myself, I never had any music theory until I took Josh’s course. I find reading music to be difficult and confusing, but I agree 100% with you that it does make sense to have this basic skill.

That said, I suppose we need to take into account which direction we’re heading in our musical endeavours. Some of us might never need to read music at all, e.g. But, as you point out, since not all bass tabulature out there is 100% accurate, between tabs and sheet music it would make it a little easier to decipher a song.

The ultimate goal of my own bass playing would be able to jam with others based solely on playing “by ear”, but that’s not going to happen overnight . . . :slight_smile:

Cheers, Joe


I do, the benefits of several years of band way back in grade school/jr. high (and playing keyboards later). But I never needed to learn the bass clef in band and my keyboarding was a lot more about learning pieces to sequence them than playing live, so now I read bass music very, very slowly, mapping notes to frets at an abysmal pace :slight_smile:

If you want to stick with it it has huge advantages over tabs (not the least of which being the note duration and tempo.)


I don’t really read sheet music. I could read them but I’m so slow it’s useless, so I never do it. About tab, I often can play the thing at the same time I read the tab, but I prefer finding and playing music by ear. I use tabs only for some confusing parts, to complete what I’ve already found by ear. For me it’s only useful for the covers, which is a very minor part of my music playing.

When I make my own music and play with others, I don’t read anything, I only play by ear (and by eyes, looking at the chords played by the guitar players :slight_smile: ). However I write tab parts to remember my lines.

I consider reading sheet music as an important skill but I find learning it is very boring, and I prefer spending time actually playing. Not sure I’m an exemple to follow :slight_smile:


@PeteP,… ’m too old to play in any band, so I suppose that my reasoning to continue on and learn as much as possible (including theory) is more of a personal endeavor…

@PeteP, as @Jazzbass19 pointed out, a very good question …

For me, I’m a bit too old to play in any band, so I suppose that my reasoning to continue on and learn as much as possible (including theory) is more of a personal endeavor…

I learned to read music at a very young age - I do however wish that I learned on a piano instead of a guitar though. Taking Josh’s course has helped resurrect the desire to refocus my efforts a little more toward knowing musical note structure and how lines of music are built and structured so that various notes don’t conflict with each other.

One of the reasons I decided to take this course was to relearn music in such a way that it would help me break some of the bad habits that I developed during the last 50+ years of playing electric and acoustic guitar. One of the worst habits I had was ‘laziness’ when it came to hitting the actual note (skipping a note or hitting an easier nearby note that would still sound OK)… It’s kinda easy to get away with when playing a lead riff…

To me, it’s a little harder to get away with being lazy when you play bass since the instrument establishes the rhythmic foundation. Fewer notes mean more effort needs to be focused toward the actual note structure of the piece being played - knowing and understanding proper structure is helpful in establishing a strong foundation to any song (just my opinion).

I guess it does all depend on what you wanna do though, so “whatever puts a smile on your face” is best.

To me, reading and writing music is like reading and writing computer program code. There’s a “proper” way and theres a “whatever” way that works… Both work - one’s just ‘black tie’ while the other is a little more ‘blue jean’… Black tie can fit in at blue jean affair, but it’s a bit different the other way around…

What ever you do, have fun and enjoy MUSIC!



Those are my sentiments, exactly :wink:

I’m really struggling to play by ear at this point . . . it will take lots of practice!


Another good point, @Lanny, and that is also very true for me as well.

I was playing “blindly”, trying to memorize my way through a song rather than recognize the structure (e.g. progressions). I think I got more out of learning the major vs minor scales and those Nashville Numbers than learning to read music.


Looking back, I am very grateful for the musical education I got when I was young (didn’t necessarily see it the same way then). So, yes, I read standard notation… BUT, I am struggling with the bass clef, as I never had to use it before. And, because, it’s “just” one line down (so to speak) from treble clef, it easily confuses me. I can’t sight read in bass clef (yet) - I have to decipher it the slow way (probably like reading cyrillic or hiragana/katagana, perhaps). And so, I am very grateful for tabs (faulty as they might be sometimes). The cool thing about tabs is that they also hint at the fingering (or, at least, suggest where to play stuff on the fretboard). Early on in my bass learning days, I would just follow what the tabs said. But, I have since become more “renegade” and played around with finding my own fingerings etc.

Now, all that said: reading music is one thing, finding the corresponding note on the fretboard is another story. I am slowly getting better at that, but finding, e.g., an Ab still takes me much longer than what would be required for true sight reading…

Oh, well, stuff to work on!


I agree with the general theme of these responses. It’s not my favorite thing to do, and I blew it off completely the first time through B2B - too much else to prioritize before delving into reading sheet music. But this time through, I’m at least giving it a shot, and trying to match where the note is in multiple places on the fretboard.

My method is pretty slow going though - I just see the bass clef, and think “ACEG” for the gaps, then, fill in and find the rest of the notes based on that.


Slight side subject, but just out of interest, did you complete the course and then go back to the beginning or have you been cherrypicking modules second time around?


Yes, I finished the course in its entirety, took about 3 months for me, I was a super beginner, so I found even the first few modules useful. Now I’m going back through it for the second time, what’s interesting is how much I take for granted how much I’ve learned, just from the course itself, and from the forum chats, and practicing.

Plus, second time around, even the “easy” modules are still useful, for stuff like reading sheet music - I cover up the tabs now on the playalongs, and try to play the tune first on my own. Or I’ll improvise stuff on top of it. Plus, just being able to “see” the scales, chord progressions, and other things from Modules 8 and onward in the earlier modules makes it worth a second go through, in its entirety again. Though I’m so tempted to cherry pick, or be a bass snob now, as the Slow workouts are way too slow :laughing: And it wasn’t long ago I was bitching about the Medium or Fast workouts being too fast!


Yes, I read sheet music… I can’t really see playing without that knowledge. I have the entire PDF of sheet music for the B2B course printed out, and as I approach each new lesson I refer to the sheet music for that lesson, study it (I ignore the tablature), get a handle on the key it’s in, and learn to play it before even watching the actual lesson. It’s just my personal approach to this. I think of it as if someone handed me a piece of music and told me to learn it. I really don’t believe I can ever be a Bad Ass Bass Gal without being able to sight read music and play it.
Just my personal opinion. YMMV


I’ll also note that being able to read music and being able to sight read in real time are two very different things. Don’t let the fact that you can’t sight read in real time discourage you from learning to read at a slow pace.


I concur 100%


@PamPurrs How did you originally learn to read music?

I had forgotten most of what I learned in high school, so when I started playing the bass many years later (3 months ago), I borrowed a book aptly entitled “How to Read Music”, which I read cover to cover. I then purchased and read “Music Theory for Dummies” and then “Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap, both available on Amazon. Between these books and watching videos on YouTube, I’ve regained rudimentary music reading skills. What I now practice for hours every day is translating music notation to the bass. This is why I methodically approach each of the B2B lessons from learning to read and play the piece from the sheet music first, and then watching and learning the technique from Josh. My goal is to someday be able to pick up any piece of music and play it by sight reading it.
Yeah, I’m obsessed :grinning:


@PamPurrs That’s some pretty effective obsessing! Good on you!


that’s funny to see how we all have different approaches to the instrument (and even to music in general I suppose) and different goals. that’s interesting and very cool, I like diversity :slight_smile:


Couldn’t agree more @howard!

Took a trip to the big city yesterday and stopped into a major bookstore and found a book of 1970’s songs - 96 of them in a single edition that when purchased also included access to the online backing tracks that I downloaded to use with my DAW.

Being able to fully understand how any piece of music was originally written and be able to play the piece “as written” is invaluable to me since it does reflect the mood of the times. All of the music I try to learn is from the original versions - many (most) of which do not include bass tabs. Granted, a person can always download tabs online written by someone else (and I’ve done that many times), but you’re never certain as to the accuracy of the tab - especially when there might be several versions of tabs for the same song. But, if you know how to read the map, you’ll know exactly where your going and how to get there…

Everything in this piece of sheet music is something Josh taught during his lessons. Being able to understand the entire structure of a song and be able to transform that information into actual music as originally written and played is ‘gold’ to me… Thanks @JoshFossgreen!


Hahaha. Me too @Jazzbass19!! Being 80% deaf in one ear and almost 40% in the other certainly doesn’t help me much when it comes to playing by ear…