now, I'm learning guitar sight reading because want to prepare for being session musician ( I'm new and have no any experience for now ).

I wonder, I have heard some guitarist cannot read music sheet. In that case how they work together when make new album?

  • 2
    "Sight Reading" is when you play the piece having never seen it before. After that it's just plain "Reading". Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 12:55

3 Answers 3


Often recording musicians might be shown an outline of a song: the melody, chord structure, perhaps a sketch of what ideas they would like to include on the record (played or sung to them) and the musician is expected to work from this. In many (most?) cases today, sheet music is not used in the session at all; songwriters aren't writing out exact parts for what each instrument is doing (especially for guitar parts).

That's why it's incredibly important for a session musician to be able to audiate and know their way around an instrument. Anything I sing you, you should be able to play back to me. Depends on the artist of course, in some cases an artist might have a very clear idea of exactly what they want on the record, but in other cases it might be more vague and part of the session musicians job is to fill in the gaps around the ideas they're given.

The other thing is that the semi-compositional role of producers is growing an growing. In modern recording sessions, some producers just direct a musician to play certain things in a certain way, and do a few takes until they get something that they can work with. When the session musician finally hears the end result they might be surprised to hear a part they never really played; it's a collage of the musical ideas they came up with in that environment that's been artfully stitched together by a producer.

The point is, the main skills required to be a session musician are a very good ear, ability to improvise and interpret music and of course technical ability on the instrument. That being said, reading music will still open doors for you and if you are looking at a career as a session musician, you should probably learn to read (even if you are not a sightreader).


I've worked as a session musician & singer [and even as a musical director] & I couldn't read a score if you held a gun to a puppy.

At its simplest, you just listen & play along.
At its most complex someone writes down some chords or even just a 'map' of the structure then says "It goes dum-di-dum-dum until you get to this bit, then it goes de-de-dit-dah"

The good ones need one run through & the next one's a take.

  • Do you mean the director have to send musician some guideline for instance rough writing melody, midi, hum, example music whatever and then you have to translate it that depend on your experience? Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 13:50
  • I've never worked [nor employed any other session man] with any knowledge of what the track[s] were to be before walking into the studio. In other words, entirely 'thinking on your feet'. They wouldn't book you if you weren't right for the job... there's a heck of a lot of "who you know" in the session industry.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 13:53

To be an all-round session musician, you'll get far more work if you can read - chords, dots, the lot.

There are session musicians out there who don't read, but their work is limited. They are extremely quick to listen to something, only once or twice, often, and they can then reproduce it. Or something very similar - even better!

But that means they either have to do some homework, of spend (valuable) studio time listening. If it's coming up with a 16 bar solo, for example, they can hear the chord sequence, or recording so far, and the good ones will almost instantaneously put down 5 or 6 different solos which can be chosen from later. It's all down to having a great basic grounding in guitar playing, and a good, empathetic ear. Some will be superb playing what's needed, but maybe not have a clue, theory-wise, what they're doing. The potential problem is being able to communicate in terms that the other musos will understand.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.