The classical notation system has been in use for hundreds of years. It is the most complete system of written music. It contains information on the rhythm, pitch, tempo, articulation, and other characteristics of the music all in one place. Unfortunately, because so much information is represented in classical sheet music, many people feel overwhelmed and are discouraged from learning it.
I've often heard or read about how many steel guitarists wish they could read sheet music - I know I personally have wanted to be able to read sheet music on the PSG. There are many reasons, but for me, learning sheet music on the steel guitar opens up the possibility to play any piece of music from any genre or written for any other instrument. That's one of the great things about classical notation: it is universal for every type of instrument. Sure, each instrument has its limits, and those limits are reflected in the sheet music, but for the most part, the notes can be transcribed from one instrument to the next. This is not the case with tablature which is what most steel guitarists read.
There are other reasons a steel guitarist would want to learn sheet music. Chief among these is that the alternative to sheet music, TABLATURE, does not contain rhythm or articulation markings. The result is that if you never heard the piece of music before then you aren't going to play the rhythmic timing of the piece correctly. And even if you have heard the piece, your ears may deceive you during quick passages. A problem you would not have if you had the written rhythm in front of you.
It is of course possible to put the rhythm markings above or below tablature, but steel guitar tab already takes up a lot of space on a page given the 10 or more strings. So adding rhythm to the tab will only increase the amount of space needed. This is one of the reasons I developed my notation system for pedal steel guitar. Find an explanation of this system in the SPECIAL MARKINGS section below.
There are other reasons for learning sheet music, but I think I've made my point. So, why don't we all just learn it? Well, for one, there's just so little information available to steel guitarists on how to read it. Hopefully the pages contained herein will contribute to our improved sheet music literacy.
Music is composed of 4 main parts: Time, Rhythm, Pitch, and Articulation. Each of these is represented in symbols in sheet music. We'll start with time first.