A Master Musician’s Secrets for Learning to Read Music


An interview with musician Johnny Navarro.

Students lucky enough to have Johnny Navarro for a teacher leave their first lesson already playing.  I was thrilled to catch this legendary Las Vegas composer, teacher and musician for an exclusive interview on his methods of learning and teaching music.

Learning to play music

When Johnny was 8, his grandma vetoed his request to play drums and bought him a guitar instead.  He was immediately hooked, although his early experiences with teachers left him frustrated because they required him to follow their lesson plans and would not let him learn from the music he enjoyed.  He quickly started teaching himself to play songs he liked and joined a band, where he absorbed techniques from the more experienced players.

Being largely self-taught, Johnny recognizes the importance of music theory and believes that every musician, regardless of instrument, can benefit from understanding rhythm and note values. “Reading music makes more sense for the piano,” he said, while “guitar tabs or chord charts are great for guitarists.”

Learn to Read Music Software: Guitar Pro 6

Teaching Music with Software

A huge component of Johnny’s successful teaching methods are several music software programs. (Why use a slide rule when you can use a calculator?) Guitar Pro 6, Logic Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), and the Amazing Slow Downer are three of his favorites.

Boring, unfamiliar songs would challenge the motivation of even the most devoted student. Practicing your favorite songs makes it much easier to internalize rhythm, learn to play the correct notes, and draw out your emotions – the three essential components of musical mastery.

With Guitar Pro 6, Johnny’s students can download any song and immediately have sheet music with guitar tabs to take home with them at the end of the lesson. “I usually ask what they have on their iPod…that’s the music they love, and that’s the music I want them to learn to play.” Guitar Pro 6 also offers music theory lessons, virtual teachers, and the ability to write your own music.

Learn to Read Music Computer Program: Apple Logic DAWJohnny teaches improvisation and composing skills to every student because he believes that learning to play your own compositions enables you to understand music more completely.  Logic DAW is a composer’s dream: first, write out the melody for your primary instrument and for the backup band.  Logic DAW (for Mac OS) plays  the melody, adds the harmonies and instruments, writes scores for all the music, synthesizes the sounds, records it — and viola! Students can both see and hear their music masterpieces come to life.  No wonder Johnny’s students say, “It’s so fun…nothing should be changed.” – Derek

Last but not least, the Amazing Slow Downer can slow down even the fastest rock number until the student can hear every note and technique used to play it.  Johnny uses this program to help his students advance their skills quickly and master “pro” techniques by breaking down songs into their core elements.

In the face of all the technology that’s available to music students these days, it’s worth mentioning that even with the best computer programs, finding an excellent teacher is a critical part of reaching your highest potential, because, as Johnny said, “It’s one-on-one.  A computer can’t help you over the rough patches like a teacher can.”

Tips for Learning to Read Music

When asked, “What helped you learn faster than traditional lessons?”  Johnny’s points of advice were:

  • Choose an instrument you connect with; one you really like to play, then practice all the time. :)
  • Choose songs you already like and learn to play them.
  • Play with a band or other musicians.
  • Start recording your own songs—you will understand music theory at a whole new level.
  • Don’t fret over mistakes, learn from them.

Use the computer programs—they help you learn faster and easier, and you will have tangible recordings of your work that you can take home. Virtual recitals are wonderful ways to hear how you really sound.

Johnny Navarro: Professional Musician and TeacherAs we ended the interview, Johnny  commented that, unfortunately, sometimes people who read music well seem condescending to those who gained their musical skills through listening, watching and doing.  Developing our musical skills to the point where we can share them is what brings real joy, and the road we take to get there will be a personal choice for each of us. There are many ways to “skin the musical cat” and we’re lucky to have so many options available to us!

If you would like to know more about Johnny or get in touch with him, you can find him at Howling Cat Studios, (702) 606-0757 and at http://www.johnnynavarro.com/.


About Barbara

Barbara Hansen enjoys playing piano and organ, and teaches piano locally. She holds a bachelor of arts in dance and is a former choreographer for children's musical theater in the Las Vegas area.

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