Let’s face it, you need to be able to read sheet music in order to create and perform some of the most incredible music of our time. Sheet music is like language skills that help you to begin understand basics.
In the early 20th century, a popular song could sell a million copies of sheet music to eager readers everywhere, because ability in reading notation has always been essential.
On the other hand those who read music sheet well do not usually learn to use music as a free language. It’s like if you want to speak to someone every time you have to pull a script out of your pocket and read it. Music is not a president speech.
Paul McCartney once said: “John and I – we know what chords we’re playing and we remember the melody, we don’t actually ever have the need to write it down. Or to read it.”
If you learned how music is formulaically and numerically structured and you learned how to apply that to your listening skills, you’d be able to take on any situation, charts or not.
Digital world of sheet music
We live in the 21st century and when jazz and blues came step on the music stage the notation-free approach became a reality. And rock and roll with three chords proved that so anyone in their garage could bang out a few power chords and claim a rock star status. Can you imagine someone like Bob Marley playing by notation?
Unfortunately a lot of new music is erupting from this new paradigm; some good, some not. With modern digital instruments in hands, people don’t even have to understand a thing about music theory.
Traditional music education relies on sheet music and still insists that schools and teachers must use notation to teach.
If you didn’t know some high-caliber musicians turned away from music schools simply because they have no desire to read notation. For example, Taylor Swift would not have majored in music because when music becomes technical she can’t read music.
The Beatles, for instance, are good singer and songwriters, but none of their members knew how to read music sheet. Stevie Wonder, due to his blindness, certainly cannot read music but he is blessed with fantastic musicianship in both his voice and keyboard playing.
Luckily music is freely available to understand and most bands generally don’t require degrees to get an audition. If some can achieve their dreams without music sheet, then so can anyone, including you.
If you can already read a book or a newspaper, there is no reason why you can’t learn to read sheet music just as fluently and accurately.
Sight-reading skills or ability to pick up any sheet music
I sure you have seen how good musician can pick up any sheet music and play it well without practicing. This skill known as sight-reading.
When a professional musician hired by a symphony orchestra, or as a top-tier session player he expected to be able to read sheet music really well. He is able to catch the overwhelming majority of a complex chart, all in real time, and then solidify a grip on it quite quickly thereafter.
The ability to sight-read well is rooted in the ability toaudiate printed music well. Audiation basically means the ability to see the music and know, in your mind’s ear, exactly how it sounds before you physically play or sing a note of it.
The solfege training is based on this principle – all of that do, re, mi-ing, which escalates dramatically in difficulty as the students progress, is intended to allow to know exactly what music will sound like before playing it.
It’s hard to answer how long it takes to build real proficiency in reading but it takes eight to ten years to be able to read really comfortably. Usually children practice at reproducing music by listening and eventually those aural skills form the stable foundation of the reading ability.
As a complete beginner at sight-reading you will be making mistakes when doing it, but knowing a little bit of the skill will really help you to learn faster. Sight-reading is a very useful skill to learn especially when you need to deal with a large number of repertoire for an upcoming performance.
Here is a few helpful tips:
- Never try to learn pieces which are much harder than pieces I can already play.
- Learn the right hand until you can play it accurately at a speed faster than the music requires.
- Do the same for the left hand.
- Start practising hands together at slow speed, and gradually get the piece up to speed.
You can work on it anywhere. All you need is some sheet music, and possibly a recording of the piece so you can check what the notation actually means.
If you, however, at any point feel like you can’t keep up with coordinating your hands, you can just switch back to practising each hand independently. There is nothing wrong with applying different techniques of learning to different sections of the same piece if it’s required.
Correct technique involves:
- your wrists are high enough (but not too high)
- your fingers are bent so that you’re playing with the tip of your fingers
- your hands are relaxed at all times (especially when playing fast and/or big chords)
- you are actually playing everything exactly as is written in the notes – e.g. playing the correct note lengths, staccatos, portatos, legatos…
Reading sheet music is like decoding, if you liked to play charades you will be like it too. A pop music player seeing Mozart or Listz for the first time, however, might be utterly baffled, when a classical guitarist looking at “Dust in the Wind” for the first time would quickly recognize a simple inversion pattern with predictable variation and formes fixes structure.
When piano players have to read multiple notes and rhythms in bass and treble clef at the same time, saxophones and most wind and brass instruments have the luxury of playing one note at a time.
While some talented musicians can be nice to play with, it takes effort to communicate musical intentions and makes it hard to understand what they are trying to convene, as they lack the vocabulary and notation skills to explain what they are expecting to play.
You must create the music first and only then write it via sheet music. You need to have a grasp of chords and melody. When you will craft this art you will be able to write a melody to more or less anything.
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