Why Learn To Read And Write Music?

epluribus

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9,170
You know how it is in Guitar World...Jimi "didn't" do it and he changed the world, so all this literacy/theory/tech stuff must be a waste of time or an unnecessary nicety at best, right? No, sayeth the professional community...but why? What the heck does literacy do for you that's useful, esp in the heat of battle?

Hm...ran across this article in The Wall Street Journal of all places. As they discuss the memory mechanism and theories about why it works the way it does, think about how you try to remember improvs you've played, how you comprehend what you've played, and how you try to catalog all the things you know how to say on guitar.

I'll stop there for now and let this percolate a bit, but I've been thinking about how we learn to play an instrument lately, and this is a neat and timely piece for that meandering.

--Ray
 

smallbutmighty

Silver Supporting Member
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IMO a good understanding of theory is more important to a working guitarist than knowing how to read and write sheet music.

That said, literacy is permanence. Mark Twain could sure spin a good yarn. Thank goodness he also knew how to write.

The amount of secular music lost to the world because it was never transcribed is incomprehensible. Admittedly, things are different now than they once were. We have the ability to record audio and preserve it in other ways.

Still, more knowledge is never a bad thing.
 
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I play in a band with some symphony players. They couldn't improvise to save their asses. They make beautiful music reading off the page, though.

So you need both, an ear and the notes.
 

CharlyG

Play It Forward
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Are you a musician? Then you should speak the language.
 

Blanket Jackson

Every day is like Tio's birthday
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Reading music seemed to work OK for Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Charley Christian, Bird, Trane, Miles, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, etc.

There are a couple of "world changers" in that group too. I love Jimi, but like Mickey Mantle imagine what might have been ...
 

loudboy

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I've never really learned it, but I don't know why it would hurt anyone...

To be able to speak the same language as other players is an invaluable tool, IMHO.
 

shredtrash

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I've used charts here and there and my rudimentary skills in reading have come in handy. However, theory has been FAR more important for me. I use major scale theory every day.

I play with a few musicians that do not know theory and I can tell that learning songs is much more difficult for them simply because memorizing songs when you don't know theory is MUCH more time consuming.
 

Neer

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12,575
Reading music is not important for playing, but it is important for remembering and communicating your ideas to others. Not knowing how to write them down at the very least makes the process much more difficult. Not knowing how to read hinders you from knowing the needs of others for specific pieces of music.

It really is pretty easy to learn how to write music. Why not invest 1/2 hour a day for a few months to learn?
 

Echoes

Senior Member
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6,219
rock pop and jazz are more dependent on 'improvising' which doesn't negate but puts less emphasis on reading/writing music. I can't sight read (but I can read music) but I know theory/harmony much better than my (classical music trained) 'notes on a page' friends which really irks them...I can operate in their world but they really struggle in my 'improv' world....so, naturally, they tend to just dis it...

operating proficiently in BOTH realms is most advantageous!
 

ronedee

Senior Member
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552
Thankfully I'm at a point in my career where I am able to grasp a piece quickly. But it hasn't been because of hours of reading...it's been through listening, and playing.

The disipline is great for those who want it. And learning exactly how a piece is written is very informative! But I just don't have any desire to play a piece verbatim.

My wife is a trained flutist, and music teacher. She can't "jam" with me at all...I would have to write the piece out for her! It's actually quite sad. And proves a point.
 

Austinrocks

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7,020
read music from playing piano, my early guitar books had notes not tabs, my teacher avoided tabs as well, said they really screw up music, reading music rocks

reading music really helps with things like improvisation, chord construction, I tend to play in key, and improvise from those notes I know the notes on the guitar, something that appears impossible to the pattern players, use chords that work in the key, its automatic for me, I know the notes in the chord and construct them on the fly.
 

rongtr1

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1,651
Reading music seemed to work OK for Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Charley Christian, Bird, Trane, Miles, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, etc.

There are a couple of "world changers" in that group too. I love Jimi, but like Mickey Mantle imagine what might have been ...
I don't think Wes could read, and I'm not sure about Charlie Christian- however, I believe that, just like language, we need to know how to "speak" the language of music, and read and write it as well.
 

guitarz1972

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4,762
If you've played for a while now don't understand how the ability to read and write music could possibly be important to you, then it's probably not too important. Individual use and application really plays into it.

One way I find it's of some obvious importance is in terms of music education. I'm a guitar teacher, and I put that stuff out there for my students in all my weekly lessons. I give them notations and TAB for the lesson stuff we do, and although I do spend a few valuable minutes each week showing and explaining to them what the notes are, I pretty much leave it to them to do what they want to with it. I don't force-feed note-reading to students because I know not everyone cares about that, but at the same time I feel like I have a certain responsibility as a music teacher to at least present it.

I didn't attend music school per se, nor did I have a guitar teacher who actually taught musical notation to me, and as a result I've spent a significant amount of time teaching myself how to read/write music. I just decided a while back how important it was for me, so I put in a lot of time and practice developing that as a skill. In my particular situation, I just decided it was important that I have that knowledge and so far it turns out I was right. Does it make me play my repertoire faster, help me write more hit songs or improve my overall tone in some magical way? Probably not. But it does seem to help me learn certain solos and transciptions a little better than I could otherwise. So I think there's a certain benefit to it. I've got a couple of students who aspire to play jazz and pursue music at the collegiate level, and I like to think that I'm giving them a leg-up on some of the material they'll be exposed to in the coming months.

But I agree with the OP on the level that it's not always a necessity in order to create good music.
 
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lhallam

Platinum Supporting Member
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17,238
Thankfully I'm at a point in my career where I am able to grasp a piece quickly. But it hasn't been because of hours of reading...it's been through listening, and playing.

The disipline is great for those who want it. And learning exactly how a piece is written is very informative! But I just don't have any desire to play a piece verbatim.

My wife is a trained flutist, and music teacher. She can't "jam" with me at all...I would have to write the piece out for her! It's actually quite sad. And proves a point.
That doesn't prove any point and there is nothing sad about it.

I can read and I can improvise. Both are learned skills.

You didn't practice reading so I bet she can play through a transcription of a classical concerto much faster and more dynamically accurate than you can.

As everyone has stated, reading is good for communicating quickly to other players as well as remembering.

If you get a call to substitute a jazz gig, you'd better be able to read. If you want a gig in a pit orchestra, you'd better be able to read.
 

Flyin' Brian

Silver Supporting Member
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30,130
Lately I've become more and more aware of how important it is. I had a gig recently where I had to learn 40 songs in 10 days. That's not quite accurate, because I knew a few of them, but as my 64 year old memory fades, it was nice to be able to write out a few cheat sheets for myself here and there with figures that were a necessary part of the music, some arrangement notes and a chord or two here and there.
 




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