What is the definition of a musician, a true musician? To me it’s someone that plays and makes music for the absolute pure joy of it, for themselves, perhaps for others, to communicate and to share. Playing from the heart. This is a small child tinkling around on a toy piano, picking out a tune that only they know how the melody goes. This is the Conservatorium-crafted, highly polished and professional orchestral instrumentalist. This is the jazz saxophone player who picked up the instrument in their late 30s and fell in love with it. This is the young upstart in a rock band. This is the person who reads sheet music, and this is also the person that doesn’t.
One can make the argument that to be a true musician, one doesn’t necessarily have to be able to read music. And I would agree with that.
However, if you wish to progress and develop your musicianship, it is UNDOUBTEDLY super beneficial to learn to read written music. Sure you may not need to, depending on the style and nature of music you play, but why limit yourself?! Why not make a whole new world of opportunities available to you, options, choices, and alternative methods to communicate and express your musical wishes?!
Think about, for example, if you were to learn to listen to and speak English, with a high degree of fluency, communicating your message, understanding and being understood to a level, but not being able to read and not being able to write. How limiting is that going to be? You’ll be cutting yourself off from a whole world of possibilities, possibly missing finer details and nuances, reducing your communication methods and limiting your options.
As a classical guitar teacher, I often have students come to me who’ve done a fair amount of tinkling around on the guitar, most often in a rock or blues kind of vein. Actually that’s a little demeaning to say tinkling. They’ve been making music and really, really enjoying it. They come to me as musicians.
However, they’ve also usually hit a roadblock in their progression – hence why they’ve sought me out.
So this is where we start the process of getting to grips with the written page. And not just for the sake of reading squiggly tadpoles, lines, curves and funny Italian words. It’s to give them an added weapon in their already well-stocked musical arsenal.
Yes, it takes dedication, application, repetition and a bit of mucking it up to learn it – but wasn’t that the same when you learnt to read and write? Did you survive the process? I’m pretty sure you did if you’re reading this…..
Once you’ve learnt to read music (and continue to learn) you then equip yourself to communicate with all manner of musicians – those that read, those that don’t. You can explain clearly and precisely in a universally accepted language exactly what it is you want to convey in music you play with others. You can coordinate other musicians – other guitarists, and other kinds of musicians. You can write music, literally. And again you can convey precisely your musical intentions with people on the other side of the globe you’ve never met and across the generations! Learning to read music opens up a whole wealth of opportunities for a musician.
I’m pretty sure that no one ever regretted learning a new skill! The only regret is in not learning it.
One thought on “The importance of learning to read music”
The reading of music is a must and will become the short hand format that allows you to understand key signatures, tempo, melody and phasing. Learning to read will allow you to understand the parts you don’t play (resty periods), which is particularly important in ensemble playing for entries and exits in a piece. The other aspect that has become very important in the style of music I play, is that language of the genre. Music is a language and the best players get the language in their fingertips and then transmit that into the instrument. So listen carefully to the musicians that play your style of music, their phrasing, their tempo, their ‘attack’ and try and build this into your practicing and reading charts/score of the piece.