View Full Version : Whats the advantage to reading music?

05-01-2002, 12:37 PM
Its seems alot of music readers can play really well until you take their music. Then its like they don't know anything. Is there a good reason to learn to read music as opposed to just learning theory?

05-01-2002, 01:48 PM
Hi Dewayne

I get that question a lot from students. As mentioned in the post before, it is a matter of interest and how serious one takes his playing.
But learning how to read has some important advantages...
For someone studying theory, it might be helpful to understand relations better. That means, you can see right there on paper how things are connected, itīs like a visualisation of the theory ( hope this makes sense ), you see the connections by looking at the notes, like i.e. looking at chords.
Also, there might be situations where one needs to be able to read. It doesnt happen that often in the studio, where you most of the time work with lead sheets instead.
But I played some small sessions where I had to be able to read. I was part of a musical production once where reading was a must.
That brings me to an important reason: communication. I do believe that it helps to communicate and work with other musicians. I mean, you can of course just tell each other the chord progression or play the notes to them, but I think it is good to be able to write down music so everyone can read and play it, not only other guitar players etc.
The other guys in my band are good sight-readers, and although I regulary give them CDīs with MIDI-arrangements of my new material, I also write down their parts for them, bass lines and drum patterns. It really helps and makes work a bit easier and more relaxed.
Finally, I think it is a fun-thing when you can just take any piece of written music and be able to understand and play it ( well, depending on your ability and the difficulty of the music ). Like, you walk into a music store and you look through this score, and you can kinda imagine what its gonna sound like, and can then take a guitar and play the whole thing.
I am by no means a perfect sight-reader, but it helped me a lot in some situations and it also helps me to get around as a musician.
It is quite a bit of work, but I ( just my opinion ) think it is worth the effort, and if you are trying to improve your knowledge of theory anyway, it might even help you to understand it better.

Man, did I get long-winded again... ? :D
Warm regards

05-01-2002, 01:53 PM
One more thing: yes, there are musicians who depend a lot on their sheet music, and once you take it away, theyīre kinda lost. But there are a lot of other great examples of players who played great and sounded good both when they were reading and when they werenīt...

Guys like Steve Vai, Steve Morse amo. all do have the ability to read and write music and use it as a tool to create their music, but for them it is just that: another tool that helps and doesnt limit.
And the late Tommy Tedesco was a great reader, and I think he never sounded like he would be lost without that... he always was able to inject some life into the music, and never was lost when there was nothing written down in front of him.
Warm regards

05-01-2002, 02:59 PM
Hi Eric,

Pesonally I enjoy the long winded posts.... So unload. I see that reading music helps you understand timing. In my band it is impossible to teach an old dog new tricks. Not because they can't, they just won't. So they always guess where to come in. Very frustrating. But we do o.k. anyway. I don't understand teachers that dont stress reading to learn timing. Ive played with various students from teachers around town and aside from natural talent most have no sense of timing. They know the theory but timing is real issue. I have the advantage of having played drums and reading drum music in my earlier days so that helped alot. So I see where reading is a real help in this area. What do you think?

05-01-2002, 05:00 PM
Hi again, Dewayne...

how odd. After I posted my two replies, I went to the store, and while doing so I thought about your questions and my replies and I noticed that I had forgotten to mention the rhythm-aspect. It is indeed one of the most important things that sight-reading can help you with.
I tell my students that, even if they feel like they donīt wanna tackle all aspects of sight-reading, they should at least learn how to read rhythm.
First of all, in studio leadsheets ( one of my next articles will feature a scan of one I prepared ), even though thereīs no actual notation sometimes, only chords, the rhythm is usually notated in slashes, and it is important to be able to read these... to know what dots mean etc.
I mean, look at all those TABs on the internet... even though the notes may be right, you usually gotta know the original song to know the note values. Sure, those TABs can help you to learn a song you like and listen to a lot, but as mentioned before, I think it is a great thing to be able to pick up any piece of written music and play it without having listened to it before.
Same with some magazine TABīs... if you donīt know what the tune sounds like, you should be able to look at the notation above the TAB and read the note values... kind of combining the TAB ( which tells you the pitches and positions ) and notation ( which tells you the rhythm / note values ).
So at least that aspect of sight reading should be learned. I give my students a lot of exercises where I put notation in front of them... only one note, but different rhythms, different note values and rests.
So they donīt have to concentrate on the left hand ( only playing one note ) but can focus on playing the right note values.
In the beginning I didnt care, but ever since the GIT and especially now I know the value of a good sense of rhythm and timing.
There are some who can do it without ever having learned how to read, but I think that especially in the beginning, some basic sight reading ( focussing on the timing ) will definitely improve the ability to play in time and cime up with interesting rhythms in your playing...
With the Eric Vandenberg Band, we play some stuff that consists of weird breaks and stuff like that, and itīs a good feeling that we know ( especially our drummer is great at this ) how to count that stuff... our drummer recently wrote a tune that consists of metres like 7/8, 3/4 and 5/4, changing all the time. You CAN ( many do ) play this just by ear, but I think it is easier to play it with conviction if you can count stuff like that.
And it doesnt have to be complicated stuff like that... if you do have good rhythm and know how to count, you can do VERY interesting stuff over your regular 4/4 meter...
Well, you asked for a long-winded post... ;)
Warm regards

05-07-2002, 07:28 PM
It is nice to be able to look at the sheet and find the correct chord, note, etc rather than trying to learn by ear all of the time.
Also, most print editions of songs will be more accurate than the tab versions.

Chris Brown
03-10-2006, 10:34 PM
Reading gives us access to nearly 1000 years of written music. A piece that took someone 10 years, 20 years or even a lifetime to write is awaiting your recital.

my $0.02

Kindest regards,
Chris Brown

03-11-2006, 04:18 PM
With or without music ---- Our front row has music stands and fake chord music, because they need to see the lyrics.

I do not sing out loud except for a chorus or tag, so I may or may not show up with a music stand and the gig book. The bass, steel and lead electric never bring music

Now I can jam a progression and I think do a pretty good job, but, I play better backup when I have my music with me. I know it helps me to "be on the same page" as the vocalist.

03-12-2006, 01:00 AM
The advantage to learning to read music is that you can read music. If you don't, you can't.

03-25-2006, 06:54 AM
it gives you more freedom, not only can you play things that don't have chord symbols or whatever you are reading, but if you get good enough at reading it, then if you find yourself in a position where you are have to play something you dont know, youll be fine becuz you can read music, it helps you understand whats going on, etc. its like being able to read, reading alot helps your vocabulary and overall how you talk. same with music, you can improv and play/talk by ear, but being able to read opens up many doors for you as a musician, plus it is really cool to show off to people who cant read music at all :). its very impressive when you can pull out ANY piece of music and say, "You like _____...I'll play it for you."

oh and being able to play by ear is great too, but it requires work as well, they are both aspects of being a REAL musician.

03-25-2006, 12:57 PM
What happens if you don't know how to read English? Well, you couldn't read this sentence and get this advice online, that's for sure!

It is an extreme example, but it has some merit if you apply it to reading music.