Musical Scores and the Benefits of Learning How to Read
By Caellin Rodgers
Let me preface this article by disclaiming my bias. I’m a classically trained musician – I passed Grade 8 Theory when I was 14 and I’ve been teaching it since I was 16
Of course I think that reading music is an essential skill. Over the years I’ve had many discussions (read: arguments) with other musicians over whether musical theory is really that important anymore. Between software such as Logic, the prevalence of guitar and electronic based music, and google – do musicians (I’m looking at you, contemporary and rock people) really need to learn theory?
In some aspects, I agree – it doesn’t really matter if you’re playing a French Sixth that you know it is a French Sixth. You don’t need to know the correct ways to resolve it, partially because if you’re only playing it the composer will have done that for you, partly because we threw the rule book out sometime in the 20th century. Learning the history of an art form is nice, but necessary? Probably not. But it’s not just the history people don’t seem to be learning anymore, it’s how to read notated music they don’t seem to be bothered with. Pop singers, drummers, and guitarists are arguably the worst offenders in this department. I mean, if you’re singing pop or drumming you’ll just learn it through listening to the track (or just playing in four-four and hoping for the best), and if you’re a guitarist, you’ll learn tab, so why bother with all the complicated dots and lines?
Firstly, so you can pick up another instrument if you want to. Musical notation is now a pretty-much universal language, if you only ever want to play guitar (and maybe a little bass), there’s no need. If you’re 40 and picking up an instrument for the first time, I can almost understand this decision. But if you’re ten or fourteen or six, and guitar is your first instrument, why not make changing instruments as easy as possible – learn new fingering for notes and rhythms you already understand.
Secondly, do you ever want to write your own tunes? I’ve worked with people who can’t read music, and knowing how to get the sounds you’re looking for without using trial and error means that (in my experience) you get to what you want so much faster than those who can’t. I know what notes will sound happy (major) with an A, what will sound sad (minor) and what will sound scary/spooky/angry (dissonant). On that note (pun intended), if you can just write down the parts and everyone can follow what you’ve written, it also speeds up the learning process.
And finally, with Siri now able to complete voice commands and read your texts and emails to you, do you really think that learning to read isn’t important anymore? Just because it’s easier not to (at the beginning), don’t you think it’d be faster in the long run if you just learnt the written form while you were learning to speak? Now, in some universities, knowing how to read music isn’t even a prerequisite for entry into music courses: if you tried to get into an English course without knowing how to read, they’d laugh you out the door – so why is this suddenly an acceptable music practice?
So maybe this article is directed at all the music tutors and teachers out there: please, please teach your students to read.
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