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Question about learning sheet music

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(@joehempel)
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This isn't really a guitar question, but more a keyboard question, I'm learning the keyboard, and I've been downloading sheet music for easy piano, I can't sight read music, but I can figure out the notes. In order to be able to play the songs that I have, I have been writing the notes next on the music so that I can not think about what the note is but where they are on the keyboard

I was wondering if this was counter productive. I've been writing the music down for one verse, and then I'll stop so that the next verse is just notes on the staff and not written out.

Thanks to anyone that can help.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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(@alangreen)
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Joined: 22 years ago
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I think most people do that until they get familiar with it. Some of my students have done the same with guitar music.

The obvious progression is to make sure you do learn to read the music on the staff and know where it is on the keyboard/ fretboard. It opens up so many possibilities; I regularly have to play new parts from sheet music I've never seen before, and being able to read music means I can always make a reasonable effort even if it's very slow the first time.

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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(@joehempel)
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Excellent, thanks Alan, I was just thinking that I may get used to seeing the written version instead of the note, I write them next to the note on the staff.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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(@daveadams)
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I think if you need the hints, you're doing it in the best possible way. Not sure how much time you want to invest, but you might consider finding (or coming up with your own!) exercises that would build your note-identification speed and confidence.

I've played piano for most of my life, so I know the notes on the staff without even thinking, but learning guitar I've found it incredibly challenging to map the staff to the fretboard. What I did find that helped me, though, was to find a bunch of short, easy-as-possible songs, or riffs even, starting with ones that just use a few notes, in musical notation only (ie, no tab) and just sight read them once or twice through and then move on. The keys being to start easy, not worry about rhythm, and don't practice them enough to memorize anything.

I haven't stuck with that exercise as much as I'd like, but it did help cement some of the first-position notes in my head. And I feel like for piano it's much much more important that you have the staff-to-note mapping be totally subconscious.

Anyway, good luck with the keyboard. I hope you keep having fun with it.

-dave


   
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(@joehempel)
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Thank you very much! I can play a couple things, but that's based off youtube instructions for easy songs and really doesn't teach you anything but the song.

What I'm trying to work through now are: Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx, lots of arpeggios and Me and You by Kenny Chesney (easy piano) plus it's very slow and seems to work on the same 6 keys for bass and treble staff. It's just so much better to learn this way for me than a method book, if I have to play Hot Cross Buns one more time I'm going to chuck my keyboard out the window! :twisted:

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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(@noteboat)
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Wow - I'm going to completely disagree with Alan and Dave.

I find that students who mark letter names on a score - on any instrument - never really develop into really good readers. They're not making the association this note = this pitch, because their eyes go FIRST to the letter name, and then to the note. That keeps them from really figuring out which note is which; the note positions on the staff become background noise.

On top of that, it's too slow. You look at the letter... now you know it's G (or whatever). But you still have to look at the note to figure out which G, and determine how long it will last. That makes it practically impossible to play in time, which makes it frustrating, which means those students rely on memory rather than reading. You become a good reader by reading different things constantly, rather than the same thing over and over until it's memorized.

Different people do learn differently, and some folks have a lot of trouble deciphering notes. So there's nothing really wrong with using a hint... trouble is, using a letter isn't getting a "hint" at what the note might be; it's getting the answer. If a student needs hints, I'd rather have them use finger numbers. That way, you have to look to the note first, and if you can't get it right away you still have a hint to help you figure it out.

I'm gonna throw in a few more thoughts on reading here, just because guitarists (and guitar teachers) generally have a poor background in pedagogy - the study of teaching.

Reading music is just like reading text. You have a symbol on a page that you have to translate into a sound.

In both cases, the name of the symbol isn't a direct help in reading - it's an aid for communication. Words like night/knight sound the same, and notes like F#/Gb sound the same. Knowing the note name or letter name lets us talk about them and understand the differences.

In both cases, reading at a high level does NOT involve consciously recognizing the names of notes or letters. When you read a newspaper, you're not aware of each letter rushing by; you translate the symbols directly into sound. A musician reading "at sight" is doing the same thing - following the shape of a melody in a big picture sense. Our awareness of individual notes is like our awareness of individual letters when we write... it's subliminal.

That subliminal ability was developed by repetition and association - "C is for CAT" etc. Later on we learned that the C in "delicious" is nothing like the C in cat... this isn't very different from the written C note sounding different in the key of A than it does in the key of F. Accept the fact that you have to learn some stuff by rote (the alphabet, multiplication tables, note names) before you can actually use that knowledge for anything practical. Even if you don't "need" it at the higher levels of practice, it's a necessary precursor.

Bottom line: if you really want to learn to read music - on any instrument - approach it the way you learned to read text. First, learn the letter names for every note by repetition. Most piano teachers have their beginning students use flash cards for this.

Next, learn to use those letters in context. We start reading with books like Dr. Seuss, or Fun with Dick and Jane. Start reading music in the key of C ONLY. If the song you want to learn isn't in C, shelve it for a while and pick one in C.

After you're comfortable reading the easy stuff - and ONLY after you're comfortable - introduce the odd sounds (knight/delicious in English, sharps and flats in music). Do pieces in A minor, and get used to the G# notes.

When you're confident you can handle the exceptions, do a different key - start with the key of F for the piano, because that puts the Bb in the "home position".

Because fingerings on the piano vary with the key you're in, I'd do five-finger pieces in the key of D next... because the F# is in home position. After you've got five-finger pieces down, then do the key of G, which puts the F# in the extension to the octave. (Some piano methods do G first, because it has only one sharp; these methods teach finger extension earlier than I like, reaching for the out-of-position F# note. Just like with the guitar, there are different approaches based on different philosophies - the guitar equivalent is teaching the key of C in second position before teaching key signatures in first position; I know some good teachers who do that, but most don't.)

Leave for last the keys with tonics on black keys - start with the key of Bb.

Use a graded piano method to go through pieces in a logical sequence. That'll give you a rounded experience. Methods vary in difficulty - just like guitar methods for reading. Some move fast (Guitar: Berklee; piano: Oxford or John Thompson), some move slow (Guitar: Mel Bay Primer, Fender, Alfred; piano: Schaum or Alfred). Find one that matches your ability to absorb the material. "Too easy" is much better for you than "too hard".

It takes time to read music on any instrument, and it takes about the same amount of time it took you to learn to read English - about 2 years of daily work for the easy stuff, another couple of years for all the common harder stuff (chords at sight, signatures with 4-6 accidentals). But I've never heard a good reader say they're sorry they put in the time it took!

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@fretsource)
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I have to completely agree with NoteBoat on this one. If you're unfamiliar with notes on the staff, writing the note names may help you figure out how a particular song should be played, in exactly the same way that tab does - but it defeats the purpose of reading music and is a severe hindrance to ever acquiring that skill. I've had new students arrive with a book they've been using, the first half of which is covered in note names. They can play those pieces - but only by reading the letters. If I ask them to play the same pieces from my own copy of the same book, they're lost. They've spent a long time learning those pieces, but if they had learned from the start how to read notes directly, rather than indirectly, they would be able to play ANY piece at a similar level of difficulty.


   
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(@alangreen)
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... guitarists (and guitar teachers) generally have a poor background in pedagogy - the study of teaching.

Tom, you can differ any time you like mate.

I think there's a lot of truth in the statement that guitar teachers have generally not studied teaching. I've got my Grades as a performer, but the teaching certificate is a separate exam two levels higher than I am right now. I probably teach guitar the way I teach lawyers to write legalese; that's by rote much of the time but it assumes a big level of competence before the start.

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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 Nuno
(@nuno)
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When I started to play piano I followed the alternative of writing the notes bellow the staff and I tried to read the staff and only read the note if I didn't remember the note in the staff. That was a good purpose but I never followed it. I always read the note name directly. Obviously you always learn to read the staff but I think it is not the best way.

Currently I am "re-learning" to read and I am following the Noteboat and Fretsource way (BTW thanks!) and I am even buying books without tablature. If the tablature is present, I tend to read it rather than the standard staff. I am getting a better performance.

(Just an experience!)


   
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(@wmwilson01)
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I've been lucky enough to have an instructor who's teaching me sheet music, but now I have the hardest time with tab. Tab has been shockingly difficult for me to read -- not that it's literally difficult, but I end up staring at it and everything feels weird and twisted. I know tab is useful, and there's certainly a lot out there, but I wish it'd go away. :)


   
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(@daveadams)
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Just to be clear, I do agree that you'll handicap yourself by writing the note names on the staff. It just depends on your goals: do you want to play simple versions of a few songs, or do you want to learn to play piano? I think you can learn the sheet music without learning to sight-read.

If you want to invest a lot of time, then get the method books and work through them, preferably with a teacher, and don't cheat. If you are more interested in learning a few tunes, it's okay to cheat a little. I think the way you described what you're doing seems like the least problematic, but still not good for learning to read music.

-dave


   
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(@joehempel)
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I broke down and bought a method book today. Alberts Adult Piano Course Level 1, I also bought a song book that goes with it, it's recommended that once you get to page 33, you can start using the book. We'll see how this goes. I want to be able to read music, the problem I have is looking at bass and treble at the same time, I start going okay with one, then forget the other half of the spectrum.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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(@noteboat)
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Tab has been shockingly difficult for me to read -- not that it's literally difficult, but I end up staring at it and everything feels weird and twisted.

That's actually pretty common.

Most "recreational" guitarists prefer tab; most guitarists that I know with some training (even youngsters) prefer standard notation. Tab is convenient, and I use it with students when they're trying to learn a song beyond their reading chops... but it's actually pretty barren, musically. Once you're a decent reader, standard notation is pretty rich - at a glance you get the overall shape of the melody, and a lot of interpretation cues.

There are three other reasons I prefer standard notation whenever I have a choice - first, it's rhythmically precise. I see a lot of students with pieces done in powertab or other programs that put stems on tab or display a second line in standard notation, and it almost always makes you scratch your head - the programs put in ties when dots would be easier or vice versa, and some I've seen don't even add up to the right number of beats in a measure!

Tabbers also tend to overdo it on the technique side of things. If I'm reading standard notation, and I see two notes with a legato marking - say a C# and a D - I might use a hammer-on, a slide, or even a bend... whatever I think best fits with the flow of the melody and gives me a good fingering. Tab tends to dictate a specific performance technique, which might or might not be the best way to go.

Finally, a lot of tabbing - even from publishers - seems to be done or edited by non-guitarists. I had a student bring in an "official" Pink Floyd book a couple years ago, and the pitches were accurate in a solo he was working on... but there was a MUCH easier fingering available on other strings in a different position.

The bottom line for me is that tab and/or tabbers are trying to capture every nuance... and most of the time, that kind of takes the soul out of things.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Reading sheet music consists of two seperate processes: identifying the note on the paper and finding that note on the guitar. Writing down note names above sheet music is, IMHO, a great excercise to practice the first part for those who are completely new to it, just a writing down what the note duration of each note is. However it is indeed possible to use it as a way to prevent having to learn to sightread but that's just a matter of discipline. Spending ten minutes a day on a random piece of sheet music identifying pitch and duration can't hurt, as long as you practice the practical application of sightreading as well with non-marked pieces.


   
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(@fretsource)
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While we're on the subject, if anyone wants practice at naming random notes on the treble staff, you can use my
Notation pitch trainer.

It's the equivalent of using flash cards - only it never runs out. The note appears and you name it before it does - even better if you play it too. You can also set the difficulty level. Nuno helpfully pointed out one shortcoming, which is that it may repeat the note that it's just asked, which serves no useful purpose at all - but I haven't got round to fixing it.

Anyway, feel free to use it.


   
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