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Sight Reading

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JoeHempel
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I have kind of a dilemma going on right now where when I play live, I turn my standard notation into tab because it's more of a comfort for me....I can read what's on the standard notation page...but I don't know, I fell more comfortable with turning it into tab.

I wonder if the performance would suffer if I had just the sheet music for those songs with me.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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notes_norton
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By the time I get on stage, most of the material I do is either memorized or on it's way to being memorized. I put the notation up on a laptop computer (head chart only) to jog my memory just in case someone comes up and interrupts by requesting something.

Like most memorized things, my fingers go on auto-pilot and my head is in 'the zone' so if somebody comes up and asks a question, it knocks me out of the zone.

It always amazes me how when you are on stage in the middle of a song, people can try to talk to you. Especially when you are singing or playing saxophone. I guess they aren't really thinking about what they are doing and definitely don't understand the musician's job. But then it is part of our job to make the music look easy, conversational, and fun.

Still, I wish they would wait until the end of the song (many people do).

So when I'm jarred out of the zone, a quick look at the head chart can get me back on track.

Notes ♫

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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kingpatzer
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The arguments against standard notation are almost entirely specious, and typically come from a position of ignorance as to all of the things that standard notation can do.

But for me, ultimately it comes down to a simple distinction: there are musicians who play guitar, and guitar players who are trying to be musicians.

A musician, to me, is someone who is conversant and literate in the world of fellow musicians. Most guitar players are not. They develop their own bastardized terminologies, confused explanations of theory, they are illiterate in the written language of music, and to top it off they (in general) take some perverse pride in their distinct and obvious limitations and failings.

And as a group, guitarists are not respected by the rest of the music world. Nor, in general, should we be. We are one of the few instrumentalists who are incapable of joining into a band, opening a score, and just playing together and sound good doing it. Sure it might take a piano player a take or two to get it right. But it'll take the average guitarist days. They'll have to first take the score home and put it into GuitarPro so they can get a tab to even have a clue what they're doing. And heaven forbid if they show up and the vocalist asks for a different key.

There are plenty of great players who can't read. They should be (and are) respected for their talents as song writers and the ability to come up with a great riff and for the general mastery of techniques they bring to the table. But they aren't musicians in the full sense of the word. And the limitations are easily and frequently exposed.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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JoeHempel
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There are plenty of great players who can't read. They should be (and are) respected for their talents as song writers and the ability to come up with a great riff and for the general mastery of techniques they bring to the table. But they aren't musicians in the full sense of the word. And the limitations are easily and frequently exposed.

I disagree, if you get to that point where you can create and "understand" why it works, and not come on it by accident, then I think you are a musician, reading music has no bearing in my opinion. I know plenty of people who can crush me when it comes to theory and why things work and how they work, but can't read a bit of music. I don't think they are more or less of a musician because of this.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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kingpatzer
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I know plenty of people who can crush me when it comes to theory and why things work and how they work, but can't read a bit of music. I don't think they are more or less of a musician because of this.

Understand, I'm not saying they're not musically talented. I'm not saying they're not great players. My cousin got me started playing the guitar when I was a kid. He was a traveling lead guitarist for an outlaw country band that never quite made it, but did well enough for him to keep trying year after year. His chops were amazing. And 40 some odd years later, he still takes me to school when we play together. He learned everything by ear and can't read a note.

After I started playing a bit, he took my Mom aside and told her that she was to make sure I learned to read music and not make the same mistake he did. When we'd get together, he'd always have me sight read something for him.

Players who can't read are functionally illiterate in their field. For all of the knowledge and skill they posses there are simple, basic tasks required of a complete musician which they can not perform. They can be as musical as the day is long, but they are guitar players who aren't quite musicians, not musicians who are guitar players.

People get insulted by that distinction, and it's not meant to be taken that way, it's just a statement of fact. People who don't read music aren't considered complete musicians by other musicians; they will not get the same opportunities and jobs; they will not have the same chance to be successful; they are limited and held back by their lack of musicianship. People can argue by way of analogy all they want on that point, but it is still true.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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David Hodge
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And, as it always is in the case of something like this, it really depends on what your definition of "musician" happens to be. Or what you personally want it to be.

If you go to dictionary.com, for instance, they try to cover both sides of the coin:

1. a person who makes music a profession, esp. as a performer of music.
2. any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.

Merriam Webster's Deluxe (which happens to be sitting at my desk so I'm using it solely for convenience) goes more for he vague approach, saying only:

a composer, conductor, or performer of music; especially: INSRUMENTALIST

This (kind of conveniently) takes reading and even writing music out of the equation, leaving (again kind of conveniently)
all sorts of room to make a case for either side. There are certainly composers who don't write or read. Or you could take from this that they have to. It's actually more interesting that they seem to take a swipe at vocalists, who most certainly should be considered musicians.

Or maybe I should say "some of whom should be considered musicians" because more often than not these sorts of arguments are about defining things according to our own experiences and education, not to mention to our own liking or to the point we want to make in a discussion. If someone is making a living playing music (playing in a band or on his or her own) and doesn't read music, does that make him or her not a musician? Or how about someone who plays in a band, does read music but never uses that skill in his or her work with the band (which is entirely possible)? Or how about someone who can read music but who does not play (and we all know people - possibly even family - that prove this is possible, too! :wink: )

Whether we like it or not, definitions are important, but usually because they define us, who we are and what we believe. Because of this, definitions are also both highly flexible and, depending on the word being defined, subjectivity also has to be taken into account.

Of course, you're more than welcome to disagree with my definition of definitions! :wink:

Regardless of who considers whom a musician (and whether or not reading music is part of one's definition of being a musician), the ability to read music can be helpful. Extremely helpful and useful. And anyone who wants to grow as a musician has to make the call as to whether or not he or she will use this tool which is certainly available to him or her.

Oh - Adrian - I don't know whether or not I can do what you ask (and it's not a bad idea) on the website. We mostly do it the way we do because it's easier to write it out this way with the software we use. But I can probably do that with my own private files (the ones I have anyway) so if you'd like, let me know and I can send you "separated" versions. It will take time to prepare them but if it helps, I'm more than happy to try.

Peace


   
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NoteBoat
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I know plenty of people who can crush me when it comes to theory and why things work and how they work, but can't read a bit of music.

I won't dispute the statement as written... some non-readers have a very good grasp of basic theory. But there aren't any non-readers who understand advanced music theory. None. Zero. People who tell you they do simply don't know what they don't know.

The reason is simple: music theory is based on standard notation, not sound. Enharmonic distinctions are everywhere - from simple stuff that a non-reader could get (like why a sound is called A# in the key of B, but the same sound is Bb in the key of F), to more complicated things (augmented thirds sound just like perfect fourths), to still more complex ones (a French sixth is not the same as a 7b5 chord, a Tristan chord is not the same as a half diminished, etc.). The deeper you go in theory, the more standard notation is used to separate identical sounds into different categories, and those categories will behave in different ways.

You don't need to be a sight reader to study advanced theory, harmony, orchestration, or compositional techniques. But you do need a basic level of reading. If you don't have that, the distinctions made between identical sounds simply won't make sense.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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kingpatzer
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And, as it always is in the case of something like this, it really depends on what your definition of "musician" happens to be. Or what you personally want it to be.

If you go to dictionary.com, for instance, they try to cover both sides of the coin:

1. a person who makes music a profession, esp. as a performer of music.
2. any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.

Standard dictionaries define words as they are used in the popular usage of terms, and typically lag behind actual usage by years, if not decades. Definitions once written frequently sit without edits for a very long time. Dictionaries document usage, they do not define it. And except for domain specific dictionaries, they typically do not track narrow, often nuanced definitions and jargon usage; and they certainly don't take into account an individual user's intended semantic nuances. None of which matters much to this discussion at all, but I just wanted to offer my perspective on the point.

Most people who disagree with my statement do so on the basis of popular usage of the term rather than on the contextual meaning that is (hopefully) there in the particular statement.

But that becomes a semantic argument rather than a discussion about the value of musicianship to a person who makes music.
Regardless of who considers whom a musician (and whether or not reading music is part of one's definition of being a musician), . . .

To be clear, I am using the word in the most narrow and formal sense as to someone who possesses, at some level, the spectrum of qualities of musicianship. It is not necessarily something that requires formal education, though someone with formal education is more likely to posses those qualities in some degree.
. . . the ability to read music can be helpful. Extremely helpful and useful. And anyone who wants to grow as a musician has to make the call as to whether or not he or she will use this tool which is certainly available to him or her.

Agreed. The thing that most players, particularly young players, fail to appreciate is the long view of being a musician. Spending 10 minutes of one's practice time learning to read while doing everything else is a very small price to play to be able to have real career options as a more mature player. As well as having the ability to expand one's musical horizons in any direction one might choose to go.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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notes_norton
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A musician who cannot read standard notation is musically illiterate.

A speaker of any language who cannot read that language is illiterate.

An English speaker can get through life without being able to read or write English, and a musician can get through life without learning to read music. But both are handicapped.

Just as it is an advantage to learn to read and write English, it's an advantage to learn to read and write Music.

Someone mentioned Paul McCartney. He tried to write a "classical" composition, "Standing Stone" and IMHO failed. The CD is boring, it rambles and there is no development of musical ideas -- (and I so wanted to like it). It's no Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms. As much as he wanted to do it, his lack of formal musical training, which starts with reading music, kept him from fully realizing his vision. I believe Paul is a very talented musician, and I believe he would truly love to write a symphony, but without knowing how to read music and the theory of composition, one can never learn how to establish themes and then develop those themes in a complex enough way to write a symphony.

It would be like asking someone who cannot read or write English to compose the great American Novel. It simply cannot be done.

On the other hand, Billy Joel wrote a very nice classical Chopin-esque classical CD.

It's not that Billy is a better musician than Paul, but Billy is a literate musician where Paul is illiterate in music.

For those who cannot read music. It's OK that you don't. But if you want to be a better musician, take a half hour per day, just give up one mindless TV show per day, and sooner than you know it, you will be reading music and will be a literate musician.

"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." - Sergei Rachmaninoff

If I live to be 150, there will still be new things to learn about music. And that is the great thing about music. No one person can know it all, so it never gets boring and "old hat".

It's an adventure, and for those who are illiterate, reading music is one step on the adventure. It will open the door to new adventures and new pleasures.

Come on along with us, it's worth the effort.

Notes ♫

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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JoeHempel
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Well I know that my definition of musician doesn't include reading or writing music, but the ability to play and know why you are playing what you are playing and how it goes together, and being able to create based on those aspects.

I think anyone can read music and understand music theory, but being able to apply that into a music instrument and not words and paper is MUCH more valuable and is much more proof of musician-ship than dots on a paper.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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notes_norton
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<...>I think anyone can read music and understand music theory, but being able to apply that into a music instrument and not words and paper is MUCH more valuable and is much more proof of musician-ship than dots on a paper.

You have a great point there Joe.

IMHO there are two equally important but very separate qualities to being a musician.

1) Technical ability: This is the ability to control your instrument and the ability to understand music theory (the why's and wherefore's of music) - and reading music is part of music theory. Almost anybody can be taught this and this is what you learn in music school or with music lessons.

2) Talent: This is the intangible and unteachable part of music. The ability to take the technical skills that you have learned and turn them into music that conveys an emotion from the player(s) to the audience.

When working on the cruise ships, I was in a duo in our own lounge. The orchestra was comprised mostly of young graduates from topnotch schools like the University of Miami and North Texas State getting their first experience after graduating. They all had the technical skills down. They could play Coltrane and Charlie Parker runs backwards and forwards, they could sight read the most difficult passages, and they had great control over their instruments.

But they all couldn't make what I consider music. Instead they played empty notes, passages that were technically competent but uninspiring.

On the other hand, there were some of them that had both the technical ability and the talent to turn those notes into grand music. These people were a joy to listen to, and play with (many of them would sit in with us).

The talent is the person's individual gift. A school can help develop that talent but it can't teach it. My first band director gave me the greatest give anyone can give a musician. He taught me how to listen to music. He would play recordings and point out different parts of symphonies. Listen to this ..... (later on) listen to that, hear how the composer inverted that figure .... listen to how he used the first theme as the counter-melody to the new theme .... listen to how he used an altered version of the first theme as a bass line, the second theme as a background figure and introduced a new theme here .... or in other pieces of music ... listen to how they dragged those quarter note triplets and how it makes it more dramatic ... listen to how the second beat of the Strauss Waltz is rushed and how different conductors rush it by different amounts (this is the groove, we didn't invent it) ... listen to how the soloist dragged the beginning of this 8 bar phrase and then rushed the end to catch up with the orchestra ... listen to how the soloist used dynamics to emphasize certain notes in this passage, and why do you think he wanted to emphasize these notes ... listen, hear that slight pause between these two phrases, and hear how it tells the listener there is a new idea happening here ... and remember, the genius is in the details, not the notes themselves ... and so on.

If you have the talent, learning how to listen to music is the best thing a teacher can give a student. Then the notation, ornaments, other expressive devices, and the basic theory makes sense.

But then again, there are people with boatloads of talent, but no musical education. In other words, incomplete technical ability. These are the geniuses that can play without knowing how to read music or without an extensive knowledge of music theory. They are great but (1) they are the exceptions to the rule and (2) they would be even better -- a lot better if they had the musical background that they were lacking.

It is never bad to learn anything new about music. We should learn how to listen to music so that we can develop new expressive ideas by internalizing what others are doing. PLUS, we all should strive to increase our technical skills so that we can express ourselves better and actually implement those ideas.

Music is like life, it's not a destination, but a journey. Don't cut yourself short, stop at everything on the way, when it's all over, you still won't be done, but you will have had a great ride.

Insights and incites by Notes

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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JoeHempel
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I've got no doubt that anyone that read's music can be better at playing and understanding music, I'm just disagreeing with the fact that people who can't read music are not musicians, it just sounds derogatory to me, and has an air of "I'm better than you because I can read music" (which isn't what anyone is saying).

In Space, no one can hear me sing!


   
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Nuno
 Nuno
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Joe, I understand you say and I agree. According that definition (people who can not read music are not musicians) and the sentence Paul McCartney does not read music, we conclude Paul McCartney is not a musician...

I guess that syllogism is hard to understand for us, the mere mortals (even Socrates who was also mortal!).


   
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NoteBoat
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The trouble with using a syllogism here is that the premise (all 'musicians' read standard notation) is false, and we agree on that. I'd suggest the term 'dilettante' for a non-reading musician... not in any derogatory sense, but in its true meaning: someone with an interest in a field, but with only a superficial knowledge of it.

Knowledge - the book learning aspects of a field - has nothing to do with ability. And ability has nothing to do with success. You can be successful without ability (see Paris Hilton), you can be able without success (see most starving artists in any field), and you can be knowledgeable without being able - we all know educated incompetents in many fields.

But I think we can agree that you can't be knowledgeable about music without understanding music theory. And I think it's a fact that you cannot have more than just a superficial knowledge of theory without having at least a basic ability to read music.

I think we can agree that music is a language. When we have a language like English, we have homonyms - words that sound exactly the same, but have different meanings. We understand what's meant only by context - the spoken words "would" and "wood" won't tell you what the speaker means unless you hear the rest of the sentence. But the written word draws a distinction. It's more precise.

In music theory, we give different labels to sounds depending on context. A sound is D# in one situation, and the same exact same sound is Eb in another. Like the spoken word, you could argue that it doesn't make a difference - you can still hear the phrase, and understand what's going on by the context without worrying about the spelling. The sounds of D# and Eb are homonyms; the text of D# and Eb are synonyms - two different terms that express the same basic idea.

Now let's take a more complicated set of tones: F, B, Eb, and Ab. B is the same as Cb. Eb is the same as D#. Ab is the same as G#. So we can now call this chord B7b5 (B-D#-F-Ab), or Fm7b5 (F-Ab-Cb-Eb). Just as with homonyms in written language, we make a distinction based on context - if it goes to E major, we'll consider it a French sixth; if it goes to Bb7, we'll consider it F half diminished.

Now along comes Wagner, and he wants to do something completely different with it. He resolves it to E major, but not directly - and because of his voice leading, the notes are labeled F-B-D#-G# (the 'Tristan' chord).

Non-readers can easily grasp some of the distinctions or synonyms used in music theory. The trouble is, they don't realize that they don't know it deeply. If you think the synonyms you know are all there is, you end up inventing bastardized versions of theory.

For instance, there's a composition technique pioneered by Bela Bartok called 'pitch axis'. Google "pitch axis" and "Bartok" and you'll get 6370 hits. Google "pitch axis" and "Satriani" and you get 15,100. But Satriani's isn't pitch axis - it's a compositional technique using parallel scales that would properly be called melodic inflection.

Non-readers don't see this as a big deal. Satriani just hung a label on something, and they can get the gist of melodic inflection techniques and use them without knowing the 'real' names. But if you develop your vocabulary based on non-standard synonyms, you won't be able to understand the standard stuff. The mis-labeling gets in your way.

Since music is a language, let's take the misuse of synonyms to extremes: the tree branch of the send a package tore a stocking into the sway back and forth.

Wouldn't that be so much easier to understand as: the bow of the ship ran into the rock?

Standard notation is the language of music theory. There really isn't a substitute.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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kingpatzer
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I understand the hang-up on my use of the term 'musician.' And I think Noteboat's suggestion that 'dilettante' is perhaps the better term.

But for me it misses a key point. The non-reader is an illiterate musician. They are incapable of functioning in many key roles that other musicians can fill easily. From the perspective of the guitarist themselves, they're options are limited just as significantly as someone trying to go through life in the developed world without an ability to read and write. It is a significant handicap!

Musicianship is not merely the theoretical knowledge. It is the whole package. Someone who is a phenomenal player posses some of the necessary components any musician requires -- namely the ability to play music. An ability that is no doubt important. But they lack another component that is equally important -- the ability to communicate effectively with other musicians so that they can effectively and efficiently create music with others.

I understand why some might take insult into the way I'm using the term. But I am trying to stress the impact not merely of not being a complete musician, but also of not even being on the path towards being a complete musician. It harms the musician to be illiterate, and that simply won't change regardless of the terms used to describe the issue.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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