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Is it bad that I can't read sheet music?

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Vic Lewis VL
(@vic-lewis-vl)
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There are some people - I know, because I'm one of them! - who just can't get to grips with standard notation. In another earlier post, I compared learning to play guitar with learning to speak a foreign language - first the basics, then move on to the local patois. When it comes to reading music, I've tried to learn a few times - but I seem to be musically dyslexic. Doesn't matter how hard I concentrate, or what I think I've learned - it's gone the morning after.

I use tab as a starting point, nothing else - I use my ears to tell me what's right and wrong. I've become more and more reliant on them over the last few years, as 99.99% of internet tabs are just WRONG.....

There are some people who'll tell you, you're never too old to learn - maybe, but only if you've got time to spare....I don't seem to have more than a couple of minutes free every hour these days....

And then again, I play mostly rhythm....why do I need those dots? E, A, B.....G, Em, C, D......

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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Cat
 Cat
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Hiya, Vic...hope you've been well.

Yeah, that's my situation, too. I can't read music for love or money...but wish I did. I've tried/tried/tried. Not being able to read has, at times, been a detriment (kept me out of Julliard when I was a kid) but, all in all, it's the sounds you come up with that justify whatever it is you are doing. Hey, you are "the sum of your parts". Nothing wrong with that. Other than my music, I'm an uneducated bum. Still, it got me all the way to sixty so, what the hey...

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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Sollophonic
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In a word.... No!

I joined a 9 piece soul covers band just over a year ago, and have done several gigs and even more rehearsals with them. I am the only one in the band that cant read sheet music, all the rest have music stands in front of them, even the drummer and the singer. I had to learn their set in two weeks for the first gig, I just went on a few tab sites, and chrod sites to get the jist of the stuff, then when they play in odd keys, I just use a capo.

I still cant read music, but the other side to it is, that all those that read, cant improvise for toffee. We dont jam, which I really miss, and the bass player cant simply come up with a bassline, he has to have it written out in front of him.

I was playing a simple riff at a soundcheck, and the sax player asked me what it was. I said, "oh Ive just made it up". He looked at me as if I'd just landed from Mars.

Given my background in bands that jam, and writing my own tunes, I find this really odd. Plus the parts I have worked out for the covers we do, are largely my own improvisations anyway, they are barely faithful to the originals. Then again we are a covers band, rather than a tribute act.


   
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NoteBoat
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the other side to it is, that all those that read, cant improvise for toffee. We dont jam, which I really miss, and the bass player cant simply come up with a bassline, he has to have it written out in front of him.

In my experience that's the exception rather than the rule.

The only professional musicians I know who can't improvise are classical performers, and even in that world I know a number of classically trained musicians who improvise quite well.

All the musicians I've worked with in popular music bands CAN improvise, and most can also read. I've also never met a gigging sax player in my area who couldn't do both.

Not being able to read isn't "bad", but it can be limiting. And knowing how to read sure won't prevent you from improvising... they're two very different approaches to music. Saying readers can't improvise based on limited experience kind of strikes me like saying people who sail boats can't drive - they're both methods of transportation, but the approach to the problem of getting from her to there is different. About all you can draw from the observation is that it's not really practical to sail AND drive (or read AND improvise) at the same time.

Just my two cents worth.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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rparker
(@rparker)
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Perhaps you are both right. Empirical knowledge is tough to dispute, especially to yourself. I digress.

I think improvisation is not a bi-product of how to read sheet music. It certainly was not the case for TAB. I think improvisation is a bi-product of knowing theory at least on a sub-consious level and the ability to connect your instrument to the theory to the point that your ears tell you it's a good thing.

One assumption that could be argued either way would be to say that people who can read sheet music at a functional level learned this simultaneously to learning theory. If you agree with this assumption, I think you would agree with Noteboat. If you do not agree with this assumption, Sollophonic's point becomes stronger. That is to say, that improvisation becomes nature rather than a memorized set of instructions on how to play something as indicated on a sheet of paper.

Roy
"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin


   
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NoteBoat
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Music is a language, Roy. We're just telling a story in sound.

Readers who can't improvise are just like people who can't make up short stories. They can still enjoy them by reading the works of others. Non-readers who can improvise are adept at making up their own stories. Non-readers who can't improvise can still learn to tell the stories others have written (but they have to do it from memory). Readers who improvise can do both.

The only complicating factor for guitar is the fact that there are two systems of reading: tablature, which gives you fingering instructions, and standard notation, which gives you melody instructions. Either can give you a recreation of someone else's story.

Imagine you need to get to a destination (the song). You can have someone give you directions - turn here, go three miles, etc - and you'll get there. That's tab. Or you can get a map, and figure out your own route... that's standard notation.

In a nutshell, that's the functional difference: standard notation allows you the freedom to choose how to execute a melody. Tab doesn't. With tab you can get to a destination, but you are always following one path that was worked out by someone else.

There are additional benefits to learning standard notation, which I've talked about in other threads. There are no additional benefits to tab - anything that can be indicated in tab, including positions, fingerings, string choices, and techniques, can be indicated in standard notation. The sole advantage tab has: it's faster to learn.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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cnev
 cnev
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I see this as distinctly different skills almost unrelated skills even, maybe not really but somewhat. I would even think it would be theoretically possible one could learn to read music yet not even be able to play an instrument, although probably rare, since any one that doesn't play an instrument would have little interest in learning to read.

Neither inhibits the other and any reference to people that can read but not improvise or vice versa is purely coincidence.

But at the end of the day, so what, it comes down to your own functional requirements. As Note has mentioned many times and I would agree if you are looking for top gigs, session work, etc. you are going to need to be able to read or you aren't going to get work, pretty simple.

If you are in a cover band or something like that there is no absolute need to read music nor is there a need to be able to improvise for the most part unless you are in a jam band then you'll need to know.

I have some limited reading skills but in reality I never have and never will have the need to be able to read std notation so I don't spend any time doing it.

Also being in a cover band I don't have a need to improvise but that is a skill I am working on.

So I think the answer is it all depends on what your skill needs are.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Cat
 Cat
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What he said...

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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Crow
 Crow
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...it all depends on what your skill needs are.

I'd say it depends on what your skill needs will be. And this might be hard to predict. I have missed some opportunities because I was pig-headed (for decades) about learning extended chords. I'm trying to fill in that gap in my knowledge now, late in the game, and it's hard. But I will be a better musician for it, eventually.

I wish this were one of those situations where we could say, "Oh, it's not a question of 'better' or 'worse'; they're just 'different.'" But I'm afraid it's not. It's not "bad" if you can't read sheet music. It's limiting. If you're OK with those limitations, fine, but you WILL be limited in some circumstances.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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imalone
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Readers who can't improvise are just like people who can't make up short stories. They can still enjoy them by reading the works of others. Non-readers who can improvise are adept at making up their own stories. Non-readers who can't improvise can still learn to tell the stories others have written (but they have to do it from memory). Readers who improvise can do both.
I like this analogy, particularly because two people reading the same story can do it very differently (and to different levels of ability as well).
I would even think it would be theoretically possible one could learn to read music yet not even be able to play an instrument, although probably rare, since any one that doesn't play an instrument would have little interest in learning to read.

And singers.


   
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Cat
 Cat
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To be able to read music certainly would've been appreciated by me long, long ago...but, screw it, I can't read music. But, then, I've made a living "writing" music, somehow, anyhow and anyway, every day. It just usually had to be done my way because...well..."what, me read"??? :roll:

If my life's role model, Alfred E Newman, was stumped with a philiosphy like "what, me worry?" ...why should I be hung up on "what, me read?"

We're all a sum of our parts, good and bad. But it all adds up to right here and now.

Reading or not...

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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cnev
 cnev
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I wish this were one of those situations where we could say, "Oh, it's not a question of 'better' or 'worse'; they're just 'different.'" But I'm afraid it's not. It's not "bad" if you can't read sheet music. It's limiting. If you're OK with those limitations, fine, but you WILL be limited in some circumstances.

I have to disagree with this statement as it's written though. Again, it's not good , bad or even limiting if you will never have a need to read music period. I know I will NEVER be in a situation where reading std notation is required so to say that somehow I am limited by not learning a skill I will never use is not true.

Yes I won't have one skill in my bag of tricks but again it's one that would never need to get pulled out of the bag in the first place.

Hey I don't disagree that it's a good skill and if I started when I was young instead of late 40's which was a few years ago I would definitely learn it but here I am now my only real avenue is to play in a cover band at best or jam with friends the need will NEVER come up so why waste what little time I have on learning a skill I wouldn't be able to keep up with and never use. It would make no sense and be a waste of time.

Now in my limited world I MIGHT have a need to improvise, more in an informal jam session since we play covers close to the originals that's why I am working a bit on that but to be honest my main focus is learning the songs and techniques that I need to, for the parts I play. I wouldn't consider myself a "well rounded musician" or even a musician really at all but I do what I do and hopefully I do it half way decent.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Liontable
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I think the way it's written looks rather good, but I see where you're coming from. It's better to know "everything" than "pretty much everything". Is it worth it? That's an entirely different question. He's trying to say that if you had the choice between knowing and not knowing, no effort or anything else involved, it'd be better to know it.

You're quite sure of what you'll want to be doing. I also believe it. Some other people, however, might say the very same thing without equal certainty. You know a lot about music, you've been into it, you've seen what the differences are and weighed them (since you know a bit). Most people won't have all this from the start, and they won't know where they end up. Is it worth it then, for them? I believe it might be, and that's enough for me to make it a point. :wink:

I call it the comfortable lie. When I'm explaining something difficult to someone not experienced, I leave out the subtleties. I will say things that aren't correct, saying it's "always, in every case, like this", while it isn't. It's how I look at it, and that's entirely personal of course. I have a friend who didn't want to learn power chords, after mastering the open ones. And after that he refused to do barre chords. And after that he refused to learn pentatonics, and so on! He simply didn't see the use of it until he could do it, and for many people I believe this to be equally true. It depends who you're talking to. :)


   
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cnev
 cnev
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Lion, sure it would be great to know everything in the world but so what. I'd love to know how to speak every language in the world but why, I would never speak 99% of them to anyone so why learn them.

I haven't really worked on shredding either or my tapping skills is that limiting, yes, if I need to play music that uses those techniques if I don't then why?

It all comes down to what skills you need to make the music you want, if you need to be able to read std notation then you better do it same with tapping or shredding or pretty much anything.

You obviously have to have some basic common skills but beyond those it's all about needs.

I do agree with Crow you never can really be sure what you might need but I wouldn't go out and spend time on something that I MIGHT need some day.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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Cat
 Cat
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It all comes down to what skills you need to make the music you want, if you need to be able to read std notation then you better do it same with tapping or shredding or pretty much anything. (paraphrasing)

Yup...what he said...

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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