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Sight reading music: the highest form or reading music?


gliderproarc

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Originally posted by cnegrad:

Aw C'mon, Steve,

 

I wouldn't go so far though as to say if you can't read that that is called musical illiteracy.
So now you're redefining the English language?

 

Main Entry: il·lit·er·a·cy

Pronunciation: (")i(l)-'li-t(&-)r&-sE

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural -cies

1 : the quality or state of being illiterate; especially : inability to read or write

 

If one can't read music, then that person is a musical illiterate, period.

I know you might think I'm just into arguing, and I'm really not, and I DO see where you're coming from, so it's not like I think you're a musical snob or anything, but even with writing music, there are other ways to do it than standard musical notation.

 

If someone understands the following:

 

C G

When I find myself in times of trouble

Am F

Mother Mary comes to me...

 

...and in addition to being able to write that in that way and converse with me about what C7 means or Cadd9 means, then I'd say they can read and write "music". It's just a different way from standard notation.

 

If someone wrote a note to me that said, "this song has a 5-4-1 progression for the chorus and then a bridge that is Am, G, F with a 5-4-1-2-5-4-1 progression for the verse" then I'd also consider that to be musically literate -- they wrote it, and I understood what they meant in musical terms.

 

Still, knowing standard notation is a good thing in some circles, and I'm impressed with those who do it well.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Osay itway ouldway ebay unfay orfay ouyay itsay ownday otay away onglay andway echnicaltay onversationcay ithway omeonesay owhay oesn'tday eakspay ethay amesay anguagelay asway ouyay oday?

 

Ouldway itway alsoway ebay unfay otay ebay upway onway agestay ithway away oupgray ofway usiciansmay owhay allway eakspay away ifferentday anguagelay andway ytray otay ullpay offway anway entireway iggay?

 

(So it would be fun for you sit down to a long and technical conversation with someone who doesn't speak the same language as you do?

 

Would it also be fun to be up on stage with a group of musicians who all speak a different language and try to pull off an entire gig?)

Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer. W. C. Fields
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Originally posted by stepay:

 

If someone understands the following:

 

C G

When I find myself in times of trouble

Am F

Mother Mary comes to me...

 

So a note-for-note transcription of what Billy Preston played on the original recording is of no interest to you?

 

Busch.

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Originally posted by burningbusch:

Originally posted by stepay:

 

If someone understands the following:

 

C G

When I find myself in times of trouble

Am F

Mother Mary comes to me...

 

So a note-for-note transcription of what Billy Preston played on the original recording is of no interest to you?

 

Busch.

Sure it would be, but I read sheet music. It's just not necessary to do so in order to be a GREAT musician -- that's really my only point (which Floyd says I've stated over and over, but apparently it's necessary that I do).

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Speaking of transcriptions, I was really glad Keyboard mag published the intro to "Minute By Minute" by the Michael MacDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

 

That is one bit of music I had a lot of difficulty trying to figure out by ear. I still can't execute it at full tempo, but I get closer every year. ;)

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Originally posted by Blue JC:

Osay itway ouldway ebay unfay orfay ouyay itsay ownday otay away onglay andway echnicaltay onversationcay ithway omeonesay owhay oesn'tday eakspay ethay amesay anguagelay asway ouyay oday?

 

Ouldway itway alsoway ebay unfay otay ebay upway onway agestay ithway away oupgray ofway usiciansmay owhay allway eakspay away ifferentday anguagelay andway ytray otay ullpay offway anway entireway iggay?

 

(So it would be fun for you sit down to a long and technical conversation with someone who doesn't speak the same language as you do?

 

Would it also be fun to be up on stage with a group of musicians who all speak a different language and try to pull off an entire gig?)

If I were with a group of musicians, and one of them were having trouble understanding what the rest of us were doing, I'd turn to that person who could only note read and ask them if they could maybe go bring us some snacks! :):)

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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If someone understands the following:

 

C G

When I find myself in times of trouble

Am F

Mother Mary comes to me...

 

...and in addition to being able to write that in that way and converse with me about what C7 means or Cadd9 means, then I'd say they can read and write "music". It's just a different way from standard notation.

 

If someone wrote a note to me that said, "this song has a 5-4-1 progression for the chorus and then a bridge that is Am, G, F with a 5-4-1-2-5-4-1 progression for the verse" then I'd also consider that to be musically literate -- they wrote it, and I understood what they meant in musical terms.

Steve,

 

You have to be one of the most contrary people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. All of the references you make in the above quote exist because of musical theory, harmony and notation. Sure, I suppose someone could've physically shown them what those things are without having to reference notation, but ultimately those terms wouldn't exist without harmony, theory and notation. (The concepts would still exist, but the terminology wouldn't.)

 

And lastly, why are you personally taking up the mantle of "defender of the illiterate"?

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Originally posted by GovernorSilver:

Speaking of transcriptions, I was really glad Keyboard mag published the intro to "Minute By Minute" by the Michael MacDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

Before I start flipping through my stack of mags, any idea what issue that was in? I'd be interested in seeing it transcribed (to see how far off I am ;) ).
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Originally posted by stepay:

Floyd,

 

Actors often work with other actors where there is not a common language. When that's the case, someone has to tell them what they are to do so that they can understand what to do. The same is true in music. Some may be able to use the notation and some not. For those that aren't able to, someone (who understands both) needs to tell them how to play it in the way that they understand.

 

I've said repeatedly (apparently not enough) that reading sheet music is necessary for certain kinds of gigs in certain kinds of circles, so you and I agree there. Not sure why you're presenting it as if I don't agree with that.

I think actors working together without a script and a common language has got to be fairly rare, compared to the amount of gigs that use a common language, and a script. I merely brought up that analogy because you had previously stated that:

 

Also, sight reading music (which means reading it AND playing it immediately) is different from reading English words printed on a page. With reading words, all you have to do is read. With sight reading music, you have to read AND play instantly -- much more difficult skill and not comparable to a ten-year-old's reading English ability.

 

So I was pointing out a real-world case where actors have to read and act at the same time - analogous to sight-reading music, and where it's a requirement for most acting gigs to be able to read a script.

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Cnegrad,

 

What I wrote exists for those who know about harmony and theory...standard notation isn't needed to know that.

 

Also, I'm not defending the illiterate. I do always though feel the need here on ocassion to defend those who aren't classically trained. There are great musicians all over this planet, both famous and not famous who can flat out PLAY who don't read sheet music at all. Cnegrad, you said earlier that you didn't think anyone was disagreeing with me. I think they are.

 

There is an opinion held by some here that learning to play while sight reading is the ultimate goal and that anyone who doesn't read notation is not really a musician. I say that's hogwash. I know people who feel equally as strong the other way -- that for the most part note-readers are just spewing back something that has been written down and can't do anything other than that. That's not my view, and I also think that's hogwash. I do think though that there are people like that (who can only regurgitate what's been written down), just not the majority of note readers.

 

Can a person play? Yes or no. If yes, then he's a musician. He plays well and he's a good musician. He plays exceptionally well and he's a great musician. Has nothing at all to do with note reading.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Originally posted by Griffinator:

Originally posted by gliderproarc:

But I am still going to pursue sight reading as as Stepay said, It's not going to hurt.

:thu:

 

Bugger on anyone who says otherwise! :D

Yep. I said that -- learning to be very good at note reading certainly can't hurt. Just be sure to keep the other skills up to snuff too...ability to jam with other musicians without sheet music, ability to hear chord progressions and easily pick out which inversion it is, etc.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Well, I'll come to Steve's defense. He's correct that:

 

"C . G . | Am . F . | ..."

 

is certainly a type of notation, and the ability to translate it into an appropriate keyboard part is a valuable type of musical literacy.

 

And if we're all in studio/rehearsal and somebody says "give me a bouncy C":

 

"C . C/G . C . C/G . | ..."

 

is probably all the notation I need.

 

But if somebody starts channelling Keith Emerson (or Rick Wakeman, or Jordan Rudess, or Barry Manilow, or Eric Carmen for crying out loud) and says "this part is basically a transcription of Bartok's First Roumanian Folk Dance":

 

"A . | D D7 | Gsus G | Am9 Am | ..."

 

barely gets me started.

 

Give me a recording of the Bartok and I'll transcribe and memorize it in a day or two of hard work (it's an easy one, and short). Give me the sheet music and I'll play it for you right now.

 

I can't imagine why any keyboard musician wouldn't want that ability.

 

Larry.

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Larry,

 

You and I DEFINITELY agree almost 100%. I even agree that a keyboard player should WANT the ability to read so they can easily see what was intended if it's written down.

 

You are a very good reader though, and that's a skill that's not easy to develop, and it is my opinion that not everyone has the ability to develop it very well. You say you could play something with the sheet music "right now". That means you're very good at it. Some musicians (myself included now (with exception) -- not before when I only used sheet music) have an equally good ability to listen to a recording and play it "right now".

 

A guitar player and a bass player who don't read sheet music don't want to wait around for me to figure out how a song goes by bothering with sheet music...especially if they change the key to fit the singer's voice better...then that makes it even tougher to look at that sheet music.

 

But, if I know to just drop everthing a half step, then I'm golden.

 

Just different skill sets. In my opinion one is not necessarily better in general than another, and each has it's strengths and weaknesses, especially in certain circumstances. I don't know how to explain my view anymore clearly than that. I suppose maybe someone wants to continue to disagree with me on that point of view, so if so, they can go ahead. I think I've explained my opinion clearly enough in this thread to stop for now.

 

Of course when this topic comes up again, I'll likely respond there.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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The more skills you possess, the more work you are prepared to do.

 

Today, you might be composing MIDI sequences on the computer and/or jamming with friends in a band.

 

However, a few years from now, your taste in music could change. You may want to do solo piano gigs or play jazz.

 

It helps to learn as much as possible about music simply because it is hard to know what you might want to do....next. :cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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Originally posted by ProfD:

The more skills you possess, the more work you are prepared to do.

 

Today, you might be composing MIDI sequences on the computer and/or jamming with friends in a band.

 

However, a few years from now, your taste in music could change. You may want to do solo piano gigs or play jazz.

 

It helps to learn as much as possible about music simply because it is hard to know what you might want to do....next. :cool:

:thu:

 

It took three pages for this post?

No guitarists were harmed during the making of this message.

 

In general, harmonic complexity is inversely proportional to the ratio between chording and non-chording instruments.

 

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Ironically, I'm actually pretty good at sight-reading and playing by ear - and I attribute both to the extensive music theory training I subjected myself to as a teenager. I don't have perfect pitch, but I have relative pitch, and that's definitely a product of understanding intervals and the tone-association drills I learned in high school.

 

Before I really got into theory, I could hear the stuff in my head, but I couldn't communicate it with any degree of effectiveness. It really is like learning to speak English - the more you understand, the easier it is to communicate - no matter how.

 

Tablature, chord charts, standard notation, all of these things open up wide once you build yourself a good music theory foundation.

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Originally posted by stepay:

Larry,

 

... that's a skill that's not easy to develop, and it is my opinion that not everyone has the ability to develop it very well...

Steve,

 

I know you want out of this loop, but I can't let you go without taking you a little bit to task for the near-fatalism the sentence quoted above suggests. As long as humans remain variable, in both ability and desire, there will certainly always be some who develop skills to a higher degree than others. But I contend that if musicians (and music teachers) thought about sight-reading music the same way they think about sight-reading language, they'd see similar success.

 

I know you disagree with my language analogy, but I'm sticking with it. I think that keyboard players who read at a beginning level need to do the same thing beginning readers do; read, read, read, material that is written at their reading level. For an adult player that doesn't have to mean nursery rhymes and baby songs. I'm a huge fan or Bartok's Mikrokosmos, for example, for exactly this purpose.

 

And just as with language reading, there will be a few who need help with their reading. I bet any competent language arts (reading) specialist would know instinctively the right exercises and techniques to work on musical reading problems.

 

Sorry for the soliloquy, but if my daughter had a reading problem or was reading under grade level, and the teacher said "well, you know, some people just can't read very well," my head would blow.

 

Larry.

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Really interesting debate this. For me sight reading is the holy grail of playing keys. I can do it really badly. I can't agree that performing musicians should know the music inside out; Sven's theatre gig is a good example of where that's just not possible. I've played with many bands where the music was just too complex or there was simply too much of it to learn it really well, so although I got the opportunity to practice I did rely heavily on the dots.

 

For me, even if you don't 'need' to be able to sight read it's a great skill. The 'working' musicians who sight read are those I have most respect for and I'll continue to try hard to acquire this skill myself.

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slightly to the left of the subject but still very close..

 

iLaw mentioned about playing at your level.... adults ..dont have to be nursery rhymes.....etc..

 

long story short...

 

I grew up in a very NON musically talented family, but did have many older brothers and sisters that were Very into music as 'listeners'. --- put it this way, I was 15 and at a friends house and he had a little Cort Electric Guitar and a little Peavy practice amp. When I saw it for the first time I was thinking 'holy cow, you mean you can actually buy these things?'..... Im not kidding, thats how musical instrument sheltered I grew up. I guess I thought only super rich people could buy instruments. Very soon after that I bought my first guitar and have been struggling on/off with trying to play music ever since.

 

Anyways,...Because of this (older bros/sis) I was very ahead of my time in what I listend to as a kid, as a pre-teen while other kids were still listening to nursery rhymes and the chitmumks christmas and at most the Greece soundtrack. I was listening to the Who, Boston, Grand Funk, Styx, ELO, Kansas, Foreigner,...etc etc...

 

Getting to the point... while in the 'little' and 'middle' school music class. Ya know were they try to teach you the G cleft and try to teach you to play a recorder to nursery rhymes, ole' suzanna, ohh billy boy etc etc....

 

Maybe it was my stupidity OR the WAY that It was PRESENTED BY THE TEACHER, OR because I was ahead of my 'listening time'. I didnt 'connect' what the music teacher was teaching (nursery rhymes) to what I considered 'REAL music'. So, unfortunatly I never really had in interest in 'music class' (then). I found it boring, YET, I was VERY INTO music.

 

It pisses me off now, because if they did a better job back then of showing me that the nursery rhymes led to 'Real' music, I would of paid much more attention and been a much better musician today.

 

If you actually pay attention, what they teach in music class at school 'for free' is extremely valuable.

 

 

I think my overall point in relation to this discusion is how 'DIFFERENT APPROACHES' in teaching can STRONGLY affect ones overall view of music in general, but in particular, how to create, write, read and appreciate....and how nursery rhymes lead to real music.

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Think of music like Mandarin (Chinese language). We can all hear it, although not everyone can read or write it. But if someone tells you how, you'll learn how to read and write it, just as your mother language.

 

The good news is, since music doesn't have 3000 characters like Mandarin, by comparison it's much easier.

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Originally posted by ProfD:

The more skills you possess, the more work you are prepared to do.

 

Today, you might be composing MIDI sequences on the computer and/or jamming with friends in a band.

 

However, a few years from now, your taste in music could change. You may want to do solo piano gigs or play jazz.

http://img169.imageshack.us/img169/6876/synthpu0.jpg

 

:D

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Larry,

 

People should strive to be the best they can be at whatever it is they want to do -- I agree with that. If someone wants to practice hours on end from the time they are 5 to the time they die to try to become a better sight reader, then more power to them.

 

There is a little thing though called the Law of Diminishing Returns, and eventually everyone hits their ceiling or gets outrageously close to it. I've known enough classical pianists (having once been one, I know a LOT of them) who are all at varying degrees of sight reading from phenomenal to pretty bad, and it has nothing to do with work ethic (in most cases) -- has to do with talent. I know one guy who is an INCREDIBLE classical pianist who can't sight read with a damn, and I know another guy who is a great sight reader but isn't half the player of the other guy -- unfortunately in the circles they both travel in, the guy who is the better sight reader will likely get more gigs even though the other guy is a phenomenal player.

 

People in this thread have talked about a "disconnect" between what their brain sees and knows and what is transfered to the keyboard. That in my opinion is where the talent lies or doesn't lie with regard to sight reading.

 

I'll use the following example just as an illustration, not to brag about myself.

 

In high school and college, I was one of the best distance runners in the state of Ohio. I didn't run any more than anyone else on my team. We all ran the same workouts, did the same non-running exercises...everything was the same. When it got time for race day though, I would beat them all and pretty much anyone else on any other team sometimes by 2 minutes or more (5,000 meters in this example). Why? I didn't practice more or want it more or try harder in the race. I simply had more natural talent. Maybe that makes me biased as far as other talents go, but I've seen people put in the same amount of incredible study and work regarding playing piano and sight reading, and some just don't have it. Now, one could argue then that because they don't have this natural talent that they aren't good musicians. With that argument, I disagree as someone might have more of an ability as a player than a reader, and if they are a player, then in my book, they are a musician. The greater the player, the greater the musician.

 

When someone has a great talent at something, often as part of their own ego, they relate that talent not to some God-given (or biologically-given if you'd like to keep this secular) talent, but to work ethic or smartness on their part somehow. Work ethic is fine, and I know that many musicians out there work extremely hard on improving, but so do many who don't quite get as good. The determining factor there is talent.

 

Since I believe that sight reading and playing music are two very different talents, then to me it isn't necessary to sight read or even read sheet music at all (though all musicians should probably at least try it a little bit) in order to be a great musician.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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Stepay,

 

I absolutely agree with you. But if you consider 'natural' talent at one end of the spectrum and a really well developed technical ability to sight read at opposite ends of the spectrum then don't forget there are a million combinations of those things inbetween. We all know lots of musicians, many of whom can sight read brilliantly others who can't read dots at all. My band has players of both types in.

 

Being a really great sight reader will only ever come to those with natural abaility; those who can 'feel' where the music's going as well as read it. And feel IS important.

 

But working hard at becoming a good sight reader - and it does improve with hard work - is an admirable pursuit in my eyes and not to be dismissed.

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Originally posted by david.edwards8:

 

But working hard at becoming a good sight reader...is an admirable pursuit in my eyes and not to be dismissed.

Yep. An admirable pursuit. I agree.

Steve (Stevie Ray)

"Do the chickens have large talons?"

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I agree that having sight-reading skills can be an asset in every aspect of music.

 

A case in point derived from my personal experience....

 

When I was in the high school jazz band, my sight reading got quite good. It had been okay while taking piano lessons as a kid and early teens, but under the demands of Stage Band it got much better, quicker. We were learning Zappa tunes, and lots of Hank Levy (lots of asymmetrical meters, my first real exposure).

 

As my musical life after high school focused more on playing in pop/rocks bands, I relied much more on my ear (which had always been quite good). I would enjoy the challenge of picking up the prog rock tunes by ear.

 

In my early 30s I started getting involved in soundtrack work. Still didn't rely on sight-reading I was composing. However, recently that changed.

 

A client wanted music that was very Beethoven-ish. It had been a LOOOONG time since I actually had played any, so I got out my old sheet music and began working through it. To my pleasant surprise, my sight-reading came back to me much better than I thought it would. Not back to its prior level, but with some work I could get it there.

 

But the point was to play through various pieces to absorb the "Beethoveness" so that I could later improvise something that was in the same vein. I wrote a piece for the client and recorded it with a software piano and they were happy with it.

 

I gave a printout of the piece to a friend of mine who was trained at Juilliard and he thought I did a very good job copping (at least superficially) that late Classical-early Romantic feel and structure. That was a very wonderful complement.

 

So the sight-reading really helped in that situation. Sure, I could've just listened to a lot of recordings and gotten the vibe and structure that way (how I would've absorbed the music for other forms like jazz or rock). But this got it "under the fingers" and that translated into a perhaps more accurate improvisation in that style.

 

Just my .02.

 

Regards,

 

Ells

"The devil take the poets who dare to sing the pleasures of an artist's life." - Gottschalk

 

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Aethellis

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  • 2 weeks later...
Originally posted by cnegrad:

It also amazes me that people think sight readers are robotic in the way they play.
My experience is that there is a contingent of people here at KC that feel obligated to shoot down any traditionally accepted pianistic skill, such as sightreading, learning harmony, theory, etc. It boggles the mind... :freak:
I agree. I would think that a musician would want to play by ear and read BOTH. Quite a number of people can - they're not antithetical or anything!

 

One guy I play guitar with once told me that sometimes depending on written sheet music can be a crutch. Actually, I agree with him - though the times I've just written out the chords above the lyrics have sometimes turned out to not be very helpful, especially if you don't know the tune!

 

Can I play tunes by ear? Usually if they're simple I can pick out the melodies almost immediately and the chords quickly, if I have the CD to listen to. Can I do so on the fly, especially if they have unexpected quirks? Not always.

 

But I know a pianist who can't read a note to save his life.. though he CAN read chord changes. But he can hear a tune once and play it in any key. In fact, he used to ask me, "Eric, what key are we doing this song in?"

 

Re: robotic sight-readers. Maybe if they're facing the tune for the first time, but I would think they would shortly get in the groove once they have the sound of the tune in their head!

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