The Passive Approach to Musicianship
When I was young, music was thought of as art that lived in the manuscripts of great composers. A Reader can play anything, as long as you interpreted the notes written on the sheet music, sold by the music publishing house. As far as the music business goes, “the publisher makes a greater percentage of the money”. Note reading was the “King’s Keys” to ever being able to play a popular selection of music and impress your friends; mom and dad too!
Short of memorizing the music, we stopped playing when the music sheet was taken away. It was like we were addicted to the sheet music. It was like reading out loud from a book and suddenly the pages went blank.
“Notation” is a system of writing music to be reproduced by the reader’s interpretation of the many symbols representing the pitch, time, rhythm, volume, and articulation, etc of the piece before the reader.
What About the Composer, The Song Writer
Music composers have to be a mystic genius to make up such stuff! Where did such a muse come from? The manuscripts that they created were once blank sheets of paper or empty staves. Many writers don’t use staff paper to sketch their ideas on.
Classic composers wrote great symphonies. Their music was transcribed from the master score and delegated to each member of the orchestra or ensemble. Each member of the unit would “read” their parts together, being led by a master timekeeper, called “the Conductor”.
Consumers of Sheet Music
Music teachers develop students that become consumers of sheet music. Therefore, the instrumentalist wishes to play something he/she has in their head they often wish they had the music. Then they get a folio or sheet of the artist’s music and work out the performance from the score (written arrangement).
There are musicians who have allowed their ears to interpret the pitches directly to their instrument. About 8% of musicians have a desire to bridge that gap by trusting what they internally hear and bring it directly to their instrument. You could say that about 90% of musicians are brainwashed that reading is the only way. It’s the way it has always been done. I was taught that reading was the correct thing to do.
Playing by Ear – Really?
A student, as in many of my Piano students, want to learn to play the piano. A majority of teachers are readers and feel that the student is asking, “How do you do it”? The teacher learned to read him/herself, not develop the link between the instrument and music in their mind.
Jazz musicians learn to transcribe music from recordings and write down the notes they hear. Some musicians go right to their instrument and imitate the sounds directly. The first method requires some reading. Understanding how to transcribe to score paper to read at a later date. I ear player goes directly to making their instrument play as they play back the sounds from their audio memory.
In Conclusion – Hearing VS Reading
Both directions of playing music are worthy. The creative musician wants faster results and plays “on the fly”. The logical student would get great benefits from embracing the system of reading. The reader enjoys having the folios of the favorite artists. The ear trained musician interprets what he/she has heard before.
I learned to read and that is why I am a teacher first. In college, I played in bands and my reading skills became a crutch for me to “let go” and play. Nowadays, I teach ear training to help those “who just want to play”.
Remember, music is an “auditorial art” and reading may not be meet a student’s short-term goals.