Fail not to practise the reading of old clefs; otherwise many treasures of past times will remain a closed fountain to you. – Robert Schumann
In the West, reading musical notation is probably the most common method of learning and performing music. Nevertheless some musicians are more adept at playing without musical notation than with it, and many successful musicians from the worlds of jazz, pop, and folk cannot read music. What incentive is there for students to spend the time and effort required in order to become literate with music notation? Formal musical knowledge may not be an essential part of musicianship, but it certainly enriches it. If you need motivation, or are looking to motivate others to learn how to read music, consider the following.
1. Most ensembles and choirs require communication with other musicians through notation. Even jazz ensembles, and particularly big bands, rely heavily on written notation.
2. Notation is the basis of music theory, which provides a pathway to a depth of musical understanding not possible without it. Theory helps us to understand the conceptual and to talk declaratively about music. It can open up a new world of musical understanding and illuminate the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’
3. As Schumann said, the ability to read music enables exploration of libraries full of new music otherwise not available to us.
4. Much music, particularly Western art music, is too difficult to learn by ear. If we want to play the extraordinary but complex repertoires of the great composers, reading is the only means.
5. Learning from notation demands a precision and a series of checkpoints that will improve aspects of musicianship.
Beware of the attitude that spurns reading music. Not being able to read music can stifle musical development. I have yet to meet a non-reader who does not regret his or her decision not to invest the time required to learn to read music. Next time I’ll discuss sight-reading.
from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin
“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, Music Educator, New Haven, USA.
“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Guildhall School of Music, UK.