Music Reading is Fundamental

When I was a little kid growing up in New York there was a TV campaign running called RIF. A little character would interrupt our Saturday morning Cartoons to remind us that “Reading is Fundamental”. Looking back, I’m pretty sure the NEA or some other teacher related group was conspiring to get us to turn off the television and do more reading. I didn’t think much about it at the time I was busy with Bugs and Elmer Fudd. Luckily my mother made me go to school and learn how to read. And that was a good thing, because you know what? Reading really is fundamental.

Reading opens the mind in ways that that would take volumes to express. Most importantly, reading allows the reader to gather and interpret information for himself. In this way, he becomes an independent reasoning human being.

Music Reading is Fundamental

Music reading for the aspiring musician is fundamental too. Can you learn to play music without reading music? Certainly, but you are going to be severely limited. Just like you would in school without language reading.

Music Reading is Crucial for Two Reasons:

  1. Although learning to play without music notation is very possible, most classical repertoire is too complicated to be learned this way. Even if a superbly gifted student could find the appropriate notes and rhythm, she would have to look at the music from the standpoint of fingering alone.
  2. Reading music helps us to understand how music works i.e. Music Theory. Again, you can learn this without actually reading, and people do, but is is much more difficult.

How Students Learn Music Without Reading the Notation:

By Rote.

Rote learning is basically imitation. Watch and copy. This form of learning has some limited benefits in terms of acquiring a certain technical skill. From time to time I have used it to motivate a student as being able to play a piece quickly can provide a sense of accomplishment. Rote learning is what is most likely happening when people go to Youtube and watch video tutorials of their favorite pieces. Sometimes, rote learning takes the form of following fingering numbers instead of reading notes. Rote learning is not a substitute for music reading and should be used very sparingly if at all.

By Ear.

Learning to play “by ear” is learning to play music by listening. Learning to play by ear is not like rote learning at all. In fact it is an indispensable skill for the musician. In my view it is just as important as learning to read music notation. However, most musicians would agree that it is not a substitute for learning to read music. There is no substitute for being able to read music, and read it well. In my opinion, this fact cannot be overstated. The fastest way of learning a piece of music it is to be able to read the music notation. If there is a short cut to learning music, reading the notation is it!

Just as learning to read language opens the mind, learning to read music opens up the world of music to the musician allowing her to learn and understand music independently.

By now you may be thinking “Great! Useful information. I’m so glad I send my child to a teacher that teaches note reading”. Case closed… But wait! How do you know your child is really reading those notes in his book? How do you know he’s not using rote learning or playing his pieces by ear?

Are Students Actually Reading the Music?

The fact is, a lot of students aren’t really reading their music. The human mind is an amazing thing and it has the undeniable ability to find the path of least resistance. Especially when it comes to kids. Learning to read piano music is no easy task. What child is going to force himself to cypher a maze of black dots on a page when he can listen to a piece and pick it up easily by ear, or learn it by rote? Would you? I wouldn’t – and when I was a kid, I didn’t. Luckily a wise teacher made me learn how to read music, and that was a good thing.

How to Know if Your Child Can Read Music

As a parent, it may be hard to know exactly how well you child is doing when it comes to reading music. In the next post, I am going to tell you how you can tell whether or not your son or daughter is really reading music or perhaps using some other way to learn his pieces. I will, list some tell-tale signs that he isn’t reading and even show you how you can test whether or not actual music reading is taking place.

I often meet students who play well but can’t read well. Transfer students will come into my studio playing music correctly and with good technique, but when I dig a little deeper I discover that their music reading skills are nonexistent, poor or don’t match the level at which they are playing. Many students that I have worked with since the beginning of their lessons also struggle with music reading, challenging me to continually find ways to strengthen their reading skills. These students are talented people who want to learn to play well. I know that to meet this goal it is important for students to learn to read music, and read it well.

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