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Charts? Reading.

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by cronker, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007

    I can easily play charts, to the point where I can understand difficult movements.
    Is this reading? Or do I have to be able to read notation?
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    You don't have to do anything you don't want to, my friend. :)
  3. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I dare say 99% of the cover bands in my neck of the woods rely upon chord charts (fake chord sheet music), standard notation is not a must. It (SN) helps with understand music and your study of theory, etc. but, is not necessary and is seldom passed among band members that primarily play covers.

    Now jazz is another story, these guys play from standard notation all the time.
  4. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    That's an interesting comparison, Malcolm. In my neck of the woods (Boston/east-coast area) I'd say the jazzers can easily get by with just reading the chord charts (although many/most cop the notation as well), the coverband/rockers don't bother with charts of any kind, and the coverband/GB cats are about 25/25/50 on chord-charts vs. lead-sheets vs. 'just learn the tune off of Youtube'. If you're branching out into theater pit or studio-type work, strong reading (notation) is a must though.

    From a purely pragmatic standpoint, you don't *have* to learn to read notation. From a functional standpoint, you really have to learn to read notation. It took me years to suck it up and apply myself, and having done it I'm kicking myself for not having done it earlier. Think of it this way - you can totally get by in a foreign country where you can speak the local language, but not read it. However, you're definitely shooting yourself in the foot if you plan on staying for any length of time, but not learning to read the language.
  5. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    It really depends on the types of music you plan on playing, and the situations you plan on playing in. While you can definitely get by being someone who exclusively reads notation, chord charts, lead sheets, plays by ear, tabs, lifts things from YouTube etc. if you find yourself in a situation where a different system is used, (a new band, a pit, sitting in, studio work...) you could be sunk.

    Just like being able to play jazz and rock opens up more doors and means you can say yes more often when the phone rings, being able to read music in a variety of different forms is a huge asset.
  6. As the guys have said above.

    When I work with rock and pop cover bands, it's all by ear.
    When I work backing most singers, or jazz standards gigs, it's charts or Real Book.
    When I work on theatre gigs, it's all reading standard notation.

    Just as Mike says above: Working to get my reading chops back was one of the most useful things I've ever done on bass. It opened up the theatre jobs, which led to more calls for singers, studio, and small jazz stuff.
  7. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    Notation is really the final frontier for me, I can do it but I'm too slow. I've never had a situation where it was necessary, so I just didn't.

    I can play the hell out of a chart - plenty of theory background.
  8. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    Thanks guys, much appreciated.
    I play a lot by ear, mostly, but can read charts.
    I would love to play in pit band, but that's unlikely.

    Cheers again!
  9. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Not if you can read notation pretty decently.
  10. lyla1953


    Jul 18, 2012
    So my general question(s) for all. (Assuming, the goal is to reach a studio or pit proficiency). What were your experiences with;

    -1) What tools did you use to learn?
    -2) How much time devoted to using these tools; daily,weekly,monthly ?
    -3) How long did it take you to reach proficiency?
  11. Alper Yilmaz

    Alper Yilmaz Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Sight-reading requires constant practice in my opinion. Of course, having started at an early age helps quite a bit. I have some classically-trained pianists who can sight-read bettern than they read the daily news! :)

    The tools would depend on the level of the musician. But for a high-level of reading for a bass player, one should look into trombone exercises as most trombone parts are above the staff and that's where most bass players struggle. I think this was recommended by Jeff Berlin, so the credit should go to him...

    Depending on the age you start sight-reading, it takes a bit of time to reach proficiency. I started reading music relatively late and I still struggle reading a difficult part at the first sight. But trying to be a professional, I always ask for the charts in advance and practice before a gig or a rehearsal. Given my performance schedule, I read pretty much every day and of course that helps a lot.



  12. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    You already have a lot of the building blocks you need to learn. A lot of classical players are taught how to read when they are complete musical beginners, so they are not just learning what things look like on a page, but they are learning what notes are, what rhythm is, the fact that the musical alphebet goes from "A-G" etc. If you have come this far as a bassist, you likely know/understand several parts of that, you've been playing in four and know there are four beats in a bar etc. Notation just gives you a way to put a lot of that on a page.

    Rhythmically the building blocks you really need are note lengths and rest lengths, which are pretty simple to figure out. They both start as "whole" meaning they last for an entire bar, and then divide fractionally from there into half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc. If you find a chart that shows you what both the notes and rests look like you can figure it out pretty easily, and you can put it up on the wall of your practice space if you need to.

    When it comes to notes, everything goes on a 5 line staff. There are two (common) different clefs to learn, treble and bass. They tell you what the notes are depending on where they are located. In the bass clef, the lines are G,B,D,F,A from bottom to top and "Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always" is a mnemonic to remember them. "All Cows Eat Grass" is often used for the spaces. Your G string is the top space, you D string is the middle line, your A string is the bottom space, and your E string sits on a "ledger line" just below the staff. It takes a little while to be able to look at the page and just "know" exactly what notes are where. Just like the rhythmic values, you can write it out and stick it on the wall to look at when you get stuck.

    As far as theory goes, that's a huge rabbit hole. You will want to understand sharps and flats, dynamics, key signatures and common time signatures, but beyond that it's up to you how deep you want to go.

    1. So, to get back to specific "tools" I would basically make a chart of note values and rest values, draw a staff and label where the notes go, write out what the key signatures are and what they mean, and put all of that up on the wall. It gives you something to quickly look at when you get stuck, and eventually you'll find yourself looking less and less.

    I am sure there likely are smartphone apps and things out there where you can learn these things too, where they show you a note and you label it or whatever. If that's something that works for you, then give it a whirl.

    2. Time really depends on how you learn, how quickly you learn, how much you already know about music, what your memory is like etc. You could likely figure out most of the building blocks pretty quickly because you are already a musician and understand what they are, you just don't know what they look like on a page. How quickly you figure those things out and how quickly you become "literate" in them is up to you.

    Take it in manageable chunks, review it often, and don't beat yourself up about it if you make mistakes here and there. Just like every other skill you learn, regular practice is much more beneficial than trying to cram it all in your brain at once. If you practice bass regularly, add reading as a a part of that. Maybe it starts as 10 minutes every time you practice, it really depends on you.

    3. Proficiency depends on what you consider it to be, and what your goals are. I am assuming that "proficiency" for most people here would be defined something like "being able to play through a chart that reflects my current level of ability with the written music not being a barrier." If you are the kind of player that doesn't believe in anything other than root notes, or the kind of player that likes to play two handed tapping solos, proficiency might mean different things to you, and take a longer/shorter amount of time to achieve. A lot of us who have been reading music for most of our lives still occasionally have brain farts or misread things but again, it depends on what your goals are and how dedicated to it you are. I would say that most players could likely be "reading" through something by slowly breaking it down into manageable chunks within a few weeks. You might be "proficient" a few weeks later, or it might take a few months.

    Just about every style of music will have sheet music for it. Chances are there is a section in your local guitar shop where they have books with lyrics, chords and music for almost everything. Find a composer/band/artist/genre you are familiar with or want to become familiar with, and get a book with music in it. As you figure out the building blocks mentioned above, pull out the book and see if you can "read" through some of it. Put a recording of the track on, and listen to it while just visually following along. Eventually, it will start looking like music, instead of just scribbles on a page. When that happens, you will wonder why you didn't do this years ago.
  13. cronker


    Feb 13, 2007
    Yes. Absolutely.
    But my biggest problem is I can sight read treble clef (I learned on guitar and piano) but I am always thinking about dropping the note down a staff when I try to read it in bass clef.
  14. or even crappily, if there are no other readers looking for the spot.

    It really isn't all that difficult to begin to learn how to turn dots and squiggles into music. The more you do it the better you get, until more and more of what you play is in your ear before your fingers have got to it, then you're a sightreading bass ninja.