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do you really have to learn how to read music to be a good bassist?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by tanman636, Feb 22, 2009.

  1. tanman636


    Nov 20, 2008
    im goin to lessons now to read music but all this stuff is boring me. id rather read and write down tabs.

    is it really that important?
  2. knarleybass

    knarleybass Commercial User

    Apr 6, 2005
    Tustin, CA
    Owner of Ulyate Instruments
    Mechanical likes this.
  3. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    as youve demonstrated, tabs are for those that cant be bothered to learn a simple muscial language

    being a bass player and reading music are separate skills. if you want to notate music, the only reason not to learn musical notation is laziness
  4. Lefty Geek

    Lefty Geek

    Feb 13, 2006
    Depends on your goals. Knowledge is never a bad thing. If you are just going to play in some random rock band, chances are that your bandmates don't know how to read either. Do you want to be a professional bassist? Then you need to learn how to read for the jobs that require it.

    BTW, you should not be learning by using tabs, you should use your ears. Use the tabs to back up that what your notated yourself is close.
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Boring you? What's more boring...spending time to learn something that will enable you to write your own basslines and songs, or mindlessly copying tabs and never understanding anything about how music actually works?
    Old P Bass Guy and Mechanical like this.
  6. I know how to read music. I can't sight read for crap though.

    When I write stuff, I use guitar pro. It allows you to enter tabs (number) and still control duration/dynamics/key/etc and even displays the sheet music. I can think of a number of reasons why I'd prefer this to only having sheet music.
  7. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Yeah, because it's easy and requires no thought. Good for you for learning how to read music, but there are no shortcuts without tradeoffs.
    Old P Bass Guy likes this.
  8. haha, i'd much rather notation doesn't require much thought ... i'd rather save that for creating good music.

    i think it's important to understand musical notation, but in my experiences, i haven't really ever needed to rely on sight reading.
  9. GorillaSalsa


    Feb 11, 2009
    You can't write good songs without thoughtful notation. Good songs require soul, and soul takes detailed notes. GuitarPro can handle the stuff a child can handle like accelerandos and ritardandos and dynamics and whatnot, but it can't handle polyrhythms and hemiolas well, and I'd love to see GuitarPro "perform" somethign rubato for you.

    You will need to sight read and understand musical notation deeply if you ever hope of "getting out of the garage" as they say on something other than your looks.

    To the original poster, learn it. You're going to find boring aspects to any hobby, profession, time waster. Even if your only job was to sit down and eat cheetos all day, you'd feel like griping about having to open the bags. No pain no gain.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think most people have said what needs to be said - but personally, I think Tabs are more "boring" than sheet music.

    So - most Tabs are wrong, so that wastes your time - boring!

    Secondly most Tabs have no rhythmic information - now as a bass player it is the rhythmic stuff that is most interesting to me - there are only a few notes it can possily be - but rhythms are hard to get and can add so much to your playing - sheet music of say, Latin music is not boring!!

    I love getting sheet music of tricky written bass lines - I often find things that I would never have thought of and which are quite stretching...? Soooo...not boring!! :p

    Keep your boring Tabz - give me some nice charts or interesting, written bass lines any day !! :)
  11. It depends if you want to know how music works, or if you simply want a map of where to put your fingers.

    Think of it as being the difference between learning how to draw something in your own hand, and getting a book to join-the-dots and then colour in.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I do agree with this analogy - but then what do we say about the "Guitar Hero" generation - it's all too hard - just tell me where to put my fingers .....:p
  13. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    Well, that didn't stop The Beatles or Abba. Neither Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Benny Andersson or Björn Ulvaeus had much of a clue when they wrote their music.

    But knowing standard notation is certainly not a hindrance.
  14. At risk of coming off as a total noob here, I need to jump in and give the counterpoint. I personally think that sheet music as a musical standard is just about the stupidest thing in the world. If I'm not mistaken it was invented for piano, fairly far into musical development in fact. Tablature is significantly older than sheet music, and was the original de facto way to write music for string instruments, because it's perfectly suited to it. Sheet music must be "learned," it's not intuitively related to a stringed instrument in any way, shape, or form. Tabs are extremely simple and directly relate to strings. The only real issue with tabs is time signatures and such, but that can usually be dealt with to more or less a working extent.

    I think the problem that people have with the sheet music vs. tabs debate is that people have sheet music mated with music theory in their heads. I wholeheartedly believe that people need to understand the music their playing, and should at the very least be able to tell you the name of a note on the fretboard. More complex things, as in actual music theory, tend to translate very well to sheet music, because it mostly stems from piano, just like sheet music itself, but then sheet music still doesn't translate very well to a stringed instrument. A thorough understanding of music is completely essential to playing an instrument, but how you learn to understand music is up to you. If sheet music is easier for you, do it that way. If tabs are easier for you, do it that way. If you plan to be a professional musician, you need to at least have a passing knowledge of both systems (I myself can just barely figure out what the various notes are on sheet music, luckily it doesn't come up too often in my bedroom playing).

    Basically what I'm trying to say, is that sheet music is in no way required to learn to play an instrument well, the best thing you can do to learn music is to just envelope yourself in it. Listen to it often, and be curious. It's going to require some work for sure, there's no way around that. But there's no reason to force a complex (in my opinion anyways) notation system on yourself just to learn music theory. Learn the notes on the scale and you'll be able to deal with any sheet music that you need to study, because you very rarely need to sightread in study, and if necessary you can translate it to tab.

    Sorry for the long winded post, this is just a bit of a touchy subject for me, because I'm a very stubborn bass player :p

  15. rrohde


    Oct 27, 2008
    Norman, OK
    I'd say it depends how far and deep you want to venture into making music. Personally, as hobbyist, I don't have the time nor the nerves to get into reading music. For me, playing in a cover band, it's just enough to find out the chords and figure out the bassline. Then remember it as good as I can (or maybe even write it down as tabs) and lay down the groove...

    For aspiring professionals it is of course important and essential to learn how to read music.
  16. John Wentzien

    John Wentzien

    Jun 25, 2007
    Elberta, AL
    Artist:TC Electronic RH450 bass system (original test-pilot)
    I look at written music as a standard form of communicating a musical idea.
    Just as some people can't read, but can speak a language..Some musicians can play without reading musical notation..
    So written notes on a page are to music like written words are to language.
    A person is considered "Illiterate" if they can speak, but can't read or write.....
    You are reading right now...it would be very difficult to communicate my idea without the written language..

    I guess I could post a "recording" of my voice, but it's just not practical.
  17. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    It is NOT necessary to be able to read music to be a successful, or even a great musician.

    If you can't read music, in terms of opportunity, this is what will be available to you:
    [ :bassist::bassist: ]

    If you can read music, this is what will be available:

    [ :bassist::bassist::bassist::bassist::bassist: :bassist::bassist::bassist::bassist::bassist: :bassist::bassist: ]
  18. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    I agree that standard notation is generally overcomplicated, and what I hate about it, it is key-bound (why is C major more important that other keys?) It is much easier to truly understand music theory when looking at the fretboard, as it is key-less. Tabs have no regard to keys - you can read a C song as well as a D# song written in tabs, and the "add two frets on the next higher string" is the 5th, no matter what key you are playing.

    Standard notation can easily be related to the piano and I'm sure that one inspired the other. Tabs are related to the fretboard. It is a tool for writing down music, and you should use whatever you're comfortable with, as long as it gets the job done. So, for stringed instruments, use tabs, why not. It would be wrong to use them on a piano or a trumpet.

    Prefering or even demanding standard notation is elitist in my eyes. Being used for hundreds of years is no criteria of quality or suitability. Insisting it on others just because you had to struggle with it is school means ego problems. In music school, I proposed a keyboard with black and white keys overlapping all the time. So, between every E and F you'll have a black key, playing F, and the rest would be "uptuned" by a halfstep. The same between B and C. That way, any white-based key major would be played the same way: white, white, white, black, black, black, black, white. The reaction from music school? They almost sent an inqusition after me.

    On the other hand, insisting on tabs is just as bad. As people have said, you might lose gigs with standard-notation insisting guys. Also, tabs are not all that perfect either: they don't include rythm, which is essential; and the do have the redudant info on where do you fret a note, which is utterly unimportant. There's a guy here that wouldn't buy a five stringer because he uses tabs for four string basses. I felt sorry for the guy, personally, though it is clearly the extreme.

    I can read standard notation. When it comes to composing, I use something different: standard notation written in C major, with a label on what key the bar or section actually is. So, instead of G, I read the 5th of the key where I'm in. Easier, faster, and not bound to a specific key. Whatever suits you.
  19. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Do you have to learn to read to be a great public speaker?
  20. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    If I understand it right, this is not about being able to write/read at all; it is about insisting on a specific method, or language, of reading/writing.

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