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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. One of the best posts on this thread. Thanks :)

    But if your faunal questions are any yardstick for reading prowess, I guess I'll never be a sight reader in my lifetime :crying:
  2. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    In answer to your conclusion about your ability, is no you cannot determine that you will or will not be able to do it.
    If you give up or stop then the answer would be that you will never be a sight reader in your time.

    I have a friend and he is a gambler, is he a good gambler, he will tell you that you can call him good or bad after he is dead and buried. What and how much he leaves behind will determine if he was good or bad.

    That is the point of how we learn, it is an on going experience and we cannot stop ourselves from learning.
    Good experiences, bad experiences, watching, listening, tasting feeling, intuition etc it is all about learning.

    In my many conversations with Jeff Berlin we agree "you cannot look for improvement". To expect improvement is setting a mark down, laying a target to aim at. Because sight reading is an ongoing skill and develops in many at different speed and in different ways you will never master it to your satisfaction, so setting bench marks is pointless. In this situation it leads you to pressure yourself, it can lead to a feeling that it is overwhelming you and you lose confidence and then self doubt will takeover and then the feeling of its pointless.

    Again with Jeff we agreed you just do it at your own pace and the natural process of learning will order it and sort it out, but you have to keep doing it, you have to keep the information coming in so the skill functions can be learned. Then as time goes on you will increase the complexity of these tasks before you realise you have done it, then it occurs to you " i can read and play really good".

    I have been reading music for over 40 years now, and because of my accident find myself back at the beginning of all aspects of playing. But i just work with what i have, never thinking about what i lost or comparing anything to what i had then to what i have now. I work with what i have, the skills i physically can use and continue to do so to their fullest and best abilities.
    Again that's the great thing about music, it is a lifetime of experience, and learning and not for you to decide how well you done it, that is for others.....maybe on forums like this in the future.:)
  3. It saddens me terribly to hear any musician having to face the problems such as yours, due to the accident. I wish you recover to a point where you feel gratified with yourself :)

    I was actually saying that as I was unable to answer your questions featuring animals, I'd probably not be able to learn to sight read, either :p

    I totally agree with the above statement of yours. Just wish educators in all fields recognized the same for all forms of learning, rather than pressurising students :scowl:

    I'd define sight reading as being able to read and play any piece of music, on the spot. Is the definition incorrect/too rigorous?
  4. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    For me i'd say to rigorous, because there are different levels of reading as there are skills and complication of the pieces of music to which a player is exposed to.
    The one thing we all do is read through the piece and we mentally note areas of interest those areas are things that are out of the ordinary to us.
    Then on a second read we work out how best to finger and approach those areas of interest, we visualize our options in fingering and how it could sound.
    On a third read through any points that need clearing up are queried with others or the MD.
    This process takes minutes to do, the better your skills the faster it is to complete.
    You are not so much reading to understand it, because at this higher level you already do, but you reading to see if there is anything out of the ordinary that you think you need to be aware of. Such is the job of a proof reader at publishers, he is reading fast and fluent for things out of the ordinary, not for things that should be there.

    When learning we cannot really see the similarities in a piece of music....its just all dots and lines. But if we look close we see there are many parts that have repeat characteristics. These repeat characteristics we learn to see and use. Over time we know how they work so we do not question them when we see them again. What we learn to do is look for things that we have no experience of, in other words new musical ideas and concepts. Then the process repeats..and so on.

    Again i stress these processes are naturalised and internalised at this level. I never have really ever met any player that can play just anything on the spot perfect first time of any complexity.

    Thanks for the good wishes and i am recovering well enough to do what i love which is play music and when i can't play... i read.
    I now can hold a pen good enough to notate with some degree of neatness LOL.
  5. taphappy

    taphappy doot de doo

    Sep 28, 2007
    Tempe, Arizona
    Heh! Sometimes, it's the little things :)

    Back in '92, I was the token crazy white kid who did nutty slap/tap, all sorts of nonsense. After dropping out after my first year of music school to move from NYC to "make it big" in Nashville with my band, I was working in a factory with my guitarist, and got my right wrist crushed in a sprocket for a chain conveyor belt. Couldn't feel my hand for six months, but the nerves slowly came back. So, crawled back home, went out, and got a career. Years after, could only play for five minutes at a time. If I overdid it, man, it hurt.

    In 2001, moved to Phoenix, and got drunkenly suckered into playing electric for a friend's electronica band that just needed power chords and some atmospheric leads. So I started working on playing guitar jazz style (high up, driven from elbow). After a couple months of this, I tried to convince the keyboardist/bassist (Lawrence) to start his own band, since I really loved the music he was writing in his basement. He adamantly refused to play out unless I'd play bass for him, regardless of my equally adamant objections. Finally I caved, and agreed to try. It took a while, which was incredibly frustrating, because while I had all that prior experience - after 9 years, my ear, my brain, and even my left hand were utterly weak and useless. I had to start very slowly, methodically, and carefully from scratch, or my wrist would lock up. Or start firing little jolts. If the lightning shot OUT of my fingers, that would've been cool, but noooooooo.

    My brain still said, "Right hand power, activate!" and my right hand went, "phufdz. thuffa thuf dzz. dribbl. ow." Couldn't even two-finger pedal 1/8th notes with any consistency, which was what most of his music was. One time, I tried to open up a peanut butter jar and couldn't play for four days. After that, the guys would open all my beer bottles and even move my gear! I know! Freaky!

    After another year, I started getting decent. Lawrence sat me down and took two hours to convince me to stop screwing around, and build my own band. Eventually due to playing more challenging music, it got back to where, if I kept up on practice, and didn't do anything silly like try to curl dumbbells or arm-wrestle a fourth grader, I was pretty much back to where I was when I was 19.

    Keep at it, man. I know it isn't quite the same thing, but maybe, with patience and slow, careful work, it'll keep coming back. Going back to square one is unimaginably trying when your mind is sending the right signals, but your body simply refuses to cooperate.

    It sounds like you've got your head in the right place, which is easily the best medicine. And you're back playing!!! Which is really, really good to hear :)
  6. Yep...

    1) explicit fingerings (both an advantage and disadvantage)

    2) Transmissibility. Especially in text only formats. I'd like to see someone plain text email some standard notation.

    3) Availability. When it comes to pop/rock stuff - notation isn't always available.

    4) Cost. I can get access to thousands of tabs for free. I can pay a few dollars or more, per song, to get standard notation.

    Now - all that being said, I prefer standard notation because I can read it much better and faster.
  7. Mayers

    Mayers Guest

    Sep 28, 2007
    The problem with Tab is : you don't f***ing know what you play ... you don't learn anything except to put your finger at the right place and then what ??? you play it like a brainless machine.

    With a score you know the key, you know the chords ( or you can figure it out ), you can understand what he played and why it worked AND you have the freedom to find the best way for you to play the notes.
  8. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    The specific question you were responding to, however, referred to "tab with time indication." Plain text tab doesn't have rhythm notation, or at least, not in any form that actually allows you to play it without having a recording of the song as a reference. In other words, I don't think that the transmissibility of "tab with time indication" is any better than that of standard notation, and so that doesn't really offer any advantage.
  9. Staccato

    Staccato Low End Advocate

    Aug 14, 2009
    Yes, learn to read, and develop speed to read faster!

    Here we are at nearly 900 posts, and over 20,000 visits to this thread...
  10. dpbass66

    dpbass66 Supporting Member

    May 20, 2010
    Exactly. So TAB proponents are touting the virtue of a method of "reading" music that does not convey rhythm!

    Really? come on guys....
  11. Actually, this isn't necessarily true. Some plain text tab does have rhythmic notation.

    I disagree.

    Now - I think SN is significantly more useful, because of it's ability to convey more information. That doesn't mean there are no advantages to tab though, it just means that the advantages of SN outweigh those of tab.

    It's a "horses for courses" kind of thing.

    If I'm playing Mahler, give the sheet music. If I'm trying to learn My Sharona, to play once, 15 minutes before I need to go on stage and play for $50... I'll probably take the tab, because SN isn't even an option.
  12. Words of encouragement for me ;) For a given piece of music of average difficulty, I can read it and for some (simpler) portions, I can play it as I read. But it takes a bit of time to swallow a whole piece.

    Not to make a point against this, but lore has it that Vinnie Colaiuta managed to sight read and play a VERY difficult piece of music by Zappa (if I'm interpreting the story correctly). Here's the anecdote.
  13. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    LOL cool story, but that is in effect where we want to be in our reading.:)
  14. baileyboy


    Aug 12, 2010
    tanman636- In short, yes, learning how to read music is important. In fact, any education you have access to is important. I think you will severely stunt your progress by limiting yourself to tabs. Tabs, playing by ear, etc. all have their place in playing bass, but learning to read and notate can only expand your possibilities as a musician and the level you play at.
  15. masterFlash


    Jul 6, 2009
    The Tab vs Standard Notation argument.
    They are both a means to write down music. You can't argue that one is better than the other with out first defining your criteria by which a notation system is to be evaluated. Tab is great for identifying patterns and playing positions. Standard notation is great for identifying rythym and timing. These are not the only two systems of notation however. As a session player I also use the 'abc' system. This one is extremely concise and transfers the easiest as a plain text. There are vast amounts of session tunes freely available in this format. I say don't limit your self to understanding one system of notation. If you have the time, learn many. Notation is a tool. Don't let it interfer with learning to play.

    For fun info check out the wiki
  16. Old P Bass Guy

    Old P Bass Guy

    Nov 26, 2017
    After playing around 15 years as a young man I dusted off my bass after 45 years. I only played by ear back then and was able to stay somewhat gainfully employed. Last year when I started playing again I challenged myself to learn how to read. I'm having fun but I look at it differently. It's a game and just as much fun as crossword puzzles, video games like the old pacman. It's the journey that is fun. For example if I'm trying to learn a Steely Dan lick, I go to the sheet music to be sure I'm hitting all the correct notes. I'm not and never will be ready to audition for a Wrecking Crew type group.
    Ukiah Bass and DJ Bebop like this.
  17. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    It will also help you understand rhythm, as in subdivision, timing, knowing the difference between straight time and swing, triple and duple subdivision, etc.

    And it will help you get the jobs where reading is required, especially jazz when everyone is using the Real Book, for instance.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
    DJ Bebop and Old P Bass Guy like this.
  18. Old P Bass Guy

    Old P Bass Guy

    Nov 26, 2017
    The thing I'm learning is I don't need my axe in my hand to practice. Just reading bass clef sheet music while I'm having coffee in the morning helps me a lot. Much more productive than watching a news channel on TV.
    DJ Bebop and Russell L like this.
  19. Old P Bass Guy

    Old P Bass Guy

    Nov 26, 2017
    I have a question. Would learning a second instrument help or hinder my progress. For example would learning to play congas help my bass playing? Thanks for your feedback.
  20. dave64o

    dave64o Talkbass Top 10 all time lowest talent/gear ratio! Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2000
    Southern NJ
    That's kind of a derail from the thread topic but ...

    In general I'd say that learning any other instrument would never be a wrong thing. It's kind of like being able to play multiple positions on a sports team. If you know more than one position, then you start picking up different aspects of the game you might not have seen before and that different perspective can help you see an even bigger picture that you can use to become even better at your original position. IOW, it makes you more well-rounded, and that's always a good thing.

    The same would apply to knowing something about other instruments. You'd get a broader musical perspective that you could use to make yourself an even better bass player. So, yeah, why not try other instruments if you want to?
    Old P Bass Guy likes this.

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