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how do tou read sheet music?

Discussion in 'Ask Michael Dimin' started by nick rutigliano, May 7, 2004.

  1. nick rutigliano

    nick rutigliano

    May 7, 2004
    I am just starting to play bass guitar and i have no idea what i'm doing. the first thing i need to know is how to read sheet music.
  2. Im a sock

    Im a sock

    Dec 23, 2002
    Central MA
    Welcome to TB, Nick.

    I'm glad you're starting off wanting to learn how to read music. Trust me, it's the right way to go.

    So the staff looks like this (5 lines):


    For bass, the staff is notated: (from the bottom to the top) G, B, D, F, A ... or Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always. Your open E string would be notated below the staff, like so:
    E would be here -------> -

    Further, there are other notes that can be notated above and below the staff.

    There are some excellent articles over in the General Instruction section of the forum, so you should check those out for more help.

    Mike should be along soon, but since I just saw you posted I couldnt resist. :cool:
  3. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    Reading music is an important tool in order to be a well versed and versatile musician. Many never bother learning, but I do think that if you are young, learning to read gives you options throughout your career that you would never have if you did not learn to read.

    I want to thank Jon (Iamasock) for chiming in - he always does so in an informative and helpful way. (he also, obviously has more time on his hands that he could use to practice :p )

    Reading is NOT playing. You can be a conversational player without ever learning to read. I like to seperate playing from reading, especially in your practice routine. Reading is skill unto itself - like learning a new language. You should dedicate about 15-20 minutes of your daily practice just to reading.

    to start reading is a 3 step process

    1. Identifying the note on the paper
    2. relating that note to the place on the fretboard
    3. Identifying the duration of that note

    as you get more proficient, these three steps become 1.

    So now you must learn the notes of the staff (bass clef) and the notes on the bass. I would start with the first 5 frets. Secondly I would start to develop a rhythmic patter vocabulary - memorizing how a certain rhythmic grouping sounds. Chek out the General Instruction threads on reading and finally get some good books, or better yet a teacher who can help you in this.

    You've asked a great question, unfortunately, it is almost impossible to take a subject that entails months, if not years of study and break it down into a few posts on this forum is , at best, impossible. As you start this endeavor, come back with specific issues and questions that I can be more comprehensive in my answer. Best of luck and welcome to the community of bass

  4. Im a sock

    Im a sock

    Dec 23, 2002
    Central MA

  5. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    Why the immediate need to read music? What about learning your instrument a bit (or more)? Learning basic music theory? I know there will be players here who think I'm off base, but think about it. How many of our heroes do you see on stage with sheet music in front of them? Vic Wooten, Jaco, Sting, Hendrix, Stevie Ray...they have a voice on their instrument...there are already people who can read and play something note for note, but if it's so important for aspiring bassists, where are all of the reading bassists working? I understand if you're a poet, you should be able to write in the traditional forms, sonnets, haiku, what not. Apply that to music and I get that reading is a tool in the arsenal, but really stop and think about how many bass players you know are being paid to read? I think players tend to assume that if you can sight read, you can play your ass off. But what happens when something isn't written out for you?
  6. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999

    How do you think your heroes became that way. Both Wooten and Jaco played in numerous bands, multiple situations where reading was required. Since the tunes they play, on stage, are rehearsed, they don't need to read in that situation. They just don't talk about it much. It is tool in your toolbox just like any technique that you develop. Now you want to know where all the reading bassists are - working! Possibly not in your "15 minutes of fame" alternative rock band, but steady, high paying, behind the scenes work. For example, my buddy Andy Cichon - probably never heard of him, huh? Well, he is the touring bassist for both Shania Twain and Billy Joel. Not a bad gig if you ask me. No hero status, just solid, high paying gigs. You state "Why the immediate need to read music? What about learning your instrument a bit (or more)? Learning basic music theory?" Learning to read is about learning your instrument. Learning to read is about applying theory, Learning to read is about getting ready to be a working player.

    Remember this - Being a superstar does not take talent. It takes a bit of luck, being in the right place at the right time and palying music that is in fashion at the time you are playing it. Being a working player, able to make a living (and possibly a very good one) means learning you instrument, learning to read, learning to get along with others, being able to play a multitude of styles ... and a ;lot more.

    Reading is hard, I liken it to learning a new language. Once you learn it you still have to practice it often or you'll lose it. There is just no excuse for being lazy about learning that aspect of your instrument

  7. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    I agree with you, it being a tool in the arsenal. I didn't say that bassists shouldn't learn to read, it is indeed a worthwhile effort, but there are too many beginners (imo) who think that reading is THE missing ingredient and it's just not so. Do you think Jaco wouldn't have sounded like Jaco if he couldn't read? How about Victor Wooten? I cotend that learning to read across the page will not teach you music theory, music theory will. If you don't know what the key of 3 #'s is, how are you going to read bass clef? Do you keep checking which lines and spaces the sharps fall on? Again, I get that if two bassists auditioning for the same gig, being about equal, and the gig requires reading, one guy can read, he gets the gig...
    But I'm talking about the type of theory that will be used immediately with other musicians.
  8. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    I would state that both Jaco's and Vic's stlye, tone, sound is, in part, due to their ability to read. It gave them the opportunity to work, and work a great deal more than others. It is that work that helped develop their unique sound.

    On a really practical level. It is very difficult, once you have attained some ability on the bass to go back and learn to read. It makes you feel like a beginner all over again. It is much harder to play easy lines that you could make up on your own in far less time. Getting a grounding in reading really helps.

    Not I have adult students who only play in church or in rock bands. There aspirations are simple. I don't worry about reading with them. I teach them how to create bass lines from chord charts, etc. But I also have students that range between 13 and 18 - high school students. Who knows where their music will take them in the next year or two. For them learning to read is essential. It is difficult enough for some of them when the school that they go to does not recognize electric bass as an instrument at all. When they come in for jazz band auditions, they need to read/perform as well as any other musician auditioning, often times without the years of formal trainging that sax players get.

    You contend that, "learning to read across the page will not teach you music theory, music theory will." My contention is that learning to read will make learning theory applicable to your instrument.

  9. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    My contention is that learning to read will make learning theory applicable to your instrument.


    This I agree with.
  10. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    If it's such an important part, why aren't you teaching all of your students? By the way, how does Stevie Wonder get by?
  11. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I'm sure Mr Wonder gets by due to being a musical genius. With a mixture of talent and hard work, he's produced some great music. However, I'm pretty sure that the majority of the sighted musicans he plays with are very good readers.

    I think Mike is saying that some of his students are "weekend warriors" who want to polish the skills needed for the situation they are in but who don't have the time to work on all aspects of musicianship. However, for somebody who's hoping to move onto new situations in the future, he makes time to cover aspects of reading.

    That seems an eminently sensible approach. I'm glad I picked up the basics of reading early in my musical education. At present, most of what I read is what I've written myself... but it is notable that I'm the one people tend to turn to as the authority on how the song goes!

  12. Steve Clark

    Steve Clark

    Jan 9, 2004
    London ON
  13. maxvalentino

    maxvalentino Endorsing Artist Godin Guitars/ Thomastik-Infeld

    If I might chime in on this.......

    Why is reading important? Simply because it is yet another aspect of good musicianship. Godd musicianship is a life-long goal and quest. The ability to read, even nominally, extends what is possible for you on the instrument; it makes you conversant with other musicians, and makes it possible to quickly realize your ideas, or someone else's, musically.

    Best of all, it makes the understanding of theory and harmony practical. (which, btw, this practical understanding of theory and harmony is how Stevie Wonder "does it". There is no braille system for music notation, but you can bet the Mr. Wonder has a deep, immeasurable knowledge and understanding of theory and harmony...)

    Reading does guarantee you to be a better player, but it sure as hell makes that goal much more realistic.

    Even if you are "never" called upon to read in a gigging situation, the knowledge and ability to do so elevates your playing to a level of more authority and confidence. One thing I stress to my students is that the knowledge of theory, and this includes the ability to read, actually frees them to play better. If you understand harmony, understand theory, know where the notes are, it allows you to not "think" of these issues when playing. The knowledge of such allows to to listen and respond and engage in musical dialogue with the other players.

    The system of music allows for thiings to happen accidentally. I am sure there are players who can, as someone stated, "play their asses off" without knowing much theory, elemental harmony or reading skills. Yet, playing with intent and conception is a far cry from by sheer luck. It is quite possible to hit a bullseye on a dart board blindfolded. Less plausible to do it consistently. Reading, which completely linked to the knowledge of theory and harmony, diminshes the capacity of "playing from luck" and increases the capacity too play with intention
    and concept. This seperetaes those who, "play their asses off" from those who really play. Without this knowledge you are not really playing the instrument, but rather merely making a simple machine do the thing it was designed for.

  14. McHack


    Jul 29, 2003
    Central Ohio!
    Pardon my appearance in this thread:

    Mike is absolutely 100% correct. If reading sheet music was as simple as learning from a post, people would read sheet music, instead of tabs...

    Truthfully, you CAN learn from a book, but its something best taught by an instructor.

    Additionally, there's more to it than just those 3 points... There's style techniques, such as staccato... (attacked sharply, w/ short duration.
    There's intended volumns ranging from pianissimo (really soft) to fortissimo (really loud)
    Crescendo's, Decrescendo's, Timing, Tempo, it goes on & on.

    There's much more to it, than just note reconition, & translating that to something you do to your bass. Which is why, I suggest you learn from someone. I'm quite thankful, I played Trombone in school...