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Is knowing how to read music that important?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by RandomBox, Nov 16, 2013.

  1. I know its a dumb thing to ask, but I'm asking it anyway.

    Most of my friends who play instruments well don't even know how to read music. The only reason I might learn it is to join jazz band. (Jazz isn't my thing, but I really want to play music within a group)

    I know music theory is important, but how important is notation? I can improvise pretty well (not great, but not bad) and I can't read any music that's not tab.

    EDIT: I phrased this wrong. I am planning on learning to read music, I just wanted to know how important it is so I can properly pace myself with learning it. I'm pretty annoyed at the amount of sarcasm/borderline rude comments. I know it was a dumb question/thread, and that I phrased my question wrong, but I get the point. I'm not that much of a newbie.
  2. Jediskippy


    Oct 15, 2013
    If you want to join a jazz band you will need to learn how to read music and lots of theory

  3. That's what I said. The school jazz band needs a bassist, so I'm thinking about learning to read music. My question was about in the long run, is learning to read music important? I mostly play rock/punk, and It seems a lot of bassists/musicians in bands like that don't even know how to read music.
  4. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    In the long run, as you state, do you have a clear vision of what you'll be doing musically in 5, 10, 20, 30 years? It may be or it may not be. But learnin' ain't generally useless.
  5. Topspin

    Topspin What's my name again?

    Dec 15, 2010
    I played Tom Sawyer with a pick once. Shame on me.
    I was in that situation 5 years ago. I went ahead and learned to read music and had a great 3 years as a hack jazz bassist. :D

    Knowing how to read sheet music hasn't really been useful at all since graduating, but I certainly don't regret learning. Just another tool in the toolbox.
  6. TxPirate


    Feb 24, 2013
    Austin, TX
    learning to read music actually isn't too difficult and you can get it done in a few days if you put forth the effort.

    The hard part with Jazz Band is everything is written so the brass instruments are playing in easy keys. You'll be playing a whole step down from them. So, when they are reading music in the key of C, you'll be reading music in the key of Bb. But this is where your skills of playing by ear come in handy. Once you know what key you're playing in, you just stick to the patterns for that scale and you're good to go. (For the most part!!)

    I'm teaching my 13 yr old to play bass so he can play in his middle school jazz band. All the sheet music we were given are in the keys of F, Bb, Eb, etc... :(
  7. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    Playing with musicians who don't know what chords or notes they are playing is annoying. Also playing with those who read really well and know a lot of theory but still are uninspired players is also annoying.

    Learn to read, and learn some theory, but first and foremost learn your instrument.
  8. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Basically, it all comes down to whether you're going to find yourself in situations where people will give you a piece of sheet music to read. If you're a weekend player in a bar band, playing rock or blues or such, chances are you'll never need to. You'll just learn stuff by ear or be given a chord progression and off you go. If you're going to be a pro, do session work, theater work, jazz, etc., then yes, you'll absolutely need it.

    At any rate, it's a skill, and not too hard to learn, and there's never much of a reason NOT to pick up a new skill, is there?
  9. bolophonic

    bolophonic SUSPENDED

    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    Is knowing how to use the search function that important? (Yeah, I said it.)
  10. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I know lots of musicians who can play really well but can't read music who have moved out of playing except for low paying bar work on the weekends once their rock star sell-by date has expired. Meanwhile I'm 52 and making more money with it because I get a lot of higher paid gigs that require reading. Not that I'm getting rich or anything, but on a per night basis I do alright just because I can read.
  11. Randyt

    Randyt RAAPT Custom Wood Productions

    Jul 21, 2010
    Barrie, Canada
    Join the jazz band...learn to read...take the leap of faith ...practice your balls off!!!...You will really enjoy it!!..also, use a metronome counting in on 2 and 4...to make it swing!!...a necessity when playing jazz...

    Good luck!!
  12. gricko


    Mar 29, 2004
    did it ever occur to you to ask somebody if it is important to learn how to read alphabet? grammar too.
    you can go by in life without knowing how to read/write alphabet, but it will be much easier and you would enjoy it [life] much more if you knew how to do it.
    same goes for music world. it is not mandatory, some even got filthy rich w/ out even basic knowledge of reading/writing and theory, but.....
  13. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    If you want to be able to communicate musically with others in a way that doesn't force them to wait until you can play something for them, learn to read. If you don't want to communicate this way, don't. Any form of notation is meant to allow people to communicate without requiring face to face interaction. Someone who's unable to read music is the same as someone who can't read in other forms- they're called 'illiterate'.

    Not being able to read music is the reason tablature ('tab') exists and it's not the faster way to read, IMO.

    Improvising requires some knowledge of what fits together, musically. If someone learns scales and arpeggios by ear, they can still improvise well. What is a lot harder in that case is analyzing the music. If you can read, you can quickly see what notes are used in the lines or chords, how one section moves to another and what key it's in. This shortens the process of learning, it helps someone to actually understand the music.
  14. I know HOW to read music. But I can't sightread because I don't do it enough to have enough speed. Every once in a while, I try to make myself practice and get the speed up. But I soon loose the motivation and skill because reading is just never demanded of me. I can't even find standard notation for modern songs much. And even local theaters doing musicals, where I'd hope to use my reading skills, are getting too cheap to hire bands and are merely using prerecorded tracks. So I think realistically I'm destined to play in sloppy bar bands from tab and ear.
  15. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Playing in the jazz band is a great way to learn, and reading music is essential to playing in the jazz band. If you learn to read, you will have that option open to you; if you don't learn to read, you won't have that option.

    The same logic applies beyond just the jazz band. If you learn to read, you will have more opportunities to play than those who don't learn to read. In my 30 years of playing, I've found myself with opportunities I never would have imagined when I was just starting out, and those opportunities would never have been available to me if I didn't learn to read.

    I've also come across quite a few situations where I've seen otherwise very talented musicians have to turn down gigs because they couldn't read. And I've come across a few situations where otherwise talented musicians have taken a reading gig and then struggled to be able to perform, and that's never fun for anybody.

    So, to me, the answer to your question is "yes."
  16. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    Apart from the limitation on gigging and interacting with schooled players (which Jimmy M and others mentioned), being unable to read music notation comfortably will make a whole lot of instructional materials inaccessible to you.

    Sure there are good instructional videos around (and I spend time with videos by Scott Devine, Marlowe DK, Vic Wooten, and others) but a lot of really great material is in notation. And no--tablature is not a satisfactory substitute, since rhythm is not conveyed in tabs.

    I'm sure glad I learned to read! I put Jon Liebman's bass aerobics and funk bass books in my practice routine, and I've been slowly munching on Walt Weiskopf's book of triad substitutions. Oh--and Bass Player mag's transcriptions and fun, too! Those and others (like Mike Dimin's solo bass book) have really helped me expand my creative and technical horizons.
  17. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    It depends on what your goals are. If you want to play in a bar band banging out roots, 5ths and the occasional lick your guitar player teaches you, then you probably know everything you need right now.

    Being mediocre is easy, that why so many people do it. If you want to be great, that will take a lot of hard work.
  18. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    Can you play golf or tennis without taking lessons? Sure. Can you play music without lessons or theory or learning to read? Sure. If you really love what you're doing and want to get the most out of all aspects of it should you do everything you can to know all you can about that subject? Absolutely.
  19. BuckHaggard


    Nov 15, 2013
    It depends what you already play. If you have a good understanding of the blues scales and progressions, and if your band members aren't too hardcore, you should be okay.

    I've never learnt music theory, no one in our band has except for our drummer, but we can communicate with each other and most other musicians reasonably well.

    For someone who doesn't read music, playing with as many different musicians is the best thing you can do.
  20. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    As someone who loves the English language, I'd feel seriously limited by being unable to read it. And as someone who loves music, I'd feel seriously limited by being unable to read it.

    So, it won't surprise anyone here that I'd advise any msuician to learn to read. I know some folks think it would take time that could be better spent learning something else and that might be true in some cases. On the other hand, I don't think you'll hear many people who can read well saying that they they wished they hadn't bothered to learn because it was a waste of their time and effort.

    And one more reason why learning to read is worthwhile, in my opinion - it's really quite an easy skill to learn.