Learning to read standard notation?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by PhilMan99, Nov 4, 2003.

  1. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    Can anyone suggest a good rock-solid way to learn to read standard notation? I play a 6-string fretted electric, and have a pretty good basis in reading standard notation on clarinet/sax. I'm also familiar with music theory. I'm 43, and only play bass for "fun" (and at Church on Sundays...). I'm well versed in scales & modes (for a non-pro player).

    The problem I have with reading bass is "so many choices". I currently place my hand in position for a key (such as C major) and read the notes relative to the key (up a 3rd, down a 2nd, etc.), but that's pretty tricky and I stink at it.

    Any studio musicians or "old pros" that can point to a specific method or book resulting in techniques that "really bring in the bacon"? I'm too cheap and busy to take lessons (sacrilege, I know), but am hoping to get passing results from self-learning.
  2. sunburstbasser


    Oct 18, 2003
    I take it you know the notes on the bass clef already, since you can read treble cleff and have theory. Do you know the notes on your fingerboard at least to the 12th fret? If you can name any note up to the 12th then its nowhere near as hard to translate whats on paper into your hands.
  3. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire
  4. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    I know the notes up to the 12th fret, but have to "stop and think about it" a bit. I also know the notes on the bass cleff.

    I was more asking about the best approach to take. On Bass Player's forum it was suggested I check-out:
    * Simandl's method (dates back to 1800s)
    * Duck Dunn's book ("What Duck Dunn")
    * Carol Kaye's site

    I think I'm going to buy Carol Kaye's book on reading standard notation...
  5. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    Interesting, especially in light of your background! Question, though - conceptually, how are sharps/flats (the key) handled? With my current method of placing major/minor scale on tonic, then reading everything "relatively", it's easy to account for sharps/flats in the key, but I haven't practiced enough to know if this approach will result in good sight-reading eventually. On the other hand, it seems like the "classic" positional method(s) require knowing what notes are sharp/flat for a key by memory. Any thoughts on that?
  6. James S

    James S

    Apr 17, 2002
    New Hampshire

    I am not sure what you mean by "Interesting, especially in light of your background!"?

    I have taught at Berklee College of Music for the past eighteen years. Reading music is one of the subjects I teach.

    PhilMan99, I do not understand your question about keys.
  7. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Knowing what sharps or flats are in a key is pretty easy to acquire by memory - the more you read music in a given key, the more ingrained it becomes.

    For example, when I see one sharp, I think "G major" (at church, a lot of our music is in G or D so I'm very familiar with seeing these keys)... I play less from music written in Em, so it takes just a little longer for my brain to connect to that possibility.

    Again, with familiarity, relating the dots, modified by sharps or flats, into notes becomes relatively easy - you start to hear if you're getting it wrong and making adjustments subconciously (of course, care has to be taken when the music is deliberately 'tense' and straining against the defined key centre).

    Lots of work running scales up and down the neck helps - not just playing patterns but thinking about the names of the notes and how they relate to each other.

  8. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS

    You learn to read by reading. The more you read the better you get. You say that you have a basis in reading other instruments. What's the basis? How good are your reading chops in treble clef? I don't see why it would be a problem for you to pick up bass clef. All it takes is practice.

    As for the note choices, on a six string you can play most charts using the first five frets. The highest note would be the G that is three ledger lines above the staff.
  9. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland
    My treble-clef reading (clarinet/sax) has grown rusty from 20 years of non-use! At this point I'm pretty well versed on both the treble & bass clef as regards recognizing notes, but the key (sharps/flats) throws me off. Playing everything in "open position" (first 4 frets + open) would work, but requires me to remember what the sharps/flats are in all the keys. Worse, I can't readily transpose (unlike the folks I play with, a folk group, where capos "rule"). I was pretty-good at reading on the 1st 4 frets about 15 years ago, but again, there's no ability to transpose that way.

    I'm going to "hunker-down" with Carol Kaye's book & put-in my time. I just hope I can come-up with an approach that allows me to readily transpose.
  10. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    I know what that's like.

    just without the 20 years bit :p

    My bass clef reading fluxes from being pretty much solid, to terrible, simply because I rarely use it. Hopefully that will change though.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Err.. this doesn't sound like "reading music", to me - I would suggest this approach is more a hinderance to reading music, than a help.

    You are probably right to start from scatch on a new approach.
  12. Gabe


    Jan 21, 2003
    I learned using the suzuki method on the cello. But would it not work for bass also? Perhaps Dr. Suzuki's methods are more appropriate to young kids. I might add, that I didn't learn using exclusively Suzuki, but the curriculum was supplemented with Dotzaur (that's sort of a cellist's Simandl) and various other music including fiddle tunes and classroom method books. I don't think that a really hard core Suzuki aproach accomplishes as much as using Suzuki as the main guide, but adding other methods as well.
  13. I agree with Bruce. Just start slow and build your chops back up. You'll get it pretty quick, given your background. Something that may help, make some "random" sheet music on the computer and print it out. Use large intervals, syncopated rythms, lots of accidentals, and make it occupy as large a range as you're comfortable with. Once you can read a random mess of notes a real song will be easy.