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Missing out by not being able to read music?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Dieps17, May 5, 2013.

  1. Dieps17


    Apr 1, 2011
    I've been struggling with this question and perhaps there are more bass players with the same concern. Am i missing too much out by not being able to read music fluently? I feel like i am, i feel like if i did id be able to grab anything in any style and "rock the world" o_O
    Any thoughts?
  2. Art Araya

    Art Araya

    May 29, 2006
    Palm Coast, FL
  3. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Well, although I am all for being able to read because it broadens my overall knowledge of music, the answer to your question is "it all depends". Now, if you play jazz and can't read you are all but screwed. But, if you play mainly rock, you'll be OK even though I still suggest learning to read. Honestly, I can read fine. But I haven't in years (other than pulling out my old Arban's trombone book and old sheet music just to keep my reading chops up). I have gotten faster at learning songs by ear and making simple charts than finding sheet music for songs. In fact, I wouldn't even know where to find sheet music for current pop or rock music.

    Couple of question.....
    1) What do you like to play?
    2) What would you play if you could play anything?
    3) How long have you been playing?
    4) Do you want bass to be a career?
    5) Have you ever seen anybody "rock the world" from behind a music stand?
  4. 20db pad

    20db pad

    Feb 11, 2003
    I been everywhere, man...
    None. At all.
    It's relative to what your goals and desires as a player are. If you want to do theater, you'll have to read. If you want to be in a successful rock band, it's not nearly as important to read.

    I'm in the "learn to read" camp because it helps in making your a fast learner, a more valuable asset in many musical situations, and develops greater musicianship in the long run. If you want to work a lot in a wide variety of genres, it's a big help. That said, Pino Palladino is one of the most highly regarded and well-compensated bassists in the world, both live and in the studio. He can't read at all.
  5. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya Looking for a gig around East Islip, NY!

    Jan 13, 2008
    I can read but have yet to ever come across a situation while either subbing or doing studio work where it was needed to get the job done. Like two fingers says, it really just depends on what your goals are. If you're wanting to make bass playing a career then learning to read is a must. That said, if you're content being a weekend warrior type then you'll probably never need that skill for most gigs out there. As to whether or not learning to read will make you a better player, I can't tell you for sure. It'll help you analyze basslines more, but so does learning songs and transcribing them by ear. And just IMHO, the latter is the exercise for that sort of thing.
  6. singlemalt

    singlemalt Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2007
    White Salmon, WA
    Can-O-Worms? check! Screwdriver? check! Right, let her rip!

    Can you get by in this world being functionally illiterate? Sure. Job prospects somewhat limited? Yep. It's not quite that dire a situation with music, but close.

    Do you want jobs that require fluent reading skills? Maybe, maybe not. But learning to read at any level will help.

    I wish I'd gotten it as a kid, since everyday, I see what my kid can do with it. I can slowly decipher and eventually memorize a bass or melody part, he can read and play piano both hands (up to a certain complexity) at tempo. He's had a thorough musical education that started ten years ago at age five. It shows.

    I tell my wife I'm a tad bit jealous, and I'd give anything to be able to read like the kid. She asks if I'd give it an hour a day. Ouch! As poor a reader as I am, I still give it some time each week. I'll never be fluent or even good at it, but the parts and pieces I learn by reading really stick with me, and I have a better memory, since i can "see" the page when I try to dredge it up from memory. Learning to work lead sheets and follow charts has been well worth it. I don't have to try and keep everything in the sieve of a brain I have left. Certainly saves time over learning everything by ear.

    Reading, ear training, sight singing, theory, and private instruction on your primary instrument: these are the curriculum of an educated musician. You can certainly build formidable skills with little more than your ears, but every little bit helps.

    My 2 cents worth, YMMV.
  7. I've never seen the point, I just pick the thing up and improvise.
  8. Like what's been said here before, it depends on the situation. I had an interesting gig last night filling in with a Tejano band and I had less than a week's notice to learn 20 songs, which really, since I had work during the day and a couple of gigs and rehearsals at night with other groups during the week, only gave me about 3 days to work out the tunes. I'm not very familiar with Tejano music (no gringo jokes, please!), so I couldn't guesstimate chord progressions, but fortunately I've got knowledge in using the Nashville number system to take the songs and chart them out, showed up at the gig last night having never met the other members before and with no full band rehearsal (they were from San Antonio, I'm from Midland/Odessa and we played in Alpine) and aside from a few transitional blunders on my part was able to play three 1 hour sets fairly comfortably, and it turned into a pretty profitable gig and made some connections as a result of it. Had I not been able to chart out the songs, this gig would've been a disaster! So having said that, I don't think being able to read music or charts is completely necessary in playing music, but it definitely opens you up to more opportunities to perform in various settings and situations successfully.

    BTW, I now have a LOT more respect for Tejano music, some of that stuff is pretty damn challenging!
  9. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    Learning to read Music will help you communicate with others in a different way. Instead of searching Youtube to find someone playing Donna Lee or Bach Cello Suite #1, for example, you can just buy the sheet music and figure out where you want to play it.
    If you want to do this long term for a living, I think it's going to make it possible to have a long term career a great deal easier. I wouldn't be making a living at this point in my career if I didn't know how to read well. It's never too late to learn, IME.
  10. BassKitty101


    Jun 28, 2012
    Endorsing Artist: Luna Guitars, Ashdown Engineering, Cactus Picks
    Ironically I was watching a guy play bass in church today and he would have to strum a note and hold it every time he had to flip pages.

  11. That's where these babies come in handy :)
  12. I've done some very cool stuff because I can read. I'm not a great reader, but I read well enough to have been called to do 24 studio tracks arranged for a jazz big band for TV music beds. 1-2 takes and you're on to the next one - no time for being taught the part on the spot when a studio full of other musicians is ready to go.

    I just did a subbing gig last week with an excellent Americana, Roots and Blues band. The first question I was asked when I got the call was "do you read?". When I got the book - just a couple days before the gig - about half the tunes had specific written lines to match the rhythms of the drums on the band's original tunes. Some of the material was sophisticated New Grass with bars of odd meters, unison bass/banjo lines, unison rhythms, etc.

    I pretty much nailed every tune on the first read through. The band was impressed and very happy that I could nail the feel and sound they were after just reading their book. I had the freedom to put my own spin on the written lines, but the written lines were invaluable in helping me to play like I knew the material - and the band let me know I had done that. They told me I "fit like a glove", sounded like I'd "been in the band forever", and was "really smooth". Nice to hear when you're playing originals for the first time with pro's who've been together for years. That whole gig was on upright, by the way.

    I also get to use my reading chops (which, like I said, aren't great) when I play with an orchestra + Band for big church services (Easter, Christmas Eve, etc). There's often new music that we're all seeing for the first time at the first rehearsal (usually 2 days before the event). We don't have time to fumble through all the rhythms and modulations and what not by ear. Having the rhythm chart with all the rhythms notated (not necessarily specific notes, but sometimes) means we can blast through it once and we've got it.

    I've done quite a few other gigs with all kinds of people who hand me a book, usually on the gig, and expect me to read through it on the spot. One guy has a 2" binder full of everything from Elton John to Joe Sample to Frank Sinatra to George Jones to The Jackson 5. You never know what he's gonna do, but you better be ready to read the parts when he does...

    Don't think for a minute that I can't improvise or learn on the spot by ear. I do that most of the time, but I've done some really fun things because I'm not totally illiterate. What I've found is that reading is a passage way to getting in with the best pros; the guys who don't have time to rehearse their 3 hour set 2 or 3 times cause they're playing every night but that one they gave up to rehearse with you.

    Or you can hang out in the garage...
  13. Reading is a must. I don't teach my students to read TAB at all, although at times I've had them notate a TAB piece, which can be a worthwhile exercise. I learnt to read at age 6, so it's a skill I've had for some time. I'd hate to be trying to learn now!
  14. LouisV


    May 19, 2006
    mill valley, CA
    Yes, it all depends on your goals.... However, I look at it this way: what would your life be like if you couldn't read these replies, if you couldn't write your questions? I'd look at music the same way. You may not "need" to read music to get some gigs, but if a gig you really wanted was there for you, but required you did know how to read, then what? The more skills you have, the more you can do. In my opinion and experience, anyway.
  15. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    This isn't a reading problem but a setup problem.
  16. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    +1, to Roy's comment and to others who've made similar points.

    And you can interact more efficiently with other musicians, say at a rehearsal, in music vocabulary. Like talk about chord voicings, phrases, meter, dynamics, sections of tunes.
  17. 1958Bassman


    Oct 20, 2007
    Does he think he knows the music? I would say he's one of the people who can't play by memory or by ear, only what he reads. Or, maybe he can't do certain things AND play at the same time.
  18. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    I couldn't agree more. I didn't learn to read until I was in my early 20s, and didn't really apply myself to it until much later than that. I mostly play rock and pop. Do I need to read on a daily basis? of course not, but for the several times a year that I'm thrown into a situation where I have to read I'm sure glad I can do it, even though my reading skills are only just barely enough to keep me above water. If I had started younger the foundation would be a lot stronger and I'm sure I wouldn't be struggling as much now.

    As Marcus Miller said in an interview - and I paraphrase here - "Take a year out and do the work, and you can have that behind you! There's no reason not to."
  19. phillybass101


    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    IMO this depends on YOUR perspective. Again I repeat YOURS. What are YOUR goals with music and YOUR bass playing. The simple answer is yes from the point of view you are missing out on gigs that require reading. To be simpler you are missing out on more gigs, more networking, more opportunities. Forget all the fuss about being a real, or complete musician. Some guys have had glorius careers without knowing how to read. But if you are just the average working stiff musician who will depend on your gigs for a living. I would say it's a necessary skill. As you progress, you start meeting and playing with musicians at the next level. If you want to get there and stay there, they are reading so why shouldn't you? Start now and take baby steps, work your way gradually into it. Take the challenge and find and do small gigs that require reading like for a local play/theatre company or something.
  20. RedMoses


    Jul 4, 2012
    I can read but very slowly and i usually just bieng able get by a chart for the Chord changes, everything will be fine until you get to a higher level of playing and you go to audition for a band that is already extablished and they want you to hit the ground running, you need to be able to read those intricate Bass lines from a chart cold turkey! Needles to say i did not get the part and i was really bummed about it, i have the capacity to play in that band but they wanted someone who can read fast. If you plan on bieng a sit it/session guy or play Jazz at a high level, sight reading becomes necessary.

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