View Poll Results: Do you read sheet music for mandolin?

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  • Yes I do, it's great for learning/playing mandlin!

    74 67.89%
  • No, I rely on tablature.

    7 6.42%
  • I learned to read music but really, I just play by ear.

    18 16.51%
  • Never learned it, I play by ear.

    10 9.17%
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Thread: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

  1. #101

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    I see it basically as a cost / benefit analysis. Depending on what you're into, the benefits would vary. If you play a lot of traditional, classical style and esp. play in a group setting, the benefits would be great. However, the time we have to devote to our musical pursuits is limited, so the time required to "own" the "read music" skill would most likely take away from the time spent on playing and improving those skills. Cost / benefit.

  2. #102

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    I admit to having skimmed the thread so disregard my comments if they are redundant. I would offer a qualified yes, learn to read music. I sight read on guitar as this was my first instrument and the only one of the many I play for which I took formal lessons. So, when asked or I wish to learn a new song I play it through on guitar from the lead sheet to get the feel for it before learning it by ear on whatever other instrument I am going to play it on. The music theory, timing, understanding key and time signatures all provide me with a vocabulary to communicate with other musicians in a concise and accurate manner. Having said all that, I play mandolin, harmonica and bass mostly by ear. So my answer, in short, is 'yes, however..."

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  4. #103
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    We can all think of more than one outstanding musician who couldn't read music.
    I sure can, as can almost everyone. I can also think of many that can read music.

    I'll put my own experience in practical terms.

    I have a friend that plays several musical styles with me.

    When we play Cajun music, her on accordion and myself on guitar or steel guitar, we play by ear, no notation, because that's the way the genre just is. It's largely an aural tradition and apart from some limited teaching materials and a few songbooks, no one uses notation to learn or perform Cajun music.

    When she plays guitar and I play mandolin in the Italian style, we have lots of sheet music, much from the Ballo Liscio genre, and then we are both reading the notation until we memorize a tune.

    Same musicians, 2 different genres with different needs and practices.

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  6. #104
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by MandoMaximus View Post
    I see it basically as a cost / benefit analysis. Depending on what you're into, the benefits would vary. If you play a lot of traditional, classical style and esp. play in a group setting, the benefits would be great. However, the time we have to devote to our musical pursuits is limited, so the time required to "own" the "read music" skill would most likely take away from the time spent on playing and improving those skills. Cost / benefit.
    That makes the assumption that you are using up 100% of all the discretionary time.

    Here is a crazy thought. I may get justifiably lambasted for this one folks. Apologies in advance: If folks spent the time here at the cafe off line learning to read music, in oh say six months more or less it would not be an issue. In other words, do everything you do in your musical pursuits, however much time it takes, and then when you feel tempted to get on here, stop yourself and work on reading music.

    OK, say half the time. I still would like to hear about everyone's progress.

    I will duck now.
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  8. #105
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    [QUOTE=JeffD;1898639]If folks spent the time here at the cafe off line learning to read music, in oh say six months more or less it would not be an issue../QUOTE]

    That would also include me spending more time practicing than posting. Touche.

  9. #106
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Interesting responses. I have been following this thread to see where it would go as I have always felt great envy for people capable of learning MELODY without the benefit of notation, regardless of genre.
    For me the dots make it easy as my fingers go automatically. As for tablature I just don't have the patience, though I have tried more than once.
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  10. #107

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    Interesting responses. I have been following this thread to see where it would go as I have always felt great envy for people capable of learning MELODY without the benefit of notation, regardless of genre.
    For me the dots make it easy as my fingers go automatically. As for tablature I just don't have the patience, though I have tried more than once.
    Totally humbled at how many give of their time and thoughts. I really like this forum. What a great community!

  11. #108
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by r0gue View Post
    Totally humbled at how many give of their time and thoughts. I really like this forum. What a great community!
    I gather you weren't looking for a simple answer!
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  12. #109
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    .....We can all think of more than one outstanding musician who couldn't read music.
    Of course. Likewise most of us know exceptions who play their instruments with terrible technique/ergonomics, falling apart instruments, decrepit rusty strings, or even severe physical challenges (D'jango Reinhardt for example).

    The key word to me here is exception. Sorry, but most of us are just not that exceptional. Why erect additional obstacles for ourselves?

    Comparing the ability to read music to the ability to read written language is a valid analogy, but I more often use the "tools in my toolbox" analogy.

    For a musician to say "I'll never need to learn notation" (or tab, or ear training, or take lessons, etc.) is like an aspiring handyman saying "I won't ever need to use a level. I can eyeball level, straight and plumb just fine. I've known real good builders who don't use it either."

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  14. #110
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
    Of course. Likewise most of us know exceptions who play their instruments with terrible technique/ergonomics, falling apart instruments, decrepit rusty strings, or even severe physical challenges (D'jango Reinhardt for example).

    The key word to me here is exception."
    Good point - many fine players can play well in spite of bad technique, not because of it.

  15. #111

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Reading music reinforces the tendency to think about the notes as a place rather than a sound.

  16. #112
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joed View Post
    Reading music reinforces the tendency to think about the notes as a place rather than a sound.
    Not if you were trained Italian style to sight-sing the notation. Then you hear it in your head first. .. and can either sing it or play it.

    TAB certainly encourages one to think of fingerings not tones.

  17. #113
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    I’m strictly by ear, trying to read music started to mess me up. I can read some and it can be helpful if you are on your own I guess but when your out in an open jam you don’t have time to try reading the music and 99.99% of bluegrass people I know play by ear.

  18. #114
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by mee View Post
    ....... 99.99% of bluegrass people I know play by ear.
    Yeah, I can't say I've ever seen any BG band with music stands and charts.

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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Gray View Post
    I once asked Mike Compton that same question and he replied "Bill never knew how to read notation"...
    Which, of course, is no answer at all, unless Compton knew quite a bit about your motives, limitiations, or potential.

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  21. #116

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    You should be able to read music without moving your lips.

    I didn't see that option in the poll.
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  23. #117
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Folks, please read all of Post 101 before arguing with me. I never suggested that people should not learn to read music. I said, "There are plenty of good reasons to read music." Many of them have been posted by others above. The last sentences of my post were: "There are plenty of good reasons to read music and even more to read language, but many have functioned and still function well without either skill. However, I wouldn't suggest that anyone not be taught to read language if they have the ability to learn. Musical literacy is more complex. We can all think of more than one outstanding musician who couldn't read music." Anyone who's been following the discussion knows that plenty of outstanding musicians read music, and many musicians use different learning methods interchangeably. What, I was pointing out was that musical literacy isn't parallel to literacy. Someone who can't read music may be the best player at the jam. Someone who can't read may not find the jam. Still, "There are plenty of good reasons to read music."

    By the way, as in the case of reading language, some people are unable to read notation. The term "musical dyslexia" comes up, though I'm not sure if that's a scientific term. Rulers on the knuckles was an attempted cure for this problem, when I was a kid. (To all contemporary music teachers: It didn't work.)
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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  25. #118
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    Indispensable? This is where genre differences come in. This is absolutely not the way to find your way into a local Irish/Scottish pub session, where mandolin is typically a melody instrument, and chordal backup is at best an accessory and not the bedrock of the music as it is with most Americana styles.

    If you're playing Americana styles of music -- Bluegrass, Blues, Jazz, Rock, then I would agree chord knowledge might be a good starting point.
    Quie a while back there was a thread on finding the chords to a fiddle tune. One of the infallible experts on this forum suggested singing the melody and fishing for the chords on your instrument simultaneously. My method is knowing basic harmony and listening, which is a lot faster for those of us who are not equipped with very agile vocal cords. Fiddle tune scan be vary acrobatic.

    Wouldn't the key and chords be the first thing you find when learning the tune? One of the first tunes I learned on the mandolin was Briliancy which I had picked out from Howdy Forrester's recording in 1965. It has four chords, A, D, bm(7), and E7, and knowing these certainly helped finding the melody as it -- as in so many similar tunes -- largely combines arpeggio and scale figures over the underlying harmony.

    I venture a guess that such questions usually come from those who learned the melody form a TAB bank or (less likely) a transcription in standard.

    The late John McGann pointed out (on a steel guitar forum) that one advantage of SN is that it lets you see, at a glance, how the melody relates to he harmony, often even without printed chord symbols or bass staff.

    A huge part of the difference between reading a score, and spelling your way through it is the use or non-use of theory. A speller, seeing three flats in the key signature, struggles to remember to flatten the b, e, and a notes, whereas the reader sees, hears, the key of Eb major or c minor. For most of us, SN is/was an almost indispendible tool for learning and understanding theory. There are examples of plyers who managed to learn all about theory, scales, keys, modes, chord construction, etc., seemingly without the ability to read a score. Many of them did so because they started at a very early age.

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  27. #119
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    First retrospective thought:

    - Simply learning the "pure-basics" of notation, meaning first position notes, difference between 4/4 and 3/4, and between quarter and eigth notes, is simply NOT THAT DIFFICULT. If music-averse I could teach it to myself at 15 in two weeks (while still school, homework, sports, etc.), then any reasonably-motivated adult could work thru it in similar time. THAT served me well for the first 4 decades of playing. ("Mandolin for Dummies" has an equivalent section to what I did from Mel Bay books in the mid-60s.)

    - Sight reading at an orchestral level (what I'm sort of working on now) is a whole 'nuther thing. Maybe not like a doctorate, but (still to me) a master's degree level of effort & knowledge, maybe? Not something that most will ever need, but certainly helpful and confidence-building.

    Second retrospective thought:
    Quote Originally Posted by Joed View Post
    Reading music reinforces the tendency to think about the notes as a place rather than a sound.
    Interesting idea, and probably the "me" described above!

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Not if you were trained Italian style to sight-sing the notation. Then you hear it in your head first ...
    20 years ago, in my mid-50s, having resolved to make SOME progress, I worked thru "Singing for Dummies", that helped a lot. A month or two later, it was "The Idiot's Guide to Bass Guitar" and... HOLY COW!! The singing training had me "hearing" the bass riffs before I played them - what a revelation! Within a year or so, I found that happening across much / most of the sheet music that I came across.

    The take-aways, at least in my experience, are:
    - Reading notation really isn't very hard, at least for the basics.
    - Reading notation helps in ways that you'll never expect!

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    Quote Originally Posted by r0gue View Post
    ... My first lesson will be this Thursday. I am assuming I need to suck it up, look and play like a 7 year old, and blunder through ...
    Thanks for having the guts and/or honesty to ask such a great question!!
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  29. #120
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joed View Post
    Reading music reinforces the tendency to think about the notes as a place rather than a sound.
    That obviously depends on your and/or your teacher's attitude. E.g., whether you approach notation as a "speller" or "reader" (cf. my earlier posts)

    To me, the main difference between TAB and standard is that TAB represents the notes as finger positions, SN as scale degrees. Looking at piece of notation, unless it's a very tricky or highly atonal piece, I tend to hear, or feel, the music, and get all kinds of ideas what to play in place of the actual notes, sometimes in a different key. Looking at a piece of tab I'm lost -- it seems so backwards, reconstructing the melody from *somebody's* fingering, instead of basing my execution on the music I hear in my mind. I once asked on this forum how those who know a piece from TAB only go about transposing it to a more convenient or expressive key. No one answered.

    Finally, two remarks.

    1) It should be pointed out that classical training on an instrument always involves rigorous ear training, such as the wbility to identiy not only chords, but also their voicings and, above all, inversions.


    2) I'm not sure what it means to "play by ear". Learning by ear, yes, but playing by ear, unless you simply mean improvising?

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  31. #121
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Wouldn't the key and chords be the first thing you find when learning the tune? One of the first tunes I learned on the mandolin was Briliancy which I had picked out from Howdy Forrester's recording in 1965. It has four chords, A, D, bm(7), and E7, and knowing these certainly helped finding the melody as it -- as in so many similar tunes -- largely combines arpeggio and scale figures over the underlying harmony.
    If you recall, my reply to you about the non-essentialness of chords was specifically about Irish/Scottish traditional music. There are no "right" chords in many of the fiddle tunes in this genre. It's been said, and I agree, that in this music the melody is fixed and the chordal accompaniment is improvised. It's not like Americana genres where there are standard chord charts you can build off of.

    It's why many Irish pub sessions have an informal rule of just one guitar player accompanist at a time, because two will often clash on their chord selections. For example, there is no "right" way to harmonize the last part of "The Butterfly." Some people like to hear it kept in the E minor mode, others like to hear a G major chord there. Neither is canon, you'll hear it both ways (and personally I like it kept minor, the G is too happy for that tune).

    This genre of music also features shifting tonal centers in many tunes. The five part "Kid on the Mountain" slip jig starts in an E minor tonal center for the 1st part, then shifts to a G major feel for the second part, back to Em for the third and fourth parts, and finishes back to G major tonal center for the last part. If you have the sheet music for this tune, the single sharp indicating E minor won't tell you enough. It's not "in" that key. It's a tune that famously drives newbie guitar players nuts with the way the tonal center shifts around, and there are many tunes like this in the repertoire.

    There are also tunes with ambiguous tonal centers using pentatonic or hexatonic note patterns. It's one reason DADGAD tuning is popular for guitar players in ITM, because it's easy to avoid making strong chordal statements by dropping the 3rd interval.

    Even with tunes that don't play games with shifting tonal centers, you have to be careful about making assumptions from the key signature. A tune with two sharps in sheet music might be in D major. Or it might be in E dorian, or in A mixolydian, or in B minor. You have to play the melody and hear whether it has a major feel, or minor, or the sort-of-major mixolydian feel.

    Anyway, this goes back to what I was saying about genre being important. You can't assume that what works in one genre automatically applies to every other genre, and this will have an impact on desirability of sheet music and how it's used.
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  33. #122
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joed View Post
    Reading music reinforces the tendency to think about the notes as a place rather than a sound.
    Based on....? I can see that as being potentially applicable to TAB, as it typically just shows this-fret-on-this-string. In reality, we all know about different positions on the fret/finger board.

    Notation rarely specifies "play this note on this string." It specifies the note. Whether you choose to play a high E on the 14th fret of the D string, 7th fret on the A or open E is up to you, not the sheet music. There's a LOT more on the page than which note. How long? How loud? Bow/pick direction, etc. is conveyed from the mind of the composer to the reader.

    Those that know, know. Everyone else is guessing/opinionating.

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  35. #123
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by mee View Post
    Iím strictly by ear, trying to read music started to mess me up. I can read some and it can be helpful if you are on your own I guess but when your out in an open jam you donít have time to try reading the music and 99.99% of bluegrass people I know play by ear.
    This is very true. What I find though is that after the jam I often have trouble remembering the tune if I just learned it. At times I have used my little digital recorder while learning the tune. But most of the time I am caught short and learn it by ear. And that night I write it out in notation best I can, just so I don't forget my hard won gains.

    I have several 3 inch three ring binders of tunes I have written out from jams.

    I would panic if I only had my memory to trust in remembering a tune. I would feel I need to play every tune I know every Saturday morning or something.

    This has changed quite a bit in the last ten years however. So many tunes are youtubed that googling the name of the tune will bring up several version, one of which will be the one you just learned.

    I still panic however, until I get a tune safely into a notebook.
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  37. #124

    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Not if you were trained Italian style to sight-sing the notation. Then you hear it in your head first. .. and can either sing it or play it.

    TAB certainly encourages one to think of fingerings not tones.
    When I sing I just sing the note. I don't think about what note it is. When I'm playing right, it's the same thing. My hand knows where it is, like my vocal cords.

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  39. #125
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Just starting out -- Should I really learn to "read music"?

    There is likely nobody ever whose musical progress was hindered by learning to read music. Nobody, ever, ever said, "darn, that was a waste of time."
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