I have had a number of students tell me that they have been playing guitar, bass or drum set for a number of years but feel stuck with their playing. Usually they have some physical dexterity and competency on their instrument but aren’t sure how to take their playing to the next level.
I can relate to these individuals because I was the same way. I taught myself guitar, bass and drum set at the beginning stages of my playing. My development came from playing along with songs, using resources from the Internet or gaining insight from my experiences and other players. I took private lessons from many private instructors and learned a great deal from them but it wasn’t until I began studying from teachers that taught me how to read music and placed a strong emphasis on reading that my musical development progressed rapidly.
Music is a language and like any language if we are to be fluent in speaking it we need to be able to read, write and understand it’s meaning. Learning a language, especially at an older age, is not an easy task and learning to read and write music is no different. You may have been playing for a number of years and can speak some of the musical language on your instrument but learning to read music is going to mean starting with the basics. With patience, diligence and guidance from a good instructor I believe anyone can reap the benefits of what reading music has to offer.
So what are the benefits to being able to read music?
There are many facets to being able to read music. A common perception of reading means the ability to perform a piece of notated music at a first glance. This is called sight-reading and is a valuable skill for a working musician. Time is money and a good sight-reader will generally not invest their unpaid time in countless rehearsals when they can read and perform the music at a high level on the gig or performance.
Reading music also provides structure for studies of music theory, technique and rhythmic development. By strengthening these areas a musician can become a good sight-reader but also a good improviser, composer and learn songs or pieces much faster.
Being able to read music will also provide structure to your practice routine. Want to get better at scales, chords, drum grooves, fills, improvising, learning songs, writing music, technique, arpeggios, strumming etc.? Learn to read music and you will unlock the keys to all these doors. There are so many music books and studies available in which to explore all of these aspects and more.
The ability to read music enables a musician to understand what they are doing on their instrument, which allows them to play better but also gives them the ability to communicate with other musicians in a clear and concise way. When rehearsing with other musicians, it is best if they can all speak the same language. An understanding of standard music notation and musical terminology allows musicians to communicate with one another, which in turn produces a better musical performance in a fraction of the time. It is also a good idea if all the musicians have a chart or sheet music of material on a music stand in front of them during a rehearsal. I find issues with form always arise when people don’t have sheet music in front of them. They simply can’t see when changes occur or remember how an intro or ending goes. Learn to read music and play with other musicians that do the same and your rehearsals will go much smoother.
As you progress as a musician, so will the complexities and challenges of music you encounter. Most people who can’t read simply cannot hang with the higher demands certain music presents. For example meter changes, odd phrasing, form irregularities, syncopation, rhythmic accents, chord voicings, melodic content etc. These are things that will trip up non-readers. Learn to read and eventually you will be able to play the music that you once thought was out of your reach.
So if you feel like you’re in a rut musically, playing the same things over and over again, learn to read music and you will find a plethora of new musical doorways to explore and enjoy with other skilled musicians.